Category Archives: travel

Lotsa Work and Some Play

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IT’S been two days since we arrived in Penang. Both days have been slightly hectic , as we worked out the kinks and laid the final bits of foundation for what I’d call a working ‘holiday’ (read: work for us; holiday for those we work for).

But all work and no play makes Sarah and the Minx dull girls, so we made sure we had some minutes of fun to break from the tedium.

Following a recce session at the Penang Heritage Trust office and armed with my trusty little Olympus digital cam, we headed to the Pinang Peranakan Mansion just across the road.  It’s tough to resist poking about a building that looks like this:

The Pinang Peranakan mansion is an imposing structure of gilded louvres and lattices, frames and screens and pillars — an intricate architectural work of art set amid a row of nondescript shophouses on Church Street. (Above) This is the front of the ancestral temple which is an extension of the main building.

A closer look reveals the sombre yet intriguing facade of  the temple.

Getting acquainted with the gate (and checking out the garden within while at it).

The driveway behind the iron gates. (Background) Within the gloomy darkness of the temple, a single bonsai plant stands illuminated by a sliver of sunlight.

The barge that hangs suspended in the air above the temple doors.

No detail is spared from the temple roof.

The entrance into the main building of the Pinang Peranakan mansion. Entry fee is RM10.

Inside, the mansion is huge, each room opening to yet other equally ornate rooms. The mansion, also known as ‘Hai Kee Chan’ or Sea Remembrance Store was built at the end of the 19th century and was the residence and office of Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee (who had a road — where the famous chendol off Penang Road now stands — named after him). The main staircase features handrails with balusters of cast iron from Glasgow. The English floor tiles are a clear contrast to the distinctive Chinese  wood carved panels.

Nothing is spared from detail.

The rooms located on the floor above.

An elderly visitor sits amid the main courtyard. The mansion, now a museum showcasing the opulent lifestyle of the Peranakan as well as more than 1,000 antiques and artefacts, sank into disrepair after the death of the Kapitan. It was restored as close as possible to the original by Peranakan architect Peter Soon.

Detailed craftsmanship frames the entrance to the dining hall. One can almost imagine dinner time with the Kapitan at the head of the table surrounded by his family. Servants, almost invisible — as they are meant to be — dart around bringing food steaming from the kitchen for the family. Carved wooden screens (background) can be found in every Baba house and act as ‘walls’ which obstruct the path of evil spirits.

Mirror, miror on the wall. Who’s that chick in the middle of the hall? The quintessentially Baba rosewood/teak furniture inlaid with mother of pearl, and scores of huge mirrors can be found in every section of the house.

The bridal bed bathed in red from sunlight streaming through red window panes.

Closer view of the marriage bed. A bit too ornate for my liking, really.

Much emphasis is placed on the ancestors of the Baba clan.

Upstairs, the wide corridors lead to a balcony which overlooks the open yard below.

Cupboards and other furniture feature carvings and gold trimmings so typical of the Baba Nyonya.

A very oriental Chinese lamp hangs above the Scottish ironworked staircase.

A connecting pathway leading from the main mansion to the ancestral temple.

One more turn through the narrow doorway to the right leads you to the sepulchral stillness of the temple.

A Chinese tourist in the temple courtyard snaps endless shots of the alter.

The grand alter decorated with the proverbial ancestral tablets and prayer paraphernalia. There is an almost tangible solemnity that transcends time in this room. Perhaps, Father Time stands in deference to the powers of the ancestors.

The grand alter adorned with more of the same gilded carvings. I imagine many moments spent in ritualistic prayer as the low and sonorous hum of chanting and the acrid incense smoke pierce the silence of the temple.

The temple opens out into the street beyond.

Good job, girl. Now, to put aside the camera and head back to work.

3C/2K: Charkuayteow, Cendol, Currymee, Kwaychap and nasiKandar

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SO everyone says that the best food comes from Penang. I beg to differ; the best food comes from my momma’s kitchen. Without. A. Doubt.

But that’s not the point of this post.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that all Penang food is good. But I’ll give it credit for a few things which you’d be hard-pressed to find in KL or other states simply because it lacks that certain ‘Penang personality’, such as char kuay teow, curry mee and nasi kandar, to name a few.

