PENANG SPICE TRAIL : ENTICING SENSORY EXPERIENCE

When I arrived in George Town, it took me about five minutes to figure out the location of the office of Ministry of Tourism Malaysia-Penang branch in Beach Street.  I asked a traffic officer and a man guarding a building across the street about its location but I didn’t get a positive response. I found out later the office was newly transferred in the area. It came to mind that my adventure for that day had started early. Luckily, taking few more steps, a warm smile and a friendly welcome greeted me at the office’s lobby. I felt so home and was surprised that Ms. Jaime Yeoh  knew my name and my recent win for blogging from their office’s Head Quarters in Kuala Lumpur.  I randomly exchanged thoughts with her about being a traveler and being a tourist, and the so many possibilities that Penang can offer.  Little did I know that I was already speaking  casually to the Director of the Penang branch of the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia herself.

Exclusively invited participants arrived in the office few minutes past 8AM. I was introduced to a variety of people who are directly involved in the Tourism industry in this part of Malaysia. Our group of around 40 were composed of hotel managers, travel agency representatives, people from Tourist Guide Association of Penang (I hope I got their group’s name right), some journalists and photographers from the media and of course, a bunch of Penangite bloggers.  We were all invited to be introduced and to experience the new tourists’ package called the “Hot and Spicy Penang – The Spice Trail”.

Here are my insights, suggestions and a few tips about the program…

As a tourist, I want to see, taste, smell, hear and feel the place that I am visiting. As a traveler, I want to discover,  experience and immerse myself with the culture, traditions, history and lifestyle of the people and place I am exploring. The Penang Spice Trail offers all that with fascinating diversities from Malay, Indian and Peranakan or Straits Chinese all represented in the package.

From the brief orientation at the office’s AVR, we were immediately led to the streets of Penang on foot.

*Suggestions :  It would be better if you include an audio-video presentation of somewhat like a synopsis-introduction of the Penang Spice Trail to the participants during the orientation. Also, weather forecast for the day of the tour should be noted.

*Tips :  Bring umbrella and fans, wear your sunnies and sun visors and apply that much needed SPF lotion because the tour would involve some walking and strolling in and out of George Town other than riding the very comfy Bas Persiaran or tourist bus.

The tour was professionally guided by the amusing and spontaneous, Ms. Joann Khaw.  She kept the participants engaged and well-informed with everything about spices, its history relating to the island and the rest of Asia and lots of pertinent facts.  She was never boring and was so candid to burst into laughter and shared smiles with us. She really caught my attention when she mentioned that the Spice expedition to the Southeast Asia was halted when the Portugese, Ferdinand Magellan was killed in an island in The Philippines.

Our first pit stop : An old building with history that dates back to the Spice trade and industry in Penang. I so appreciate the fact that it’s preserved with its structure built with mixed concrete, steel and wood.

After brief discussion on the Spice trade and history in Penang, we strolled back to Jalan Pantai or Beach Street. What’s interesting with this tour package, it’s informative not only of spices and herbs but with almost everything in George Town. Case in point, I learned that when a building has inscription of a year, like that 1886 in the building shown on the next photo, the year indicates the year the building was completed.

From Beach Street, we went to Little India via this quaint alley called Lorong Che Em or Che Em Lane…

Et voila, Welcome to Little India…

Having been to Little India in George Town for a countless times, it still never fails to amaze me. The structures, the aroma of spices and herbs either being sold as raw ingredients or that distinct olfactory stimuli from Indian restaurants will surely draw and entice your noses to try and sample them. Not to forget the loud and lively Bollywood music that lords the parallels of Little India.

That day, I also developed my appreciation for wooden shutters! We were told that this building with gorgeous wooden shutters (on the next photo) is currently undergoing restoration.

It was only a few steps across the Indian restaurant we sampled for breakfast.

I have professed on this blog my family’s love affair with few Indian dishes, as well as this blog has documented some of our gastronomic adventures in Restoran Kapitan located at the junction of Pitt Street and Chulia Street in Little India. That morning, my taste buds were exposed to another Indian restaurant, the Sri Ananda Bahwan.

My Sunday breakfast : Teh tarik or Milk Tea, hot and Cheese Roti which I enjoyed with 3 Indian dips.  Flavorful and made me crave for more

I was looking at a young family (who brought their grandparents with them) devouring an interesting Indian food. The Tourism officers noted my fascination and they ordered one for me. I told them I surely cannot finish one with its humongous serving but I really wanted to put my fingers on that Roti Tissue.

