Betel Nut Buzz

11 Apr


  • I recently explored Sim Trading, a baking goods store at  193-195 Lebuh Carnavon.  A seriously impressive amount of baking ingredients.
  • Delicious at Straits Quay is closed.
  • Makers Shakers Bakers opens on Permai 21st April, offering healthy cooking classes for kids, local and western cooking classes for adults, comfy cafe, supper clubs, wine and dine, create your own birthday cake.
  • Fire up your squirt guns. Songkran Thai Water Festival is on this Sunday from 10am at the Thai Temple on Lorong Burma.
  • Cilantro’s is a fresh produce and foods wholesaler at Permai in Tanjung Bungah next door to the IWA office.  They are open Mon-Sat from 10:30-2 and have an impressive range of products.  Pop in and have Charles show you through the cooler room, then walk out with the best tomatoes in Penang!
  • Your trash is my treasure.  The Penang Green Council’s Swap and Barter session is going on next Sunday April 20 at the Earth Day celebration at Occupy Beach Street from 8a-12pm.
  • Number Three in the Urban Triathlon Series is now open for registration, with a three-sport triathlon plus a swim-run Aquathon event.  I loved this even in December, and urge you to get signed up.  It’s great for newbies too!

Get you Some: How to Dim Sum

2 Apr

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Access to excellent dim sum is one of the true foodie pleasures that Penang offers.  While Hong Kong masters over the elegant dim sum lunch, in Penang it’s much more of a morning meal, and the mainly open-air eateries in town fire up the steamers as early as 6am.  It’s often a boisterous affair, and can be a bit daunting and confusing when you first step foot into a dim sum spot.  I’m hoping to decode it for you here, I don’t want  you to miss out.

The Asian equivalent of tapas, these small plates are best shared in a group.  So, grab your buddies (as close to 6am as you can muster), and follow my guide to a dumpling-filled morning.

  1. Go early.  Especially on weekends and public holidays, to avoid the finished already for your favorite dishes.  Also, you want the ambiance.
  2. Order tea.  Dim sum is best enjoyed with pots of Chinese tea, and the first person to approach your table will likely want your order.  Try jasmine or chrysanthemum tea, or plain green tea if you don’t like the flowery stuff.
  3. Rinse your dishes.  Often, the chopsticks, plates and condiments dishes will arrive in a tub of boiling water.  Don’t let your kid near this, it’s hot!  “Sanitize” the dishes by swirling them around in there, then look for someone to pass the tub to (or if you are near the side of the restaurant, dump out the water.
  4. Get your ticket.  There are 2 kinds of dim sum resataurants: those that leave you in charge of your ticket, it acts as a running tab you need to present to pick up a plate, and those that operate a bit like a sushi train in that your plates are counted at the end of the meal.  Check your table, if you see a card (did the tea lady leave one?) with numbers like 1.20, 2.40, 2.80, etc – this is your ticket to more dimsum.
  5. Serve yourself.  Most places are self-service, except on very busy times like weekends and public holidays where you may see carts pushed around between tables for service.  Head up to the steamers (ticket in hand) and grab a tray.
  6. Select*.  Here’s where you might be tripped up.  What is under that fluffy white exterior? Or wrapped up in that rice paper packet?  Deep fried and served with mayo?  Could be anything…  Here’s the thing – there are no wrong choices!  Because the dishes are small (and usually very cheap), a misguided guess won’t leave you out of the running for a good meal.  You can always get more.  Pick a selection of steamed and fried, sweet and savory.  Go back for more.
  7. Snip and Dip.  For the larger sized pieces,  you’ll want to ask the scissors lady to cut them up.  This ensures you won’t get too full on radish cake to enjoy the egg tarts, and saves you the challenge of cutting with chopsticks.  Dips are typically soy sauce and chili sauce (on the table), black vinegar and mayo (from the front).  Sauce as you see fit.
  8. Top Up.  If you don’t want to fill up on dim sum alone, there is always a server (a separate person to the tea lady or the sim sum people) to order more dishes from.  Fried noodles, soup noodles, fried rice and green vegetables are typical.
  9. Lounge.  There’s a reason folks mostly save dim sum for weekends or holidays, it is a slower meal and meant to be picked at, enjoyed at leisure over refilled pots of tea (refill is also often DIY at the large square metallic boiling water dispensers – again, watch your children!).
  10. Pay Up.  If you have been master of your ticket, usually you will go up to the front to pay at a register.  Sushi-train style?  Flag down the server (not tea lady, not noodle lady, yes dim sum lady) and let them count your plates.  Now, enjoy the rest of your day off.

*Still not sure what to go for?  My favorites include: shrimp dumplings, shu mai, char sui bao, radish cake, steamed glutenous rice with chicken and mushrooms, sesame balls and egg tarts.  Add a pot of jasmine tea, a side order of kai lan and one of fried bee hun, and I’m a happy lady.