Some time ago, we headed up North to give our minds and bodies a much-needed rest, and our appetites a nice jumpstart. It was time for a rejuvenation of sorts. Clothes: check. Eager and excited stomachs: check. High expectations: check. Food Bible (a.k.a The Star’s street food guide): check.

Our assignment was simple and specific and we only wanted to hit a few hawker joints, hence the 3C/2K strategy a. No point wasting time zipping all over town, right? Which was why we checked in to a hotel smack in the heart of town just to be close to the hawker-riddled streets of Georgetown.

Char Kuay Teow

The best char kuay teow in the world comes from Penang, no questions asked. You could try and pay me to change my mind but, nope, not gonna happen. I suppose this is the result of some kind of indoctrination from when I was a kid. Almost every char kuay teow stall in KL and Ipoh where I grew up claims to be from Penang.

The Star’s street food guide — our food bible — has many entries on char kuay teow. We decided to hit four stalls: 1) somewhere on Penang Road 2) Kimberley Street 3) Macalister Road 4) Kedai Kopi Sin Hwa opposite the Pulau Tikus police station. Pretty ambitious for a two-night trip, I admit.

The cook manages the flames with gusto

The winner, according to this panel of judges is the char kuay teow stall on Kimberley Street. Cooked with duck egg and mantis prawn, the dish is moist and tasty, unlike the over-fried versions at stalls (1) and (4). I had fun watching the cook too, particularly how he expertly worked his way around the burst of sparks surrounding the wok. Whoa! What gusto!

Coming in a close second is the famous sister’s char kuay teow at Macalister Road. My apologies to all char kuay teow connoisseurs out there who disagree, but this is, after all, merely my humble opinion.

I must say that what adds (very indirectly) to the allure of our winning number is its location. Kimberley Street is walking distance from where we stayed at the Traders Hotel and has a whole lot of food to offer. Kinda like Macalister Street, only nearer. I enjoyed the lin chee kang from the little tong sui store as well as the belacan fried chicken down the road.

Duck Meat Kway Chap

But across the road from the char kuay teow stall on Kimberley Street is this busy little stall selling duck meat kway chap. Apparently, the dude has been plying his trade at the same place for the past three decades, and makes the ‘kway’ (the rice sheets) himself. Read more about it here.

Here for the last 30 years

Traditionally, kway chap is a teochew dish of rice sheets served with pig offal, tofu derivatives and boiled eggs in dark soy soup. This was my first time trying the dish, and the swarm of people surrounding the stall boded well for a non-initiate like me.

Packed with duck and pork and all the trimmings that go with it

I wasn’t too disappointed. The dish was generously laden with pork offal, duck meat and all the trimmings that go with it in a flavourful broth. My only concern was that it tasted a mite too porky, but that is easily dealt with as long as you eat it piping hot. Still, I enjoyed it enough and would try it again. My greedy sidekick, however, wasn’t too impressed. Well, to each his own.

Cendol

While going about our exploration on foot, we’d pass the cendol stall on Penang Road ever so often. There’s always a queue at this stall; people tell me that it sells the best cendol in Penang. Now, I have always maintained that the best cendol in the world comes from my sister-in-law’s aunt’s stall in Malacca, but there’s always no harm in trying other stalls out.

This cendul seller makes brisk business

Verdict? Yep. The best cendol in the world still comes from my sister-in-law’s aunt’s stall in Malacca. But we’ll leave that for another day and another post.

Curry Mee

To satiate my constant craving for all things spicy, we made a stop at the curry mee stall at Lorong Seratus Tahun. This is, by far, the best curry mee dish ever for me because it isn’t thickened by artery-clogging coconut milk like the ones found in KL.

Want some curry mee?

The broth — served with pieces of shrimp, bean sprouts, tofu, cockles, cuttle fish and pig blood (not my cup of tea, so I refrained from having it) — was quite clear, yet full of flavour, and made spicy with a topping of chili paste. The chili was definitely the star; it was fragrant and tasty and the dish would not be quite the same without it. Greedy Sidekick loved the dish and slurped down half of it in no time. Should’ve ordered my own portion, but that’d mean limited space in my stomach for the rest of our char kuay teow expedition.

nasi Kandar

I remember the days when I was a poor student in Penang. During the fasting month, my pals Julia, Jaime and Goh would sometimes make the long trek with me from our university (USM) to Gelugor just so we can get nasi kandar served with the dude’s famous tujuh kuah campur. Saving money on bus fare meant we could spend more on nasi kandar. It seemed like a very feasible (literally) option at the time, so we walked. Nevermind the heat, the undulating terrain, the dust and sweat…Goh always had an umbrella to shield her from the sun. And then there was Abu Nasi Kandar near my apartment, which I could sniff out even before the stall is sighted, thanks to the aroma of Abu’s chicken being deep-fried. I’d order white rice flooded with curry, no vegetables and two pieces of fried chicken. And I’d be the happiest girl in the world.