It was my first time to see such towering delight! I was like a kid silently jumping for joy! The moment could have been happier if I was with Tina and Gabby; I’m sure my little kiddo would also love this! Roti  Tissue is a crunchy and crispy, hand-tossed larger and thinner version of  the traditional, Roti Canai. It’s also called Roti Helikopter or Helicopter bread apparently because of its incredibly creative presentation. It can be eaten with jam, sugar, or ice cream or in our case, it was served with condensed milk. A perfect ending to a simple but flavorful breakfast! A must-try in Little India!

*Suggestions : It would be better if the Ministry of Tourism-Penang Office would constantly check or delegate another office to keep an eye on the hygiene and cleanliness of restaurants, not only in Little India but the rest of the island. Delicious foods would appeal more tasteful to travelers, tourists and even local and expats if dishes and beverages are prepared and served with utmost cleanliness. Some restaurants barely offer table napkins or at least tissue to diners.

From Sri Ananda Bahwan restaurant, we walked to another alley in Little India. There were more wooden shutters for me to appreciate, and more wonderful sights to see. I particularly liked this amazing tree whose leaves and branches are not common to me. Pretty, is it not?

One of the parallels of Little India is China Street (Okay, it sounded like we toured around Asia with just few steps. Unless you’re from other planet or somewhere in the outer space, you must have heard of MOTOUR’s tagline, Malaysia Truly Asia! It’s Truly Asia in this part of Southeast Asia!) In China Street, we found ourselves inside the V. Kaleespari Grinding Mill which they had it open only for the tour (read : remember, it was Sunday?).

For me, this is one of the highlights of the Penang Spice Trail. Tourists and travelers would definitely be interested in something they never see and experience on a daily basis. And of those things is being inside a Milling factory.

Spices, spices, and more spices!

I salute this man who was grinding chili on a Sunday morning. He could have enjoyed the day off with his family but he gladly reported to work just to accomodate us in the tour.

Chili grinder, baby!

We only stayed for few minutes inside the Milling factory, enough for us to practically see how some spices are processed. Then we walked along China Street again. There were more wooden shutters and century-old structures to love. 😀 The day was even lovelier because the sky was intensely blue and the sun was in its mightiest; at least we didn’t have downpour!

An inspiring day, is it not?

One more shot with those beautiful wooden shutters and that handsome tree…

At the heart of Little India, we were ushered to this store that sells, what else but spices!

*Tips : Take note tourists and travelers, we were told that this spice shop is the friendliest among the many spice stores in Little India. They allow you to ask queries about their commodity even without you buying. Photo-ops are also free! 🙂

After that Spice Milling factory and Spice store visits, we needed to go inside this art exhibit gallery while waiting for our tourist bus. It was an extra treat for us!

Inside this art gallery are tons of inspiring objects. I instantly found this corner with art and photography books, a guitar and piles of colored masterpieces very inspiring! Is it not too cozy?

While our tourist guide, Joann further explained things about spices, I found more fascinating things like this wooden staircase.

“PENANGism”

Here we were on this central spot of the art gallery having an engaging talk about spices, spices and spices…

Joann came so prepared like a girl scout and brought several samples… The most interesting spice to me at this point of discussion was the Betelnut which of course, can cause Nasopharyngeal cancer. It’s commonly chewed by Southeasian people including native Filipinos in the Northern Philippines.

On our way to our tourist bus, I saw this Kedai Kopi or Coffee Shop… Do they serve peace and joy with their drinks? I must sample!!! 😀

A stone’s throw away and we reached the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Kapitan Keling Street. The shrine is located beside this pastel colored structure. It caught my attention because it blended well with the hues of the clouds and the sky!

The roof of Guan Yin Temple…

From George Town, our Bas Persiaran took us to Penang Botanical Garden…

It’s my second time in this place; the first time was with Gabby almost a year ago, while Tina was taking her “me-time” at a salon in the mall. I love how lush and textured the trees here.

Mr. Michael Langdon (center) spoke to us about the history of spice trade in Penang and how it evolved through the years. He also pointed out how several species of spices and herbs have grown and were kept in Penang Botanical Garden.

Other than the spices and herbs and century-old trees that may lure tourists, there are a lot more this flora-and-fauna-theme park has to offer…

I found this tree with uniquely charming bloom too interesting that I decided to make a separate blog entry about it soon. For now, enjoy this solitary shot…

Time flew so fast that I didn’t feel hungry until we were brought back to George Town in a restaurant called, D’ Dapur located in Union Street near Beach Street. They specialized in Malay cuisine.

*Suggestion : It would be better if the proximity of location in the itinerary will be well thought of, so traffic jam particularly during rush hour can be avoided, thus time could be stretched.

We had Indian food for breakfast, Malay for lunch! 😀

This bright yellow wall was the view from where I sat. Eye-catching, isn’t it?

Here’s the table where I had my lunch with newly met fellows. Wait till you see the photo below when it was filled with Malay dishes…

A detail shot of the view of the corner from where I sat…It appears to me a father-and-son-bike. And you?

