We are 11 days into January. The bright lights, holiday decorations and family gatherings (what little there could be over the holidays due to Covid) have come and gone, and there is nothing left but the cold of winter.
The lights, the warmth, the anticipation of the festivities gives us something to look forward to and the cold air and cloudy-filled days are bearable and even welcomed (hello mulled wine to keep my hands warm as I peruse Christmas markets for gifts!)
However, the minute January comes, I take the decorations off the tree, pull down the bunting and wrap the garland lights as neatly as possible, so I don’t have to wrestle them next year (and yet somehow, I STILL have to untangle them when I take them out of the box).
The act of putting things away, coupled with the dreary weather, I start feeling like the winter is too much.
I don’t like the cold. I don’t like pulling on layer after layer. I don’t like seeing my breath come out as a little cloud. Snow is nice, but only for the first ten minutes. Then, I hate the slush and black colour it takes on. My toes start to turn into little icicles the minute I walk outside and I’m just a miserable person who tries to hibernate as much as possible.
There. I said it. I HATE winter and if I’ve missed anything about winter, let me know.
And this is when I tend to look at old photos of warmer times (am I torturing myself? Perhaps.) and I stumbled upon this street art when I was in Penang, Malaysia.
Perhaps there are better beaches that can be found in Malaysia but Penang has a special place in my heart. I’ve been going to Penang since I was a wee baby, back when the island was mainly jungle and to get from Georgetown, the capital, to Batu Ferringhi, the beach area, was a trek of winding roads and thick greenery.
Alas, this is not the case today with urbanisation, but Penang is still a must-visit. And the reason? Food. Oh boy oh boy is the food good! If you ever decide to visit Malaysia and are hopping around, put Georgetown on your list.
The city itself is multicultural and you can go from one street to another and experience the variety of ethnicities that make up the country. Want some good Malay food? No worries! Head down one road towards a nasi kandar and savour some delicious fried chicken, fish or beef rendang together with coconut flavoured rice.
How about Indian? Go to one of the banana leaf restaurants, aptly named as curries, rice and pickled sides, plated onto a banana leaf.
Chinese? Yep, Georgetown has you covered with fried noodles and wan tan mee.
And many up-and-coming cafes are serving some good coffee and Western treats with a Malaysian twist – heaven on Earth. While you’re in Georgetown, make sure you check out the local tips from Penang Foodie so you don’t miss out on authentic Malaysian fare.
When I go, I like to do a mixture of city and beach. I start with a few days staying in Georgetown itself to walk around and eat some of the delicacies and then head to the beach area of Batu Ferringhi.
Even while at the beach, you can find good street food for a reasonable price (probably not the cheapest around but still way less expensive than eating at the hotel). Don’t let the chaos and plastic chairs and tables of a hawker centre put you off – take a deep breath, brace yourself and walk straight in.
Try the BBQ’d stingray with its sweet-sour sauce, something that will surely awaken your tastebuds. Move on to the satay, with its thick peanut butter sauce and cubes of chilled rice to satiate your stomach, and finish with assam laksa, a noodle soup bursting with umami from its fish broth.
Laksa is spicy, sour, and does not have a strong fish taste if that worries you. Squeeze the kalamansi lime that you’ll find on the side of the bowl to really make it pop and zing and give you a feast for all your senses.
After this spice, cool yourself down with cendol. It’s a dessert made with chilled coconut milk, palm sugar and rice flour strands. It looks strange with its squiggly worm-like strands, but it’s as mild as it comes, as it’s only rice flour jelly infused with pandan leaves to give it a natural green hue (and a sweet aromatic taste from the pandan).
You’ll sit back, happy that you wore shorts with an elastic band and take a sip of a cold beer (or fresh coconut juice) while the fans above click-clack, trying to move the air around the hot and humid climate but not really succeeding.
One thing is for sure, you’ll be glad you made a stop to the island of Penang when you visit Malaysia.