One of the oldest nasi kandar outlets in Penang

Greedy Sidekick brought these memories to surface when he insisted that we try Line Clear Nasi Kandar, one of the oldest nasi kandar establishments in Penang. This joint is located in an alley on Chulia Street and is quite easy to miss if you don’t pay close enough attention. When we got there at 10am, there were patrons already queuing for food. Nasi kandar for breakfast? Incredible. I decided to just stick with a roti kosong (not great; Raju’s in PJ remains my top choice). I can’t remember much about it, though. I’d have to go back there for another try, although I do remember that whatever rice and curry I had that time tasted pretty good. I’d vouch that one of the reasons why the place is so popular is because of its amazing variety of food.

All in all, a pretty good trip. Next time on the menu would be orr chien, mee mamak and kuay teow th’ng.

The Allure of Avillion

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SO there I was in desperate need of a holiday. I’d been entertaining fantasies of going somewhere quiet, private and not too expensive…and it seemed like the most viable plan was to go local.

And so I headed to Avillion, Port Dickson for a quick getaway. The place was comfortable, the staff friendly, the food better than decent, and the open shower super glorious (too bad I have no photos of that).

It was, sadly, a holiday that ended too soon. Would I go there again? Absolutely. I’m still craving for the herbal chicken soup and fried cod fish with rice.

From the balcony

Each room comes furnished with a balcony/veranda. Depending on which chalet you are staying in, you get a view of the pool, garden or the wide open sea. A lover of water and the beach, I chose to stay in the Tumasek chalets, as they offer you a wide vista of the sea and is more private than the other chalets. It is a bit of a walk from the main area of the resort, but that was hardly a price to pay for solitude and a better view.

Lookout Point

The Tumasek chalets stretch right out from the beach, hovering right above the water.

Low Tide at Sundown

Dusk is particularly beautiful in Avillion. I remember walking around and taking in the differences in light and colour at various areas around the resort.

Sunset

Sunsets are not crazy spectacular; not like something you would expect from the peak of a mountain, but the simple wonders of nature is certainly worth looking at.

Trudging back to Tumasek

The walkway to each chalet has a rustic, fishing village feel to it. Something I appreciated, particularly since it was such a change from the city.

Avillion by Night

I particularly enjoyed walking around the resort at night, watching the interplay between darkness and light and the reflections they cast on the water.

Wash your feet, kampung-style

I love the beach, but hate the sand. Unfortunately, you can’t have one without the other, but Avillion makes going to the beach bearable (and leaves less work for housekeeping) with these thoughtfully-placed water ‘tempayan’ at the entrance of each chalet cluster.

Poolside

The restaurants are located right at the pool edge (foreground). This was a much appreciated convenience for lazy (pool) bums like me who refused to leave the water.

Mommy and Daughter

I was not the only one spending so much time getting my skin busted by the unforgiving UV rays of the sun 🙂

Animal Farm

If sitting by the pool and reading for countless of hours makes you feel like you will lose your mind, go play with the animals in the pet farm/petting zoo. Opens at 10am.

(L-R) Miss Donatella, Miss Speckles, Mister Crowalot, and Miss Warble.

I chanced upon this motley crew catching up after their morning feed on my way to the poolside.

Food Frenzy

Food is provided by friendly Avillion staff. Watch out for your fingers while you feed the little ones, though — they could be mistaken for food.

Feeding Frenzy 2

You have been duly warned. The animals are a hungry lot.

Me and my Bunny

You get to hold the animals, too!

Putra the Peacock

I tried making friends with Putra, but he snubbed me.

Stairway to Nowhere

There is also a jogging/mini hiking trail for guests. You might not want to get your hopes too high where visiting the Fair Winds Hotel is concerned.

The End