Now, these were the HOT & SPICY MALAY CUISINE we sampled…

Can anyone identify those dishes ?

My Filipino taste buds were intensely stimulated by these Malay dishes! I was sweating profusely on my nape as I taste everything on the table. To my surprise, one of the Chinese-Malaysian bloggers in our table commented to the manager of the restaurant that overall, she found the dishes not that hot but rather SWEET! It was a statement to reckon with; a comment to ponder!!! Kidding aside, I understood her point. For someone whose palates have been accustomed to HOT & SPICY dishes, any local Malaysian can easily tell which is authentic from which is not. The manager of D’ Dapur reasoned out that the dishes they serve were already tailored to the tastes of foreingers.

In all fairness, the set meal that was served per table had veggies, seafoods, rice of course, chicken, tofu, and teh tarik or milk tea to complete. The proportions were huge for sharing and spices and herbs made everything tasteful and… spicy! 😀

God is alive because they followed the hot and spicy meal with a heavenly dessert. A truly Malaysian sweet treat, Cendol! This reminds me of Halo-Halo from the Philippines, although ours have more ingredients while Cendol, in my opinion is a simpler version. It was a glorious ending to a hot and spicy meal! A perfect one to sample even from hawker food stalls in Penang…

My personal serving of Cendol… Refreshingly sweet! 😀

*Suggestions : It would have been better if the chef himself came out from the kitchen (D’ Dapur in English means “Inside the Kitchen” according to my Malaysian students) to explain every dishes and feature the spices he used in cooking. There was no set menu found on the table to introduce the name of the dish to a foreigner like me. The dishes were nicely presented and the facilities of this restaurant including the toilet and a peek into the kitchen proved that they give importance to cleanliness and hygiene.

I also suggest for the restaurant to prepare the set menu with names of dishes, description and include the ingredients highlighting the spices used in preparartion. That way, the diners particularly non-Malaysians would have better appreciation of the Penang Spice Trail.

After that spicy and hearty lunch, we hopped on the tourist bus again and few minutes after, I saw this by my bus window…

We were brought to the Tropical Spice Garden which is not to be missed if you’re into this Penang Spice Trail! It’s my second time there after I brought my family there last year.

*Tip : It’s better for visitors and tourists to go with the guided tour inside Tropical Spice Garden, this would maximize their visit.

I learned a lot from the tourist guide unlike when we had D.I.Y.-tour I had with Tina and Gabby last year. Do sample their in-house restaurant, Tree Monkey and if you have extra time, enroll in their cooking class which highlight herbs and spices of course.

*Suggestion : Remind tourists to wear something casual and easy, comfortable enough to cover the arms and legs and the feet so as to avoid the pesky mosquito bites. Although the free citronella oil spray at the entrace of this tropical paradise was offered, I still had another memorable mosquito bite at my antecubital fossa from Tropica Spice Garden.

I appreciated that almost all species in Tropical Spice Garden has its label complete with Scientific Name and common name, plus its use as a plant, as a herb or medicinal plant or just plain cooking spice and its sources.

It was only during that Penang Spice Trail that I learned about the Pinang Tree (the palm tree on the next photo). I know that Pulau Pinang or the island of Penang’s flag has a palm as a symbol but I had no idea what species of palm tree this state was named after until I joined this tour. Informative, I tell you!

Behold, a tropical beauty at its finest…

This tree that exfoliates spontaneously exposing its nearly scarlet bark is used as an ink to design Malaysian batik.

While that ordinary looking plant beside our knowledgeable and cool tourist guide is poisonous! I think most domestic houses, private and government offices have that as their indoor plant but it was only last Sunday that I learned that it has toxins and is very lethal. Do you such info? I was totally out of the loop! 😀

*Suggestion : Be cautious to observe timetable. Some tourists and travelers want an on-the-dot-schedules. Others may also prefer to have the tour guiding in their native tongue. I remember touring California ages ago, from LA-San Francisco-Fresno-LA, our tour guide then spoke and explained everything in 4 languages – English, Italian, Spanish and French. He did that impressively! However it may add up to the cost of the tour.

The last part of this Penang Spice Trail was way beyond my expectations. We were all assigned to different spa in various hotels in the island. This part of the tour package aims to highlight the Peranakan-Inspired Spa treatment. To me, it completed the package because all the 3 large communities in Malaysia are well represented–We had breakfast and toured Little India. Lunch was at a Malay restaurant that featured Malay cuisine where spices were used and the day ended at a very relaxing note in a Peranakan-Inspired Spa (representing Chinese community).

