Category Archives: Pulau Pinang

George Town

Penang Food Paradise





Penang Food Paradise

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Penang is a state in Malaysia, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca. Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia after Perlis, and the eighth most populous. A resident of Penang is colloquially known as a Penangite.


The island was referred to as pokok pinang The name “Penang” comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means island of the areca nut palm (Areca catechu, family Palmae). The name Penang can refer either to the island of Penang or the state of Penang.

The capital of Penang state is George Town. More specifically, George Town is also called Tanjung in Malay. Penang Island is simply Pulau Pinang and Penang state is Negeri Pulau Pinang in Malay.

Penang is severally known as “The Pearl of the Orient” and “Pulau Pinang Pulau Mutiara” (Penang Island of Pearls).


The common languages of Penang, depending on social classes, social circles, and ethnic backgrounds are English, Penang Hokkien, Tamil and Malay. Mandarin, which is taught in Chinese-medium schools in the state, is also increasingly spoken.

Penang Hokkien is a variant of Minnan and is widely spoken by a substantial proportion of the Penang populace who are descendants of early Chinese settlers. It bears strong resemblance to the language spoken by Chinese living in the Indonesian city of Medan and is based on the Minnan dialect of Zhangzhou prefecture in Fujian province, China.

It incorporates a large number of loanwords from Malay and English. Many Penangites who are not ethnically Chinese are also able to speak in Hokkien. Most Penang Hokkien speakers are not literate in Hokkien but instead read and write in standard (Mandarin) Chinese, English and/or Malay.

Malay is spoken locally with north-western dialect features, such as hang for “you” and depa for “they/them”.

English is a working language widely used in business and commerce, and is also the language of instruction of Science and Mathematics in schools. English used in an official or formal context is predominantly British English with some American influences. Spoken English, as in the rest of Malaysia, is often in the form of Manglish (Malaysian colloquial English).

Other languages, including Cantonese and Tamil, are also spoken in the state. Teochew is heard more in Province Wellesley than on Penang Island.


The official religion of Malaysia is Islam and the head of Islam is the Yang Dipertuan Agong, but other religions are freely practised. These are Buddhism, in the Theravada, Mahayana and increasingly also Vajrayana traditions, Taoism, Chinese folk religion, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism (the largest denominations of which are the Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Anglican, Presbyterian and Baptists) and Sikhism- reflecting Penang’s diverse ethnic and socio-cultural amalgamation.

There is also a small, but little-known, community of Jews in Penang, mainly along Jalan Zainal Abidin (formerly Jalan Yahudi or Jewish Street)


Penang agriculture is mainly made up of the major export crops of rubber and oil palm and some cocoa, the food commodities comprising paddy, fruits, coconut, vegetables, livestock (which is dominated by poultry and swine), fisheries and aquaculture, and new emerging industries such as ornamental fish and floriculture.

Owing to limited land size and the highly industrialised nature of Penang’s economy, agriculture is given little emphasis. In fact, agriculture is the only sector to record negative growth in the state, contributing only 1.3% to the state GDP in 2000. The share of Penang’s paddy area to the national paddy area accounts for only 4.9%.


Penang island is a paradise for food lovers who come from all over Malaysia and even Singapore to sample the island’s unique cuisine, earning Penang the nickname of the food capital of Malaysia. Penang was recognised as having the Best Street Food in Asia by TIME magazine in 2004, citing that nowhere else can such great tasting food be so cheap.

Penang’s cuisine reflects the Chinese, Nyonya, Malay and Indian ethnic mix of Malaysia, but is also strongly influenced by the cuisine of Thailand to the north. It’s especially famous “hawker food”, sold and eaten roadside, strongly features noodles and fresh seafood. Places to savour Penang’s food are Gurney Drive, Pulau Tikus, New Lane, Swatow Lane, Penang Road and Chulia Street. Local Chinese restaurants serve excellent fare too. American fast food outlets and cafés are readily found throughout the state.


Although Penang has lost much of its shopping paradise grandeur of its past, it still boasts several modern shopping malls catering a wide range of merchandise. Among the more popular ones on Penang Island are:

  • Queensbay Mall, Penang’s largest and longest shopping centre,
  • Gurney Plaza, touted as Penang’s first lifestyle-oriented shopping mall. Opened in 2001, it is located at the famous Gurney Drive precicnt.
  • KOMTAR is Penang’s first and oldest modern shopping mall. Plans are currently underway to revive the massive complex.

Other notable shopping malls on the mainland part of Penang:

  • Sunway Carnival Mall located at Seberang Jaya.
  • Seberang Prai City Perdana Mall located at Bandar Perda.

Concerns about Penang beaches

State Tourism Development Committee chairman Teng Chang Yeow said that there were plans to clean up and landscape the beaches in Batu Ferringhi. “The cleanliness of our beaches has been neglected for more than 10 years and this is a challenge to the tourism sector,”.

He added that the state Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) took water samples from beaches in Batu Ferringhi and determined numerous pollution sources including the sewage system, illegal restaurants and hawkers and car-washing activities.

State Tourism Development Committee chairman Teng Chang Yeow said he was informed of the matter by the management of Malaysia Airlines. “The number of tourists from these regions has been steadily declining over the past decade” and “Tourists come to the state for the surf and sand but they usually return home disappointed. We are even losing out domestically to Pangkor and Langkawi” “Rivers will be cleaned up and illegal outlets draining sewage into the sea will be connected to a treatment plant by 2009.”