Where to go to get you some:

Winston Zim Sum.  My personal favorite, this place is vast, iconic, and damn good.  It’s also one of the more overwhelming spots to go, with more servers and choices than you can shake a chop stick at.  Be adventurous – the insanely cheap ticket at the end of the meal is more than worth any confusion you may endure. 35 Jalan Anson.

Tai Tong.  Dinner Dim Sum, yes please!  This Georgetown option has everything packed into its narrow shop front off Cintra Street.  Dim Sum served for breakfast and dinner.  Lunch options are good traditional Chinese fare.  Add to the roster. 45 Lebuh Cintra.

Bali Hai.  Here’s where all those pre-dawn walkers are headed to refuel!  The Bali Hai dimsum is served up (well, self served) with a dash of huge fruit juices, an extensive noodle and dishes option menu, and sea views.  Very popular and pretty good too.

Xuan Xin.  This third floor eatery in Gurney Plaza (next door to Sushi Sakae on the new wing) will often have a queue out front and is the closest I’ve seen to the spots we used to frequent in Shanhai.  In addition to the steamer baskets, try the double boiled chicken soup.  Nothing like that to stave off a mall air con induced chill.

Betel Nut Buzz

27 Mar


  • If you need a business card, party sign, flyer or other design made up, contact Graphic Designer and Penang Momma Sui Sim.  She did a gorgeous flyer a course I will be running soon, she does printing and delivery, all super speedy!  Contact her directly: or 012 494 1011.
  • 42 Degrees La Boheme has shut it’s doors, but thankfully proprietor and master French baker Matthieu is still hard at work churning out almond croissants.  Look for their goods at local street markets, The Mugshot Cafe, and at their food stall in Red Garden.
  • Parking Coupons are in full effect, and can be purchased under the green MPPP Umbrellas in most major parking areas, plus all the convenience shops.
  • New Bridge is open!
  • World Music Festival coming up next month at the Botanical Gardens.  140RM for a weekend pass.
  • Need more indoor activities with the heat & haze?  The indoor play area has re-opened at QBM, there is a new one at 4th floor Gurney (looks like parents may be able to drop kids off and go shop? Ask about the contact book), and KidLand is proving mega popular at Prangin Mall.
  • Occupy Beach St is a weekly street fair on Lebuh Pantai in Georgetown on Sunday mornings.  Worth stopping by, I want one of the lime green “Occupy” t-shirts available for 10RM!
  • Last but not least, congratulations to the Virtual Bootcamp Giveaway winner – loyal reader FreeButFun will enjoy 8 weeks of thrice-weekly workout emails from Balance Fitness Personal Training!

Virtual Bootcamp Give-Away

25 Mar


I’ve waxed poetic on this site about Penang’s own Warrior Bootcamp, but what if you can’t make it out to Straits Quay three times a week?  I found myself in this situation, and then found a solution!

Karen Shopoff Rooff of Balance Personal Fitness Training out of Austin, TX offers an 8-week virtual bootcamp that will get you in shape right from your living room.  She sends you a workout via email every Monday, Wednesday and Friday that you can perform with only a mat and some hand weights.  The workouts take less than 30 minutes each, and are interesting and balanced.  The cost is $50 USD (about 150RM).

I went through virtual bootcamp last year, during a very busy time, and loved the flexibility it provided.  There was a private Facebook group where I connected with other folks doing the training. Karen even modified the time the emails went out so I got mine 5am Penang time (just in case my son had me up anyway, might as well exercise!).

And to prove what a nice person Karen is, she’s gifted a Virtual Bootcamp registration to one Penang Momma.  If you are interested in participating, please answer the question: What do you love/hate about exercising in Penang? in the comments below and I will randomly select a winner on Thursday March 27 at noon Penang Time.  Good luck! (You don’t need to be in Penang to comment and enter)

My TESOL: Learn English, Teach English

19 Mar


You’ve likely seen the green apple on the first floor of the Fettes Park strip of shops, it’s right next to the No Eyed Deer restaurant.  Last week, I finally made it into myTESOL to see what was going on in there.  What I found was a calm space of learning and culture: maps on the wall, and teachers and students representing at least 6 different countries being industrious on a Wednesday morning.

MyTESOL operates in two areas.  One, for those who would like to improve their English, they offer English Communication classes of all levels.  Two, for those who would like to be certified to teach English as a Second Language, they offer an English Teacher Training course with a CAP diploma program that provides a certification recognized all over the world in English language centers.  Or you can use your certification to teach right there, at myTESOL.

For expats in Penang, this means opportunity.  If you’ve always wanted to improve your English and finally have time for it, this is an easy and comfortable environment to do so.  For anyone who had to leave a job to move here, it’s an opportunity to maintain a professional aspect to your island lifestyle, and learn a new and marketable skill.  For everyone, myTESOL is a community, and a place to connect.