I, together with 7 other fellows were brought to Rainbow Paradise Inn Beach Resort in Tajung Bungah to experience Samporna Spa…

*Suggestion : Remind tourists who would avail of this package to bring extra clothes.

The massage with aromathic oil followed by application of mud really put me to sleep for few minutes. It was indeed relaxing!

Samporna Spa also has jacuzzi…

A group of four to maximum of six can unwind in the jacuzzi and enjoy a sip of their favorite red or white wine… I only had the massage then hit the shower after an hour. It was so invigorating after all the walking and a whole day of tour in the island… Thank you, Saporna Spa! Thank you, Rainbow Paradise Inn Beach Resort! Thank you, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia-Penang Branch for the invite!

Penang has its unique charm with its rich culture, heritage and diversities in food, people and places. This Penang Spice Trail offers a variety of options on how to enjoy and maximize one’s stay in the island. Avail of the tour packages via your chosen hotel in Penang, ask your designated tourist guides or personally visit/email/call the office of Ministry of Tourism Malaysia-Penang branch for more details about these.

Are you enticed to take the Penang Spice Trail? You’ll definitely savor every step! 😉

Visit their facebook website via https://www.facebook.com/MOTOURPenangOffice. Special thanks to Ms. Jaime Yeoh and her staff and to fellow blogger, Willy Wah for the invite.

*My blog post last year about Tropical Spice Garden via http://docgelo.com/2011/04/03/amidst-lush-greens-good-food-mosquito-bites/

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22 thoughts on “PENANG SPICE TRAIL : ENTICING SENSORY EXPERIENCE

  1. awesome photos! and i have to agree with you. the cleanliness in Penang is really a major concern.
    back then it was dirtier, and it gets better with all the initiatives by the new government.
    well now its up to the citizens to co-operate and to maintain. 😉

  2. Wow, sa kulay pa lang ng food ma-anghang na. I like all your photos and full coverage of the tour. Spa, for sure I will try that and explore Little India soon.

    1. Ivan!!! Thanks, man for the visit here!
      Always a pleasure when Beyond Toxicity is visited by The Old Manila Walks!

      Oh yes, you should go back!

      PS : I just found out that tourist guides here have registered numbers, enlisted with the MoTour! Ganoon ba sa atin? They receive high respect here! May assoication pa sila.

  3. I love spicy food but I perspire profusely when I consume them. Hindi ako puedeng kumain niyan sa mga formal gathering LOL. Thanks for taking us along the Penang spice trail.

  4. I love the photos doc! 😀 I’d love to visit Penang some time soon since I haven’t been to Malaysia yet. And wow at that roti tower! Solb na ko dyan plus teh tarik! Btw, glad you have your own domain already! 😉

    1. thanks, sumi! let me know if you’re dropping by penang whenever you decide to go.
      if we’re still here and our schedule permits, then we we can have a meet up! how’s that? 🙂

  5. Just for your info, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia have no authority to take any action on the cleanliness of restaurant. It is the duties of the Municipal Council.

    Thanks for your input & suggestion.

    1. Thanks, Vincent for the visit here!

      I hope the Municipal Council or whatever office is responsible for the cleanliness of hawkers and restaurants would keep and maintain cleanliness in food preparation and serving. It’s good that the restaurants we sampled on this Penang Spice Trail have been observing such.

      Thanks again! 🙂

  6. Lucky you to go on the Spice Trail tour! And I think the dish with eggs, tofu (or was that taupok), and green beans might be a sambal telur (egg curry) or a dish of Mee Siam.

  7. I hope I’m guessing the Malay dishes right! 🙂

    1) Kacang Botor Goreng Belacan (Stir Fried Belacan Winged Beans)
    2) Sambal Tumis Udang (Prawn Sambal Tumis, I dont know how they called sambal tumis is English, but ‘tumis’ is saute)
    3) (Maybe) Fried Tofu
    4) Kari Ayam (Chicken Curry)
    5) I cant recognize this one, but it looks like fried sweet potato?
    6) Sotong Kunyit (Tumeric Squid)
    7) Was that mixed vegetable salad with peanut sauce? It must be “Pecal” then, a Javanese traditional cuisine.

    Hope these might help. Loving your new header by the way! 😀

    1. wow, haha, thanks for the effort of identifying all those malay dishes for me! …really appreciate it!

      however, #3 wasn’t fried tofu. i also thought it was when they served it to our table. the consistency stated otherwise. it was like some mixture of something with spices and all.

      #5 wasn’t sweet potato but fried tofu deceivingly served like sweet potatoes, hehehehehe! 🙂

      #7 i initially thought it was brown rice-dish (if there’s such a thing), but when i dunked my fork into it, a mound of spiced bean sprouts were revealed. the toppings tasted like dried fish bits.

      thanks again! i fell in love with my new blog header too! 😛

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