Betel Nut Buzz

26 Jun


  • The Georgetown Festival is coming to Penang in August, and tickets to events are on sale now! International acrobats at Circus Circus a major drum circle with The Kitchen look like highlights to me. Also interesting: Rhythmic Space and the Thai Puppets. This Trolley Dance troop looks amazing – and it’s free!
  • It’s that time of year again when we obsessively check the air pollution index.  Fingers crossed that we’ve been through the worst of it, but this “season” usually lasts through July.
  • Home made, delicious sourdough bread in Georgetown!  Check out Yin’s at 11 Pesara Claimant.
  • Real Food at Straits Quay hosts an Organic Farmers Market the 3rd Sunday of every month.  If you missed June’s, mark your calendar for July.
  • My husband and I are loving the new whiskey bar on Muntri St.  Mish Mash mixes up some impressive cocktails, try out the smokin’ joe for a show!
  • Every parent who lives near the water or a pool needs to read this.
  • Sam’s Groceria, soon coming to Strait Quay, also offers online ordering and delivery.  While pork- and alcohol-free, this grocery chain has an impressive array of other items, including an awesome cheese deli, great ethnic ingredients and selection of whole wheat pasta. (It’s slightly sad that is exciting to me).
  • Penang’s authentic French baker previously from La Boheme has joined the team at SiTigun and is filling the dessert case with all kinds of deliciousness!  Creme brulee, petite fours and yes! Almond croissants!


12 Jun


Penang is a place of medical tourism, and that includes dental (although choosing to combine holidays with dental work sounds counteractive to the relaxation mode).  For those of us living here, a trip to the dentist may be necessary in an emergency and prudent for prevention. Understand that there may be a difference in care compared to your home country (checkups most often would not include a cleaning or x-rays), and do not hesitate to look for a second opinion. Here are some of the offices visited by fellow Penang expats.  Enjoy!

KK Ong Dental Surgery This is a classic favorite among expats, but folks have warned they have different experiences with the different care providers.  Good response time and convenient hours.

Smile Bay With several locations around Penang, this is one of the big franchise operations.

Adventist Hospital It seems odd to head to the hospital for dental work, but several folks have been here with good results.  Similar to most hospitals, you register and wait on a first come first served basis.

Leave your favorites or reviews in the comments!

Freezer Space

2 Jun

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Living in the steamy tropics, the cubic capacity of your freezer is almost as important as floor space in your living room.  I remember assessing this feature in every unit we visited (after checking if the “oven” was not really a dish dryer in disguise).  After you start to stock your pantry, you’ll soon find out why.  What I typically considered “store cupboard” items in the cooler, dryer clime I came from slowly migrated to the fridge/freezer as they were defeated prematurely on the shelf – either by invasion or spoiling.  After four years, the exodus has included all but the most sturdy of ingredients. So, Come along! On a tour of my freezer.

Flour.  This is one of the most delicate ingredients on a steamy shelf.  Prone to weevils, bugs and rancidity, you’d be hard pressed to keep it out longer than a week.  This goes especially for any whole-grain variety, which can go bad very quickly due to oils.  I’ve taken to only buying flour in sealed plastic (the paper containers are more susceptible in the shop), and my whole wheat from the baking store where he keeps it refrigerated.

Bread.  Bread goes moldy on the counter and dry in the fridge.  Slice it, stack it with the face of the slice down to avoid crimping, and put it straight into the toaster from the freezer for a week of fresh bread.

Nuts/seeds.  The natural oils in these goods go off very quickly above “room” temperature, which likely your kitchen is hovering above day and night.  Again, buy from places that have them refrigerated.

Rice.  Fact 1: all rice has bugs, or at least the eggs of bugs that can soon hatch when you get home.  Fact 2: the cold of the freezer kills the bugs/eggs.  Unless you like to open a bag to a little family, in it goes straight from the shopping cart.

Frozen Fruits/Vegetables.  Where else are you going to store frozen veg?  Well, make sure you have extra room for those bags of peas and corn you purchased to get your salmon filets home from the shop when you forgot your ice packs.  Also, Emborg spinach cubes (which will stealthily get leafy greens into any toddler), kilos of frozen wild blueberries and raspberries from Muthu’s for muffins and smoothies, and bags of edamame from the shop next to Bonjour Trading for healthy kid-snacks.  And bananas ripen fast here – freeze the softies for “ice cream” (just blend in the processor), smoothies or baked goods.