Association of Tourist Attractions Penang (ATAP) chairman Eddy Low said “We strongly discourage food courts or stalls being set up or built near the sea to prevent the dumping of rubbish into the sea and around the area. ” He said there should also be a massive plan for a central sewerage system so that waste would not go to the sea. There is also a need to protect the outer islands such as Pulau Jerejak, Pulau Rimau and Pulau Aman. “It is important for us to maintain these islands which are still pristine and untouched by pollution.”

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St George’s Church

St George's Church - Penang

The Grand Dame of South-East Asia

St George’s Church

Farquhar Street, George Town.

Dedicated to the patron saint of England, St George’s Churh is South-East Asia’s oldest Anglican church and the largest in Malaysia. In 1817, the seed for building this grand house of worship had been sown and just a year later, building commenced at a cost of about 60,000 Spanish dollars – quite a huge sum in those days!

Built by Indian convicts in the veins of Western neo-classical style and Georgian Palladian design, the white building was inspired by the architectural style that was the rage in Britain and other parts of Europe at the time.

The brick building, modeled after a similar one in Madras, has a plastered stone base. The roof was originally flat but was converted to a gable in 1864. The highest point is the octagonal steeple and the most eminent feature is the portico of  Greek columns outside the front entrance. These columns are “Doric” in style (like the Parthenon in Athens).

Former British Governor of Penang Colonel John Alexander Bannerman’s daughter later married at the church that was constructed during her father’s term. Janet Bannerman’s marriage to Governor W.E. Philips Esq on June 30, 1818, was the first marriage ceremony for St George’s.

Then in 1799, the widow of Captain Francis Light – the man who established Penang as a trading post, also chose to re-marry at the Greek and Roman influenced building.

Although it was built under the auspices of Philips and Bannerman themselves (the highest-ranking British officers on the island then), the church was founded by Reverend Sparke Hutchings.

The congregation in those days comprised a multi crew of British officials, printers, tavern-keepers, fiddlers, hairdressers, coach-makers, watchmakers, coppers, shipwrights, merchants, planters and sailors, and French and Dutch prisoners of war who filled the pews and enjoyed the gardens.

Perhaps divine intervention has saved (except for the roof) the church from the World War II air raids, allowing ex-servicemen from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) to come “home” annually to honour 35 of their comrades who died in the line of duty and were laid to rest in various cemeteries in the country. A plaque bearing the names of those killed in action during their brief sojourn in Malaya between 1947 and 1951 hangs inside the church.

Within the sprawling church compound still sits a beautiful domed structure built more than 120 years ago in memory of Light and in celebration of the founding of Penang as a trading post in 1786.

Shrubs surround the Greek temple-like memorial, bringing with it a sense of tranquility despite its location in the heart of the city.

During the war, (now antique items like the) pews, pulpit, lectern and organ were looted by the locals but a marble plaque (engraved with writings about Light) framed by two column figures, is worth a look.

As a tribute to the Grand Dame, the church was gazetted as a historical monument in 1996, acknowledging its importance and role in the spread of Christianity in the region. Indeed, the essence of the church lies in its unpretentious yet breathtaking facade.

These days, mass is still conducted here every Sunday morning. Non-Christian couples who have fallen in love with the historical church often arrange for their wedding photographs to be taken in the compound while many Christians take great pride in exchanging their vows in a church that epitomises eternity.

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The Goddess of Mercy Temple – Penang

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The Goddess of Mercy Temple

Devotion through the Centuries…

The Goddess of Mercy Temple

Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town.
Opening hours:
6:00am to 8:00pm daily. 

The yellow-stained walls of this ancient temple bears testament to some 200 years of pious devotion. The little dragons perched on the ornate temple roofs have seen the worst of storms and the hottest of days yet the colours of these “ceramic guardians” have not lost its luster.

Huge bells that rival even those of Notre Dame tell of the temple’s glory while fearsome stone dragons and lions stand guard over the holy sanctuary and its devotees.

Although the temple along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling is actually called Kong Hock Keong or the Kwangtung Hokkien Temple, few people refer to it as such. It is better known as Kuan Im Teng or Goddess of Mercy Temple among both devotees as well as Penangites of other faiths.

The land where the temple sits was a gift from the East India Company to the early Chinese settlers here. Originally dedicated to Ma Chor Po – a patron deity seafarers and an incarnation of Kuan Im, the temple also houses other deities including the Tua Pek Kong (God of Prosperity), Kshitagarbha Buddha, Hu Ye (Tiger God), Tai Suey (God of the Year) and Boddhisattva Wei Tuo.

During the 1800s, it was among the most magnificent Chinese structures in northern Malaya, boasting of both Cantonese and Hokkien elements in its construction.

On her three birthdays (devotees of the Goddess of Mercy celebrate the 19th day of the second, sixth and ninth months of the Chinese lunar calendar as it is believed that her birthdays fall on these dates), devotees from all over the region will converge here to mark the special occasion and also to seek her blessings.
During these days, Chinese opera troupes would be engaged to perform for the deities for several days. These are the best times for foreigners to visit and pay their respects at the temple but please practice restraint and courtesy when taking photographs. At any given time, Kuan Im’s birthdays draw in hundreds of people jostling to get inside the temple with their joss sticks and offerings so please be mindful of your belongings and do not push!

The temple is also busy during the Chinese New Year period when people come to pray for good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

Constructed in accordance to Feng Shui principles, the temple has three wells – one on the right side of the main shrine, another outside the temple and the third hidden under the main altar of the Goddess of Mercy. The water from the wells is believed to be able to cure illnesses.

During the Japanese Occupation, many lives were saved as people ran into the temple to seek shelter from the bombings. Miraculously, when the Japanese invaded Penang, many buildings were damaged but the Kuan Im Teng was spared from destruction.

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