Hours are very expat friendly: Mon-Thurs 9-12:30.  Pop in and see what they have for you!


11 Mar


Raising two babies in the last 4 years, I’ve swaddled many a bum in Penang.  While this was my preferred method of diapering, we still had opportunities to use disposable nappies.  Right away, it was obvious the diapers here were different.  Even brands were familiar proved strange once I broke into the package.  Further confusion when there are different tiers of diapers in the same brand.

Which ones to choose?  Here’s a quick run down of the popular brands.  I did all my shopping at Tesco online, and if you are too buying diapers (and busy with the little ones that wear them), this online shopping opportunity is just for you!  I based all costs on the unit price of a size M diaper in the economy pack.

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What diapers work best for your little’s bum?  Leave your personal review in the comments!

Malaysian Desserts

28 Feb


Most times, when my sweet tooth comes calling, I reach for the known: butter, flour, refined cane sugar and chocolate.  There are lots of spots around town to calm this beast (Delicious, China House, La Boheme, Ben’s, …), and they are delicious and deliver a (not so) healthy dose of Western style sugar overload.  But, being in the food capital of the world (says Lonely Planet), it’s important to recognize the other option.  Malaysian desserts may be different, but will tickle your sugar bug just the same.  Just ask my kids, who adore all of these!

Last night, we made a stop at a shop I had been eyeing for years, but never stepped in.  Sugar Dynasty (menu pictured) serves up all of the classics, including some us Westerners may consider pretty strange: peanut soup, dessert made with mushrooms, and exactly what herbs go into a herbal jelly?  The beauty of these offerings (other than a <5RM price point)?  Even though most are based on glutenous rice, they are all gluten free!  Desserts of beans, rice, gula malacca (palm sugar), tofu, fruit and sometimes fungus can almost be considered health food next to my Macadamia Caramel Cheesecake.  So, dig in!  Here are a few of my favorites:

Ais Kacang.  The classic Malaysian hawker dessert, to be enjoyed with or without ice cream, but always with beans, corn and jelly, ais kacang can be ordered from the drinks vendor at your local hawker center.  It’s a good way to round out a meal if your kid only had white rice for dinner.  Try the one at Red Garden, on Penang Rd.

Cendol.  Slurp this deliciousness fast, shaved ice hardly stands a chance in the heat!  Cold ice, salty coconut milk, sweet gula malacca, slippery green jelly worms and hearty beans make this a perfect treat on a hot day.  Or after some famous Laksa.  Get the real deal on Penang Rd at Joo Hooi cafe.

Glutenous Black Rice with Coconut milk.  My all time favorite, this is sweet black rice porridge, sometimes with red beans, topped with a swirl of salty coconut milk.  My favorite hawker from Pulau Tikus retired to Sarawak, but you can get good versions of this at Nyonya restaurants.  I’ve recently enjoyed Mama’s version.

Mango Pudding with Sago.  This dessert is so good there are entire shops devoted to it (Paragon, Gurney, Precinct 10).  The fresh mango puree is solidified into a smooth mount of jelly, encasing tiny balls of sago for a pop of texture.

Betel Nut Buzz

21 Feb


  • Hope you enjoyed your free parking.  MPPP Coupons are back (and actually available this time!).  Get some and get scratching!
  • If you ever got a kite stuck in a tree you’ll love this.  Stuck is on this weekend through Sunday at Penang PAC. There were tons of seats left when I got ours yesterday.  See you there!
  • Saw a sign this week for a Smoke Free Penang campaign in Georgetown.  I loved this when we saw it in Malacca.  Yay, Penang!
  • From a Texan to you, big news.  Grumpiez Green Pepper has opened in Tanjung Bungah serving up good Tex-Mex.
  • Want to circumnavigate the island on foot in one go?  Join the Starlight Ultra Marathon on May 24-25.

Sri Lanka

19 Feb



We loved Sri Lanka.  The New York Times had it right when they deemed it destination of the year 2010.  This country – its land, its people, its beaches, its food, its wildlife – is gorgeous.  It was clean and un-hurried.  There was never a smash of people and it didn’t feel over run with tourists.  All this only a 5 hour travel time from Penang.  Don’t miss an opportunity to get there!

Getting there.  We had a late evening Malaysian Airlines flight out of Penang and landed in Colombo just before midnight.  Immigration was smooth with our online-obtained visas, and we were welcomed to Sri Lanka with a smile and a SIM card (pre-loaded with credit).  We checked in easily to our hotel, which was waiting with baby cots.  Seamless!  The next morning, we hopped in a taxi-van (arranged through the hotel) for a four hour ride to Kandy.  We bumped along and watched the green country roll by.

