Saturday, May 26, 2012

Embrace the Spiciness of Penang (pt 3)

          Ok, it's the middle of the day. And the bus that's supposed to pick us up was late so our time to visit the nature that nests quite some spices' plant got pushed further so we reached Botanic Gadens around noon. AROUND NOON!!!!! Oh for those of you not too familiar with Penang's climate, it's located at a mere 5 degree N from the Equator.

          Even the big old trees can't save us from sun shining vertically straight downward!

          But (there's always but), because we have a nice(looking) gentleman, who is a historian residing in Penang committed to researching East India Co., to be our guide explaining how Penang was once the center of attention of the world because of spices thus it became less uncomfortable (well, it worked for me though *blush*). He's Tengku Idaura's friend - Mr. Marcus Langdon (some information Mr Langdon shared can be found here).

        Honestly, Penangite especially the younger generations need to hear what Mr. Langdon say. I mean if someone can traveled the world and decided to stay here, we've got to know it better than knowing only "FOOD HAVEN"!

        Oh, speaking of food...., anyway (please don't blame me, Penangite are blessed with good tongue), our lunch awaits at D'dapur.

        Do I need to explain more than "savor the mouth watering dishes"?

        Ok, overall my trail mates said the food are too spicy but I think it's still ok. However, honestly, the dishes did disappoint me.

        I mean I have had a very interesting learning the whole morning so I was expecting something more spicy - not spicy hot but the kind that I can let my tongue and nose practically experience the awesomeness of spices such as clove, cinnamon, star anise, cumin etc. Instead, I had mostly spicy food that can only be classified into "super hot", "hot" or "not hot", and sweet at the same time. The manager did come by to ask about what we think of the food. When I tell him they are relatively sweet, he said "oh ya, because people tend to prefer sweet" (oh really? then why's your red bean in Chendol not sweet at all?).

       Anyway, after such heavy lunch we headed to another big library of spices - Tropical Spice Garden.

        This 4.5acre of award winning landscaped design garden within a secondary forest sanctuary is a total awesome place. It's home to over 500 species of tropical flora and fauna with a special emphasis on spices and herbs is definitely a great place to learn as a tourist or researcher. Besides, they have very nice little museum, a gift shop sells types of spices, a restaurant serves cold beer, and gazebo area that is able to host a small-and-close-group wedding or family functions.

        The guided tour is definitely an interesting thing because beautiful knowledge about mother nature and how these common looking plants can be so insightful will not be known without indication and proper explanation.

        And after a long day of walking and sweating, we're treated with a spice-inspired massage to wrap up our fruitful journey.

        It's a tiring but enjoying trail and gratitude is gratefully expressed to Ministry of Tourism Penang Office for such inspiring day, to Project Penang that always strive to promote the beauty of Penang in every possible way, and to our lovely guide Joann for being such a wonderful company in making the whole trip full of joy and enriched with wisdom.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Embrace the Spiciness of Penang (pt 2)

       Word of the day - spice.
                                    Pronunciation: /spʌɪs/                                    noun
1. an aromatic or pungent vegetable substance used to flavor food.

        Or, as Wikipedia say, a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance (except the leaf, which is known as "herb") primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food (oh that's what the guide said too!).

        To know spice better, in terms of variety and it's use, we should always go to the expert. Academically a scholar is a good reference. But if you are looking at "less book but more practical" way, you should go to someone who almost live, eat, sleep and even breath spices.

        I call it "the making of a wonderful world (of spices)" - machine running non-stop processing the main player of a thousand interesting dishes (ahh.............. *Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" playing in background).

        Anyway, if the last thing you want to experience when you walk into a shop wishing to know more about something is to get shooed away with a cold-I am too busy for your questions unless you are buying-face, I suggest you come to this one here because the owner is nice enough to explain their merchandise patiently.

        Look, I have proof!

(p/s: isn't the straw hat something? Look at that flower! Geez, sorry Jaime, I just can't help it but keep on noticing your "topi"!)

       Penang got her name after the malay name of betel nut - Pinang. Penang's "full name" is Pulau Pinang, where Pulau means "island". Thus Pulau Pinang means "the island of betel nut". Today, many part of the world still maintain the habit of chewing wrapped betel nut but you hardly see people practice this locally (except some older generations). A typical betel nut wrap is less common these days. Instead, they come in "flavors" now. Yes, some smart merchants make it fancy by adding in chocolate or cherry to make it.....well, let's just say, "taste trendier".

        I was told betel nut wrap played a medical role, like antiseptic to kill the germs that cause bad breath (ewwww!!!) in the olden days. So how does it taste like? Err, sorry folks, I brush and gargle Listerine. :P

        Another specialty is Nutmeg. The fruit can be made pickle, or dried and grated then rind with sugar then eaten like titbits or the latter can be used as garnishing for local desert - ice-kacang. Or made drinks, white in color if it is juiced raw and red with it's cooked. When processed, it's oil and balm, being used as medicine; and made powdered to be widely used as seasoning for food.

