It’s more than just street food. This hip heritage destination is rife with boutique hotels, cafes and whimsical street art.
Ivy’s Nyonya Cuisine (58 Jalan Chow Thye, tel: +60 4-227-9864, www.facebook.com/ivysnyonyacuisine)
Unlike in Malacca and Singapore, Peranakan food in Penang features more assam flavours and sour-spicy accents, thanks to the state’s proximity to Thailand. Try it at this homely family-run restaurant, named after co-owner Ivy.
Start with Ivy’s jiu hu char (RM25, or S$9.63) –shredded jicama and carrots served with lettuce – before progressing to perutikan (RM25), a fiery fish stomach stew. If your tastes are more conventional, stick with otak otak (RM12) – Ivy’s is steamed with betel leaf for a tangy twist – and the kapitan curry chicken (RM18). Dishes here are pork-free.
Pasar Air Itam Laksa (Jalan Pasar, Air Itam – next to Air Itam market))
You can’t say you’ve been to Penang without trying its laksa. This popular roadside stall boasts queues even at 3pm, and the steaming pots crusted over with caramel-coloured gravy are quite a sight. RM4 gets you a bowl of thick rice noodles doused in a piquant broth that’s flavourful without tasting overly fishy or spicy.
That Little Wine Bar (54 Jalan Chow Thye, tel: +60 4-226-8182, www.thatlittlewinebar.com)
For a quiet tipple, head to That Little Wine Bar. This intimate restaurant-bar draws the expat crowd with its excellent modern European cuisine and extensive wine list. There are over 100 varieties of wines at reasonable prices – a glass of house red and white go for RM20 each and a bottle of chardonnay costs only RM88. I had a glass of fruity Floc de Gascogne blanc (a fortified white wine; RM20) with a Warm Apple Filo Pillow (RM 18) – heavenly.
Muntri Mews (77 Jalan Muntri, Georgetown, tel: +60 4-263-5125, www.muntrimews.com)
Georgetown boasts dozens of boutique hotels, but we’re drawn to the Muntri Mews story. The nine-suite hotel is located in a restored double-storey building that used to house horse stables and carriages during the colonial era. No smell of hay – the rooms are modern and comfortable – but there are echoes of its past in the building’s distinctive L-shaped structure and the high vaulted ceilings with exposed beams. I found the staff unusually attentive – without being asked, they delivered pitchers of ice water to my room whenever I returned from sightseeing. Suites cost between RM350 and RM410 per night, inclusive of breakfast for two.
China House (153 & 155 Lebuh Pantai and 183B Lebuh Victoria, Georgetown, tel: +60 4-263-7299, www.chinahouse.com.my)
Penang’s cool kids congregate at China House, a lifestyle complex that radiates a boho-eclectic vibe (and yes, it’s very Instagram-able). The 16,000 sq ft space is, in fact, three shophouse units combined. It’s divided into seven sections, including a breezy Melbourne-style cafe, a Western restaurant, an outdoor courtyard with a pool (you’re welcome to swim), and a bar that features live music on Fridays and weekend nights. You can browse the cafe’s collection of design and poetry books, and troop up to the art gallery on the second floor, which features temporary art exhibitions.
Every Penang guidebook will mention the whimsical murals done by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. There are eight of them spread across the city, but if you don’t have time, stick to this short route to see half of them. Start at Lebuh Ah Quee, where you’ll come across his most photographed work, Boy On A Bike. Walk down the street and turn right at Lebuh Pantai. Make another right turn into Lebuh Armenian, where you’ll encounter Kids On Bicycle and the larger-than-life This Old Man, painted onto a building facade. Turn left and walk down Lebuh Cannon, where you’ll see Reaching Up – a mural of a young boy tiptoeing on an actual chair welded to a wall.
By Jeanne Tai, Her World, July 2014