[Penang] Food Heritage Trail Guided Walk

The 5th & final ๐—ฃ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—™๐—ผ๐—ผ๐—ฑ ๐—›๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐˜๐—ฎ๐—ด๐—ฒ ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—น guided walk by Penang Hidden Gems for this year was conducted last Saturday, 4 Nov 2023.

  1. As always, the walk started off at ๐˜—๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜™๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ ๐˜๐˜ข๐˜ฎ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ด ๐˜›๐˜ฆ๐˜ฐ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ ๐˜Š๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ถ๐˜ญ, where participants learnt about the origin of cendol (first mentioned in 1104 in โ€œThe Epic of Kresnayanaโ€ of the Buddhist-Hindu kingdom of Kediri in West Java).
    Cendol is a sweet dessert of short, green rice noodles, which got its colour from the natural extract of pandan leaves, which also imparts a subtle, fragrant aroma. The cendol noodles are served with fresh coconut milk, sweetened with liquid palm sugar.

Tan Chong Kim, 60, whoโ€™s in charge of the โ€œPenang Road Famous Teochew Cendulโ€ family business today, is the 6th son of the founder, Tan Teik Fuang, who started the business back in 1936.

  1. Then to Bib Gourmand-listed ๐˜—๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜™๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ ๐˜๐˜ข๐˜ฎ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ด ๐˜“๐˜ข๐˜ฌ๐˜ด๐˜ข, where participants heard how the cross-influences of Burmese ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ๐˜ข, Siamese ๐˜ฌ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ฎ ๐˜บ๐˜ข๐˜ข and the ๐˜•๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜บ๐˜ข ๐˜ญ๐˜ข๐˜ฌ๐˜ด๐˜ข resulted in the fish-based, tamarind-inflected Penang assam laksa.

Penang Road Famous Laksa was started 53 years ago by Madam Teh Siew Heoh. Today, her daughter-in-law, Mdm Nguang Siik Hee, and grandson, Mr Leow Woo Taid, run the stall. It was included in the Michelin Guide 2023 to KL & Penang under its Bib Gourmand list.

  1. Next were visits to โ€œban chien kuehโ€ - invented by Manchu General Tso Tsung-tโ€™ang (1812-1885), the same Manchu Dynasty viceroy whoโ€™s commemorated in another dish, General Tsoโ€™s chicken in American-Chinese cuisine.

General Tso Tsung-tโ€™ang started his military career during the Taiping Rebellion in the 1850s. In Fujian, where sugarcane & peanuts are found in abundance, he asked that pancakes to be flavoured with sugar & peanuts to feed the Manchu/Qing troops. Hence, there were suggestions that instead of โ€œBanโ€ (which is the Hokkien word for โ€œslowโ€), it was โ€œManโ€ (from โ€œManchuโ€) which should be the character used to describe โ€œBan Chang Kuehโ€.

  1. Next stop was for a traditional Chinese snack with a long history. Known in Mandarin as โ€œyu tiaoโ€ (ๆฒนๆข), and in Cantonese as โ€œyau char kwaiโ€ (ๆฒน็‚ธ้ฌผ), the โ€œeu char koayโ€ was said to represent the corrupt, manipulative 12th-century Song dynasty official, Qin Hui, and his equally scheming wife, Lady Wang, who were vilified throughout Chinese history for their part in plotting against patriotic Song general Yue Fei, an icon of patriotism in Chinese culture. The general was imprisoned and later executed in prison under false charges trumped up by the evil duo.

The โ€œeu char koayโ€, hence, consisted of two pieces of conjoined dough, representing Qin Hui and Lady Wang, and they were โ€œdeep-friedโ€ to show the peopleโ€™s desire for revenge against the couple. Whilst the Hokkien term โ€œeu char koayโ€/โ€ๆฒน็‚ธ็ฒฟโ€ translates to โ€œdeep-fried pastryโ€, the Cantonese are less-forgiving, as โ€œyau char kwaiโ€/โ€ๆฒน็‚ธ้ฌผโ€ meant โ€œdeep-fried devilsโ€.

