As a passionate foodie and Asian travel enthusiast, our Malaysia Travel Specialist, Chloe tried out a new cycling food sampling and heritage tour in the historical streets of Georgetown, Penang, as part of a 3 week itinerary with her parents around Malaysia and Borneo.
A culinary hot spot
Georgetown, Penang is a foodie’s heaven, and known by many people as being South East Asia’s food capital. It has a rich colonial history and is a very multicultural destination which makes their food so interesting and unique. Penang is easily accessed from many destinations in Malaysia, and with an international airport it is easily combined with other South East Asian countries. When I found out that we were going to start offering a cycling, food sampling and heritage tour I jumped at the chance – what a great way to get around a city whilst learning about historical sites and trying samples of local foods!
King of the road!
After an early pick up, we went to meet our small group at the harbour and our guide briefed us on the tour. There were a couple of people in our group who were not confident with riding on the roads so they had organised a Trishaw driver (our guides’ 80 + year old father!) for them instead. They weren’t the only ones who were a little uncertain about cycling around the busy streets of the city, although the guide quickly put everyone at ease with high-vis vests, helmets and his whistle, and explained that the Trishaw driver would hang out the back to guide the traffic – as in Georgetown they are known as King of the road!
Clan jetties and street art
The tour began a short cycle away at the Chinese clan jetties – houses built on stilted wharfs which some have now opened into small cafes or shops selling souvenirs. Cycling carefully across the main road we stopped at Armenian street to marvel at some of the original street art of Georgetown which influenced the street art culture that is now so famous today. Our guide then led us into Little India – a paved area with brightly coloured sarees and delicious smells on every corner, pulling up outside a welcoming Indian cafe with smiling staff and very delicious food.
Teh Tarik – A local brew
Our small group excitedly sat down on a long table whilst our guide explained to us what was for breakfast – local Indian breads with a curry dipping sauce, alongside a Malaysian favourite – Teh Tarik. This is something that my Mum just couldn’t get enough of – strongly brewed tea blended with sweetened condensed milk and then ‘pulled’ between two jugs to cool the temperature it can be enjoyed straight away. Beware if you order this yourself -it’s incredibly sweet and our guide pointed out that he already had requested the tea to be less sweet than usual!
Local Indian breakfast
A few silver cylinders of curry gravies were placed on the table – some more spicy than the rest but all incredibly tasty. Our breads came out one by one which to share among ourselves, and my parents and I instantly regretted our early breakfast at our hotel! There was Dosa (or Tosai in Malaysia) – a thin and light rice and lentil flour Indian crepe, Banana Roti, Puri – a fried puffed Indian bread, and Paratas – a flaky, crispy Indian pancake, all for dipping into our choice of curry gravy which that was ladled onto our plates. It was a great opportunity to chat with our fellow group and listen to everyone’s travel stories.
Hidden temples and passageways
With full bellies it was time to hop back on our bikes and slowly cruise along through Little India and the hidden laneways of Georgetown. Stopping at a Hindu temple and a hidden Chinese Khoo Kongsi temple, the ride was a great way to see the city while working off the food. The Khoo Kongsi temple was a highlight, housing intricate gold statues and designs. Our guide told us that the temple used to have lots of hidden passageways leading to other Kongsi houses in Penang which were used as escape routes. Sadly, these have all now been filled although you can still see the holes in the wall where they were dug through.
Assam Laksa – a firm favourite
Once again a few choices of local dishes were presented on our table– I love Malaysian food and there were still a few that I hadn’t tried before! The dishes included: Indian Mee (mee is Malay for yellow noodle) which came with Indian spices, tofu and mixed vegetables; Assam Laksa – a sour noodle soup with herbs, fresh mackerel and beansprouts and is very famous particularly in Penang; and Char Keow Teow – stir-fried flat rice noodles with cockles, prawns and egg. A firm favourite within the group was the Assam Laksa, I had tried it before but it was certainly the tastiest I had ever had. Our guide definitely knew the best places to eat!
Time to hang up our helmets
After the tour finished we headed back to the hotel to laze around the pool and discuss all the of the places that we were going to explore, and the food we were going to try for the rest of our stay….