There are some places you’ll never hear about until you go to the opposite side of the world. Either that is true, or else I’ve just never been that strong in geography. This past weekend I went to Penang and for those of you about to refer to Google, it is a state in Malaysia. The state straddles the Strait of Malacca with the eastern coast and the island of Pulau Pinang.
Until Singapore and learning more about the surrounding areas, I’d had zero desire to visit Malaysia – It’s not exactly Bali or Australia, or some other tourist spot overly romanticized by the western world, but all cultures are guilty of short-sited travel. Many people here in Singapore can’t wait to visit New York City, but have no idea what they’re missing by not seeing the Grand Canyon.
Penang was certainly not the Grand Canyon, but it was worthy of a weekend trip. Only an hour flight from Singapore and famous for its street food and curious, Muslin beach community, Penang seemed like an ideal spot for two food-centric, beach bums like my boyfriend and I.
The flavor of Penang is unique with the predominate sour flavor of tamarind and belacan (shrimp paste), with other flavors typical of Southeast Asia – coconut milk, turmeric, chili peppers, etc. The char kway teow (flat, rice noodles) and nasi lemak (coconut rice served with roasted peanuts, anchovies, a hard boiled egg and spicy sauce wrapped in a banana leave) were available all day long at every food center. For in-between meals, delicious fried bananas, fried cassava root, fried samosas, freshly made roti (flat bread), and other greasy balls of goodness where available at every corner. It was truly the alternative snacker’s dream.
There are lots of places to travel. Yes, that may sound absurdly obvious, but I think we forget that the world is made of much more than a collection of country capitals. Penang is just an example of one of those unexpected spots. We visited an old Peranakan mansion, were peddled around in a trishaw, or bicycle taxi (cutting our trip short, fearing for our much older driver’s cardiovascular health), and explored an old British fort. On top of that, we snacked, toured, lounged on the beach, snacked some more, drank a beer (or three), and lounged, ate and snacked again.