This shop is founded by Madam Chow Siew Ying, who learnt her trade from her Cantonese father over 50 years ago. Delicately kneading her flour-egg-milk-and-water dough by hand, and gluing two pieces together with water to form a pair, sheโ€™d gently stretch each paired dough over hot, boiling oil.

  1. Cantonese biscuits from Leong Chee Kee
    Leong Chee Kee is named after the founder, who came to Penang from Zhongshan City, Guangdong, before World War II. He hawked his specialty biscuits: โ€œYeh Chee Kokโ€ (coconut tarts), โ€œKai Dan Koโ€ (egg sponge cakes) and โ€œHor Chio Pheahโ€ (pepper biscuits) on a cart in the streets of old George Town.

Today, Leong Chee Kee pastry shop is run by his son, 67-year-old Leong How Keng, one of the few traditional Cantonese pastry chefs left in Penang today. Heโ€™s been working in his fatherโ€™s pastry shop since the age of 7.

  1. The mid-point refreshment break was at Bib Gourmand-listed ๐˜”๐˜ฐ๐˜ฉ ๐˜›๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜—๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ for its Nyonya kuehs, and to learn more about Nyonya kueh origins: many of which were conceptualised by 17th-century Siamese-Portuguese royal chef, Maria Guyomar de Pinha.

  1. Popiah skin
    This paper thin spring roll wrapper is of Fujianese or Hokkien origin (โ€œpopiahโ€ is Hokkien for โ€œthin biscuitโ€).

The founder of this 66-year-old shop is Mr Lim Kim Hoe, 81, who is acknowledged as the master popiah skin-maker at Chowrasta Market. Mr Limโ€™s popiah skin-making business is now managed by his eldest son, Gary, 53, and his daughter, Rebecca, 44, who made fresh popiah skins upon order.

  1. Chowrasta Market - the oldest market in Penang, its history can be dated back to the Indian street vendors of the mid-19th century. In 1890, the George Town Municipal Council built a single-storey Chowrasta market on this location. The present three-storey building dates back to the late-1960s.

  2. Later, participants learnt the difference between ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ช ๐˜—๐˜ข๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜จ and ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ช ๐˜ฌ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ณ, how one is matriarchal whilst the other is patriarchal, and as one uses wet spices, the other dry spices.

Nasi Padang is of Indonesian origin โ€“ from the city of Padang. Its Minang-style of cooking calls for coconut milk, turmeric, and lots of chilis. Nasi Padang is steamed white rice, served with a vast array of curried side-dishes to choose from. The beef rendang is a signature dish - slow-cooked dry beef curry which should be fork tender.

Nasi kandar is a Penang dish, of Indian-Muslim origin. Traditionally, dating back to the early-20th century, Penangโ€™s nasi kandar vendors all hail from the Ramnad district of Tamil Nadu in India, whilst the spice-women who traditionally provide the spice blends (โ€œrempahโ€) which characterize nasi kandar curries came mainly from Tenkasi and Kadayanallur districts in Tamil Nadu. This unique combination of Ramnad cooking techniques and Tenkasi/Kadayanallur spice blends resulted in the extraordinarily aromatic and distinct Penang nasi kandar curry flavours.

The tour ended on Dickens Street, with stories about the coming of the Hainanese, their service to the British Crown, and their subsequent adaption of some British food items to become their own: British eggs and soldiers become Hainanese soft-boiled eggs with butter toast.

  1. ๐˜’๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ช ๐˜“๐˜ข๐˜ช, the final stop on our trail is a traditional Hainanese kopitiam founded in 1920 by the Hainanese coffee-brewing Tan family. Tan Jeng Seow, the grandson of the founder, now runs the popular little coffeeshop.

Through guided tours like this, participants get a small glimpse into Penangโ€™s rich culinary heritage, and its multi-faceted history.


Fascinating. Food & history - just my sort of thing. Iโ€™ve done a couple of food tours and enjoyed both - a Cuban one in Miami and Cape Malay in Cape Town.

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Iโ€™d have loved to try the Cape Malay one. The cuisine, culture and language of the Cape Malays have evolved so much from their origin, itโ€™ll be very fascinating for me.