Kandy.  First stop Kandy train station, where we secured 6 of the remaining 8 seats for the ride to Ella in three days time.  Off to our hotel.  The Cinnamon Citadel was on a river, and seemed miles from town.  It took us a bit of room shuffling, but we finally ended up in two rooms in the garden just beneath the pool (261 & 262).  Each night, at dusk, the colonies of fruit bats from the nearby botanical garden would take wing and go out to feed.   We spent three days here, heading into town to see the Temple of the Tooth, youth park and the spectacular botanical gardens.  Mostly we just relaxed, my husband spent the majority of the time in his Sri Lankan sarong, receiving a namaste-style greeting from every male server when he once wore it to dinner.

The Train.  Again, no crush, no rush, it was easy to get on the train.  We found our seat and settled in for the 7 hour ride.  There was a group of about 10 boys in the back of our car, with drums and a tamborine, and they provided a soundtrack of folk music for the first 3 hours.  The train stopped every 20 minutes or so at a station, and vendors sold samosas, yogurts, water and fruit through the windows or hurriedly in the aisles.  The views from the windows were stunning.  We arrived on time to quaint Ella.

Ella.  There’s not a ton going on in Ella, but the view from our hotel was enough entertainment for the 2 nights we had.  Mountain Heavens was located right at the center of the top of the Ella Gap, and we spent sunrises and sundowners on our huge balconies taking it in.  The stars in the new moon sky were fantastic.  In between, we visited a tea factory that smelled strongly and pleasantly of, well, tea.  We took a few walks down the railroad tracks, and submitted the Small Adam’s Peak.  It was dry (especially on Sri Lankan National Day Feb 4 – all the bars were shut!), cool and relaxing.   Exhale.

Uda Walawe National Park.  We hemmed and hawed on whether or not to stop by the elephant park on the way to the beach.  It would be noon, hot, and would we even see any animals?  In the end we did stop (may as well support the national park with our entrance fee) and it was a great decision!  We had a fully canopied jeep which means at noon that everyone inside has shade.  We bumped through the park for about 2 hours, seeing an astounding number of animals, elephants being the highlight, but also water buffalo, a python and an assortment of birds.  This was a major highlight of the trip for me, and the kids loved it!

Marwella Beach.  We pulled into the Tangalle Mansion at 5pm, took off our shoes and made for the beach.  The sand was powdery and felt like velvet, the sea cool and marvelously clear and clean.  The kids ran, caught clams (which we ate at dinner), and got soaked in the surf.  The next 3 days would follow a delightful beachy routine, complete with sand, surf, drinks and fantastic meals in the courtyard.  We only saw our staff and the fishermen, the beach had no hotel and only a few other villas to provide tourists.  It was breezy, tropical, quiet, perfect.

Colombo.  Alas, we had to leave paradise.  We replaced our shoes that had not been worn for 3 days, loaded back up in the van and drove clockwise along the coast, stopping in Galle, with it’s European charm, for lunch.  I was shocked how different the sea was after we rounded the 6 o’clock point on the island, it was calmer and the sand was rougher. There were little rock formations to scuba around and we saw lots of whale watchers and surfers.  Here we found the tourists.  We arrived in Colombo at sunset for the night, at another very nice Cinnamon hotel.  Determined to explore, our family ventured out for dinner, wandering the deserted unlit streets and got the runaround by some tuk-tuk drivers.  Colombo redeemed itself the next morning as we wandered around the market and had delicious local breakfast.  It was time to go home.

I would also recommend the driver we used, Upul.  He is good at responding to SMS (will even call you internationally to make plans).  His van seats 10 passengers, has working seatbelts and A/C: +94 (77) 792 0580

Betel Nut Buzz

28 Jan


  • Parking Tickets Suspended.  Almost as soon as the meters were pulled from the streets, the parking coupon system was suspended.  Don’t stress if you can’t find them to buy – Free parking until further notice!
  • Time to usher in the year of the Horse!  Chinese New Year festivities (read: fireworks) start this week and local businesses may be pretty quiet for the next two weeks.  Gong Xi Fa Cai!
  • Dog Friendly Penang recently shared that you can go online to check if you have any outstanding traffic fines. Go to and create an account and then select PDRM enquiry & payment (the police logo). Enter the passport number of the person your car is registered to and it will bring up any outstanding fines (speeding etc). You can even pay online!
  • If the Penang Urban Triathlon looked interesting to you, be sure to like Runners Unite for details of races to come.
  • Kids Yoga is back on!  Fridays with Elaine, ages 4-10 welcome.  Classes start after CNY.
  • A new CrossFit gym has opened in Penang.  Check out CrossFit5833 for your WOD.
  • ChinaHouse has a BORDERS inside??  Must go check this out.  It’s rare to see a multinational chain in Georgetown.
  • Here’s a list of 29 Heritage Cafes in Penang.  Some new stuff for me to try out on there too!

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