Post date: Jun 5, 2012 4:37:29 AM

Penang is an old trading port on an island on the west coast of Malaysia about 400 nm from the southern tip, but not quite as old as Melaka. It has an interesting mix of Malay, Indian and, particularly, Chinese heritage. The old part of George Town is very quaint and is on the UNESCO world heritage list. We stayed in the Tanjong City Marina which, although it is breaking up because of the swell there, is convenient for checking out the town.

Lupari 2 at the Tanjong City Marina.

The streets are narrow and there is a unique collection of shop houses that have been well documented and many of them are being restored.

Further down the street from the marina is a collection of jetties, called clan jetties, where members of Chinese worker families have built dwellings on jetties sticking out into the harbour. Each jetty belongs to a clan and only people from that clan can live there. There are board walks between them across the water and little shops, temples, restaurants and homestays have started business there amongst the houses. We tied up our dinghy at the end of Chew jetty one night to go to the hawker stalls across the road for dinner. Rain and a fortuitous decision to walk down one path rather than another one found us inside one of the clan houses being plied with drinks, chilli crabs and friendship from one of the resident families until the rain stopped. What a night that turned out to be!

Clan jetties in Penang

One of the favourite tourist activities to do in Penang is to participate in a cooking school with Nazlina Hussin, Nazlina's Spice Station,. She is a wonderful source of information about local Nyonya cooking and spices used in the local cuisine, as well as being a cheerful and patient teacher. We learnt a lot about how to prepare 2 local dishes that are icons of Penang, Char Koay Teow ( a dish made with soft rice noodles and prawns) and chicken curry Kapitan. Upon meeting Nazlina at the Campbell Street Market we sat down for a traditional breakfast of roti canai ( roti bread with dahl curry sauce) or roti telur (roti bread with an egg) before hitting the wet market to make the purchases for our cooking class. She told stories of this part of town , the market and the food we were buying. We passed the roti factory where the roti dough is made for many of the Indian restaurants in town, a man who makes spring roll skins, the noodle lady who will give you the correct noodles for your dish and the spice man who mixes up spices for your specific dish. We wandered around fresh vegetable, fruit, meat and fish stalls. It was great fun – somewhere we will go back to to take a longer, slower look.

spice trader fresh vegetable stall

Indian beef man fish stall

Campbell Street and Chowrastra Street markets

After all our ingredients had been purchased we drove off to Nazlina's Spice Station to make our lunch. We started peeling, chopping and grinding the spices into paste, then marinated the chicken and prawns. After we were ready we cooked the Char Koay Teow quickly in the wok, one person's serve at a time. The taste test was a wonderful experience.

The spring roll skin maker in action

Nazlina's Spice Station

Next we started cooking the spices for the curry, added the marinated chicken and waited for it to cook. We were still full from our first course so we decided to take our food home for a tasty dinner.

Nazlina's cooking school has become, in 3 years, a must do in Penang. Many international chefs have visited her in her kitchen. We had a wonderful time we will never forget.

It is the best way to get to know Penang and something about its heart . . . its food.

There is so much to explore on the island of Penang that we will be back to explore more when we are on our way south again in the future.