        One interesting fact that I learned from this trail is: nutmeg has sex! I mean there are male and female nutmeg. Now I don't know whether it is related to something/anything in our world, it is said that every tree that produces nutmeg fruits has (much) less male than female.

        The difference between two? Well, I am not into writing a thesis about nutmeg so I am going to make it short here - one has 2 sections and another has 4.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Embrace the Spiciness of Penang (pt 1)

        Just when we thought we have seen it all how beautiful Penang is, something that once being widely spoken of has returned - Hot and Spicy!

        Spices not necessarily to be hotty spicy but they sure give a "kick" in our flavors if used right. That is why Ministry of Tourism Penang Office decided to awake the classic image of Penang - so that people know why she was once a hot chick to many continents and countries.

        This trail, just like the one I had before (the coffee trail), allowed me to experience the subject in every possible way - see, know, touch, and taste. Ever better, we have a guide this time to make the whole trip even more interesting by learning the juicy stories of streets, places, buildings along the way.

        It's called The Spice Trail, ladies and gentlemen (here is the newspaper reporting).

        When you come to Penang. Don't just come and go. Don't just eat and leave. Don't just take pictures and post on FB (*ha!).

        Both you and Penang deserve a real deal in seeing and showing the true beauty regardless you are on a luxury breakaway such as staying in boutique hotel down town, resort style beach hotel by the coast line or spending on budget backpack trip.

         Look for a good guide who can bring you into the core of it if you are not into "find out yourself" type, or dig deep if you are the kind that love to appreciate the city you visit with your own style.

        First of all, look up.

        The buildings built during the time of British Colonial have some "signatures"  - name, logo, numbers and even symbolic decorative. Below are some of the many spotted beautiful buildings along the way of this trail.

(Left: the old logo for OCBC; Top: George Town Dispensary;
Bottom: Coins, Bamboos, Bats (means fortune, endless, joy); Right: year of completion)
        Secondly, look for small blue board like this. There are plenty of boards like this in the city, usually located at the either end of a street. Because Penang is a multiracial city and this culture has been around for decades thus you will find different names (in different language) for the same street and the come-about of such names.

        We were walking down the road towards little india and our guide said, "let's cross the street. I want to show you all something".  

        For example, if the street is known as "chicken sale street" to the local Chinese then you can't go wrong with there were plenty of chicken sellers here long ago.

        As we passed the houses in this little street, we reach............... 

BREAKFAST! (*yay!!)

        Malaysian food is so flavorful. Almost all types of food you can find in Malaysia contain spices ("die die" also have got to have spice in one way or another even it is not found in that food itself). For instance, the gravies for ROTI. Spices not only make food tastier, they also make food prettier. Look at the buckets - yellow, red, orange. Don't you just love and enjoy your food better? Don't get scared away, not all red equals to hotty-spicy (just like Jalapeno can be firey even it's green).  

(to be continued)


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

It's Penang World Dance Day, peeps

    It gave me a heartache when I heard from a friend that this year's Penang World Dance Day receives no monetary support from any of the YB (Yang Berhormat, people's representatives in Malaysian politic).

    While standing at the crossroad not knowing how to make thing happen without having the right supports, Aida finally decided to continue such wonderful event out of her own pocket.

    Unlike the United States (and probably many other countries that take arts seriously), Malaysian tend to look at arts differently. Like they are so impractical (unless they make you good money), and irrelevant to our daily lives (because they are just hobby).

    So when Aida made up that decision to carry on with her plan, she'd prepared to accept the worst - spending money to receive very very little respond. She contacted different instructors from various dance genre and received their kind support to provide workshop without charge. And thank goodness the results were total opposite.

    Instead of worrying not enough participants to join the classes, they have got overwhelming signup until they have to close registration one day prior to the event.

    The event was a big success and everybody went home that day with happy smile on their face.

    Now what if this event is being supported by our government? With more funding to conduct such event, more participation can be expected, and the media will be much much more interested in reporting.

    Don't you think it is something that helps society to build arts awareness, forms a platform for teenagers to get involve in healthy and positive self exploration, and most of all, we show other states in Malaysia - Penang, once again, sees higher and further than the rest?

    With my own eyes, I see joy and happiness through different languages spoken with movement happening without barriers and obstacles. And I don't know how much discount have penangpac given but that little box of donation was filled with heavy gratitude.

    Do you think arts is nothing? See So You Think You Can Dance in the United States. It has successfully bring together people throughout the country (and the whole world) to the awareness of how dance can be a good market.

    Care or care not the growth and future of youth and children via different path than being doctor or engineer and architect, it is all up to your own wisdom.

(photo courtesy of Allspire Photography)