Friday, January 22, 2016

Simply Enak Walking Tour @ George Town, Penang

Cuisine and culture collide in Penang’s new walking tour for street food: When Mark Ng talks about Penang’s char kway teow, nasi kandar and curry mee, your instinctive reaction is to pay attention. Ng seems to know it all – the kopitiams where customers can savour George Town’s top temptations, the history of various vendors, and what makes each recipe so memorably enjoyable. Ng, who grew up in George Town, launched the tour in Penang’s capital city this past year. The affable 32-year-old personally guides each group, which roams George Town’s streets for four hours on any given morning. 

Our first destination for breakfast was Lebuh Bishop’s Kedai Kopi Melo, which illustrated how George Town’s gastronomic heritage is shared among the city’s ethnic communities. We not only gobbled up a classic Penang Chinese favourite of toast slathered with kaya alongside half-boiled eggs for dunking, but also hungrily eyed the fried chicken and fish at the kopitiam’s nasi kandar stall run by Indian Muslim operators.“We’ll build up our flavours as we go along,” Ng promised after enlightening us on how kaya is made, and he proved true to his word. 

Before long, we were feasting on fresh, fluffy nasi lemak in all its aromatic glory, served warm with hints of ginger and a spicy shrimp sambal, and hearty beef noodles with robust nuances at the Sri Weld hawker centre in Lebuh Pantai. While savvy travellers can probably find these culinary hotspots on their own, Ng adds an extra dimension to the journey, peppering the roughly four-kilometre walk with fascinating detours, personal anecdotes and historical trivia. Ng is determined to help travellers absorb not only Penang’s authentic cuisine but its culture as well.

In between sampling at least 10 dishes of different flavours, Ng will inform you that there are more than 8,000 shop-houses in George Town, and he’ll explain how they evolved as places where people worked downstairs and lived upstairs. He’ll elaborate on how to gauge whether a shop-house once belonged to wealthy residents based on its façade and tiles. Ng will tell you how Penang has changed over time and how some roads obtained their names. He’ll point out landmarks like the Kapitan Keling Mosque, St George’s Church and Kuan Yin Teng Temple, where his grandmother brought him to pray for good examination results in the 1990s. Weaving through alleys, he might take you to meet an 88-year-old joss stick maker (who’ll show you how he creates his craft by hand) and toddy sellers who’ve plied their traditional trades for decades.

“It’s not what the regular tourists might see,” Ng says, as he hands us wet wipes after we finish our final satisfying meal of smoky char kway teow and nutmeg juice on Carnarvon Street. “These are places that I would bring my friends to when they visit. This is my hometown, so let me show you around.” The Penang Harmony Food Trail tour costs 250 ringgit per person, or 50 ringgit per child, which includes the cost of food and beverages. The itinerary can be customised according to what visitors are looking for, with dietary restrictions noted. Advance bookings are required, with each walk limited to a maximum of eight people to ensure that Ng can interact with everyone. 

Simply Enak website:

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  1. What a beautiful tour you are sharing today, Sean! I thoroughly enjoyed it, thank you!

    1. Linda: i did enjoy the tour too, and i'm glad you liked this virtual exploration of it :)

    2. Excellent idea. Heritage or not, the buildings in Penang need PAINTING? Secondly, I am a bit concerned about food hygiene, cleanliness and SMOKING especially the hawkers and most annoyingly the patrons. What do you think?

  2. I did that once - my cousins insisted that I took them on a makan tour, well...makan mostly...when we went for a niece's wedding there. Gee!!! Should have charged them, how much per head.

    Actually people have been telling me to do that here as well, lots of people, many times...but no, old man, no need for so much money. As long as I get to meet people, eat and enjoy together and go round with them having a lot of fun - that's all I need. There have been a few individuals grumbling about the food, the hotel I chose for them...etc...etc...etc...everything - imagine if I were to charge them, I would never hear the end of it. That kind of people - the next time they want to come again, I will not be available. :(

    1. Suituapui: yeah, i think if you organise these tours formally, it might become more of a chore/responsibility than a pleasure for you in the long run ... hopefully you'll have better luck with your guests in future, and they'll appreciate the thoughtfulness you poured into trying to make their visits enjoyable :)

  3. Gorgeous photos Sean, tho I would imagine how uncomfortable u must be, walking 4 km in the heat

    1. Rebecca: thanks! heheh, i guess since i was mentally prepared for it, i didn't mind the walk or the weather (though ya, i'd have preferred to just take an uber around, heh) ... and it's a good thing we made several stops in between for food :)

  4. Excellent idea, the culture has to go with eating. Thank you for doing a great job. A few ideas that can improved the image of Penang. The coffee shops need painting badly, food hygiene and smoking on hawkers and patrons at coffee shops, certainly not on. Please see to that. Part and parcel of promoting Penang as a safe and clean place to visit.

  5. We're hoping to get to Penang this weekend, so great stuff!