Back in Penang – How I packed in my two weeks in Penang, Part 1….more eating out and more food, and took in a bit of a heritage George Town.
We visited my mum the next morning after our arrival in Penang. We took the RapidPenang bus there. Cost only MYR$1.40 (AUD$0.40), which was a short ride from Queensbay to Sungai Dua. On our way, there is a popular and very large open air kopitiam, “Super Tanker”, with over twenty different variety of hawker stalls selling all the local favourites – asam laksa, curry laksa, wanton mee, char keow teow, koay teow teng, kuih, chicken rice, mee rebus, etc. We were both hungry and stopped for a light brunch. The stalls usually have different vendors running in the morning and at night. It starts early before 8 am and closes late to almost midnight. There is always plenty of food around mum’s area, and cheap in comparison to several other places.
We walked around the kopitiam and browsed each of the stall to see what they were selling. We decided on a dry wanton mee, char koay teow and “sar hor fun”. The only noodle we like most was the dry wanton mee. The char koay teow did not have that “wok hay”, flavour and smell. The sar hor fun was also bland and dull. I was surprised that I had made a terrible choice on my first hawker food in Penang. The best is to be guided by how popular the stall is, ie the crowd, before choosing the food. Or, I should have given my mum a call before selecting the food. She knows best in her area.
The next day we went to Gurney Plaza, a lifestyle mall in Gurney Drive. The two better malls in Penang are Gurney Plaza and Queensbay Mall. Queensbay Mall is closer to where we live. Gurney Plaza is on the other side of the island, which we had to go through some of the busiest streets in George Town to get there. Both malls have good food outlets from local favourites to international cuisines serving Cantonese, Japanese, Seafood, Mexican and others.
After shopping for almost two hours, we needed a short break and had dim sum or yum cha at a nice Chinese restaurant, “Xuan Xin”. We have tried this place once a couple of years ago, and remembered the food was good.
We ordered a soft shell crab, lotus ahizome with salted egg yolk, “Lok Pak Koh” (fried radish cake), “Sui Mai”, sharks fin and prawn dumpling, and a plate of steamed barbeque pork with flat rice noodle (which we could not eat and had it takeaway). The bill came to MYR$51.60 (AUD$17.20), including soya bean drinks, for two of us. We enjoyed our yum cha and the food that we ordered. The crisp lotus ahizome was different and interesting. Salty with the coated egg yolk. The soft shell crab was a delight.
I am glad to hear that this restaurant, “Xuan Xin” will be opening their second outlet at Queensbay Mall, which will be closer for me to walk there for yum cha on my next trip.
We caught up with our Sydney friends on day 4 of our trip in George Town. We met up at Beach Street where I had to do some errands. I suggested to them that we walked to Chulia Street for either a light lunch or a drink. I felt sorry that I have suggested we walked. It was midday and it was sunny and hot. It was only a short twenty minutes walk, but probably felt like an hour for them in the heat.
We stopped at “Yeng Keng Hotel”, a beautiful two storey hotel with a huge open external courtyard, and a quaint shaded internal airwell/courtyard. Yeng Keng is the first fully renovated boutique hotel in Chulia Street, nicely restored from a ninetinth century old building. Since then, other small boutique hotels have sprung up along Chulia Street, the latest being “Banana Boutique Hotel” and “Chulia Heritage Hotel”. It is a bit harder to find Chulia Heritage Hotel, which is set back by a long driveway from Chulia Street. The other two hotels have street frontage, so they were easy to find.
Yeng Keng Hotel, 362 Chulia Street, George Town, Penang.
Banana Boutique Hotel, 422 Chulia Street, George Town, Penang.
Chulia Heritage Hotel, 380 Chulia Street, George Town, Penang.
Tourists are flocking to heritage George Town ever since the old part of George Town has been listed under the UNESCO world heritage site. Property prices in old part George Town has jumped from less than half a million five years ago to over one and two millions Malaysia Ringgit, depending on the condition and size of the property. Most buyers are foreign investors, mostly Singaporeans, Japanese, Australians, Americans and British.
I saw this old and rundown heritage Chinese style building across from Yeng Keng Hotel. I guess some foreign investor will buy this building and refurbish into another boutique accommodation. The facade of this building is a living history of old George Town, which is worth preserving under the UNESCO listing.
At Yeng Keng, we stopped for a light lunch break. A new cafe was added annexed to the hotel. It was recently opened two days ago. The cafe used to operate at the front of the hotel, extended to the front courtyard. An open-air alfresco style dining. But, in Penang it gets too hot to be alfresco dining unless there is ample shades and ice cooling giant fans. The new opened cafe is indoor and airconditioned. Nicely renovated like an upper class Straits Chinese coffee shop. It has a big bar area underneath a glass covered open well, letting the lights through, and an upstairs catering for private functions. Yeng Keng cafe was an ideal place for us to cool off and relax for a couple of hours with a light snack and Tiger beer. The “Choon Piah” (nyonya style fried spring roll) was a nice light snack and went well with a Tiger beer.
After our light lunch, I wanted to get a haircut where my partner had his the other day. He has been there a few times in previous trips. The barber/hair saloon is an old style Chinese all girls barber shop. In the nineteenth century, Chulia Street was very popular with all this beautiful girls hair saloon catering for men clientele only. “Vincent” is the only surviving saloon left. It was like stepping back in time. All ladies in there. The woman who cuts my hair is probably in her sixties. She is still skillful with her clipper and scissor and has steady hands and fingers. It was a novelty to step in there for my haircut, for only MYR$13 (AUD$4.20). Unfortunately, she told me that they will shut down in the next 3 – 5 years. The rent has gone up so much that it is impossible to make any money. They have rented the premise and run the business for over 35 years. But, I think it is much longer. The rent was MYR$500 per month before UNESCO listing. Now it costs them MYR$2500 per month in a space of less than five years.