There exists the architectural remnants of Indian Kingdoms from 7th to 14th century, Portuguese between 1511 and 1641, Dutch between 1641 and 1795, Indonesian in 18th century, and particularly Southern Chinese from 15th to 20th century and British in 171 colonial years (1786-1957) as the most striking influences.
For some clichéd reasons like “enjoy the youth”, “explore the world” and “explore myself”, I packed my baggage to fly to Penang – the area located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
Penang fascinated me when I was in Vietnam googling, and on a whim found out an antiquarian George Town as a trip down memory lane. George Town is the capital city of Penang state and as well ranks one of the most populous cities in Malaysia. That the smoky aura of an old town blots the mise-en-scène out, however, slips my mind about the hustle and bustle of urbanism.
This is hardly a place you will just come once and go without attachment, owing to the irresistible charisma of a nostalgic beauty and a 234-year history veiled under the jazzy roofs. The town is perfectly capable to gravitate tourists all over the world based on the blend of plentiful ethnicities and religions. George Town’s historical core was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 – one crucial root for the acceleration of gentrification and local tourism. This must play influence upon George Town’s identity and put the city at risk of being a victim of consumer culture, but also greatly contribute to protection and revitalization of tangible cultural values. Many people including me thereby have the opportunity to gaze at this ancientness of a place formerly being the first British settlement in Southeast Asia. Above all there are 4 local qualities no one can overlook:
I. GEORGE TOWN’S ARCHITECTURE – A COVER OF ECLECTICISM:
The strategic location by the Malacca Strait turned Penang into a hectic port which has beheld business from nations throughout Asia and Europe. George Town’s architecture (and Malaysia’s architecture in general) is a vivid example of eclecticism due to its multi-cultures. There exists the architectural remnants of Indian Kingdoms from 7th to 14th century, Portuguese between 1511 and 1641, Dutch between 1641 and 1795, Indonesian in 18th century, and particularly Southern Chinese from 15th to 20th century and British in 171 colonial years (1786-1957) as the most striking influences.
George Town holds in itself a fate for auspiciously preserving a number of pre-war buildings such as Fort Cornwallis, the Kapitan Keling Mosque, St. George’s Church, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the City Hall, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (The Blue Mansion) and Pinang Peranakan Mansion, etc.
2. Fort Cornwallis
3. Kapitan Keling Mosque
4. St. George’s Church
5. Sri Mahamariamman Temple
6. City Hall
Furthermore, modern urbanization has brought vibrant department stores and skyscrapers to this land since the mid-20th century. Komtar Tower should be the most prominent name. It is the highest building in Penang state and the 11th highest building in Malaysia.
9. Komtar Tower
II. GEORGE TOWN’S CULINARY – TOP STREET FOODS IN ASIA:
Stamped by the hasty road-side stalls (hawker food) from morning to night, food in George Town is not only cheap and convenient; it was ranked by CNN Travel as one of the top 10 street food cities in Asia. The richness of culture offers visitors to Penang a wide range of dishes originated from Malay Malaysians, Peranakans (descendants of the Han Chinese who migrated to the Malay Peninsula between 15th-17th century and assimilated to the indigenous), Chinese Malaysians (descendants of the Han Chinese who migrated to the Malay Peninsula between 19th-20th century and maintained their Chinese heritage), Indian Malaysians and so on. Cuisine coming from the Peranakan is referred to as Nyonya.
The majority faith between Malaysians (particularly the Malay Malaysians not being “hybrid” or “crossbred”) is Islam, hence their culinary adheres to the Quran law aka Halal food. One of the principles is that the consumption of pork and pig products are prohibited. Thus, a small piece of advice for travellers who crave pork is to keep an eye on Chinese restaurants. Malay cuisine is featured by 5 traits:
Rich in herbs and spices
Coconut milk is one main ingredient
Meat is stewed in thick gravy
Turmeric powder is often seasoned in fried fish and seafood
Basically, must-eat foods in Penang are the commonly recommended dishes in Malaysia e.g. Nasi Lemak, Laksa, Satay or Char Kway Teow. Since I only eat certain types of food, in order to make it fair for anyone who is gonna explore George Town, let me cite some information about must-eat foods here according to Penang Foodie (As this post is meant for destination overview with very little of personal feelings).
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1. Char Kway Teow
2. Nasi Kandar (Cr: RasaHub)
3. Dim Sum (Cr: pal.lm)
4. Roti Canai
7. Puttu Mayong (Cr: Кино для всей семьи)
8. Wan Tan Mee
9. Lor Bak
11. Asam Laksa
Chan, Jin H., Lean, Hooi Hooi and Qi, Xiaoguang (2017) Transition of economic structure and demography: The case of tourism gentrification in George Town, Penang. International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas Conference 2017, 18-19 November 2017, Nagasaki, Japan.
Ahmad, A. Ghafar Bin (1994) Conservation of British colonial buildings built between 1800 and 1930 in Malaysia. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.
Mohd Nazri Abdul Raji, Shahrim Ab Karim, Farah Adibah Che Ishak and Mohd Mursyid Arshad (2017) Past and present practices of the Malay food heritage and culture in Malaysia. Journal of Ethnic Foods, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp. 221-231.