Crackers/cookies.  I completely understand why most crackers and cookies here come in individually wrapped portions.  These guys get stale and soft almost instantly in a cupboard, even when air tight.  When I have to open a big bag, I put them in a ziptight container and freeze them to dole out one at a time.

Meat.  If I bring meat, chicken or seafood home from the shop or market and don’t plan to cook it within 4 hours, I freeze it.  It just seems too fragile not to (based on past experience – I won’t elaborate).

Ice!  Make sure you have a good ice system going in your freezer.  If you haven’t noticed, it’s hot here!  You can also freeze all kinds of things in covered ice cube trays for later: expensive minced fresh herbs in a bit of water, citrus juice for quick frozen margaritas, and cream which can’t make it a week in my fridge.

Some folks may use their fridge similarly, but I find the freezer to be a drier environment less likely to pass on smells and flavors.  Also, Tiger doesn’t do too well in the freezer, and we need to prioritize space!

Indian Summers Extras Needed

13 May

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If you aren’t starstruck already, prepare to be – by yourself (or your husband).  The filming has commenced for the British Series Indian Summers in Penang and they are in need of extras, especially of the Caucasian male variety.  I went for a hair and costume fitting recently and it was super fun to see behind the scenes, plus to think of myself on TV…exciting!

Call or email San for casting: 016 321 6999

Betel Nut Buzz

7 May


  • Live on Gurney Drive? This could be your new “seaview”.
  • Three glasses of wine plus starters for 50++?  Yes Please!  Head to That Little Wine Bar Thursdays from 6:30-8pm for their weekly Soiree.
  • FiT Malaysia is heading back to Penang in June for their 6-week Personal Trainer ACE Certification Prep Course.  Perfect for anyone with a passion for fitness or looking for continuing education in the industry.
  • Along with all the great things to be either delivered, or to obtain by drive-by, the bread bike is the best of both worlds.  These guys are often roaming the streets like drones, perhaps ringing bells.  They sell both home made bread by the loaf, pre-packaged bakery loaves or can whip you up a white-bread-and-planta sammie while you wait.  Wave one over and try it out!
  • A friend introduced me to what she reckons is the eighth wonder of Penang – Sin Nam Huat Chicken Rice on Burma Rd near Bagan Jermal.  Open mornings through lunch, their taste and efficiency are pretty impressive.  Be sure to shell out 2RM for the “spicy soup”, it’s heaven.
  • We recently made the trek to the Talk Talk Wine Bar, and enjoyed a trifecta not often found: good wine, awesome Thai food and live music in one place!  Definitely worth the drive south on a Saturday night!
  • I drive past it every day, but just recently stopped for a completely shaded, flat grass track about 800m around – At the corner of Jalan Residenci & Utama across from the General Hospital.  Honk if you see me there bustin repeats.


30 Apr


Malaysia has been a great place to begin raising our family.  The weather is kid-friendly, especially for toddler nudists and potty trainers.  There are pools around every corner.  Our local park has monkeys.  I couldn’t name a restaurant that is not accommodating to children, even snazzy Cassis has a white leather highchair.  And the people love children.  All the people – from security guards to the teen girls on their mobiles manning the hair clip kiosk at Gurney, old grannies and college age boys with guitars, taxi drivers to gardeners to the silent tai chi club.  Kids are welcome, doted on, and bring smiles everywhere.  And if your child happens to be exotic in any way, you’ve likely got a little celebrity on your hands, subjected to all the “special treatment” that comes along with it.  Here’s what to expect, and some tips for handling it.

Paparazzi.  I never really understood where all these photos of your grandma with my kid are going to end up – in a family photo album?  In any case, my children (and me!) have been photographed on a very regular basis since landing in Asia.  At times permission has been requested and granted, but sometimes it’s just a quick click of a mobile and our faces are immortalized forever.  I was forced to put this in perspective on our recent trip to India.  I stood on the side of the Jodhpur Fort, holding the hand of one very blond boy with a very blond girl strapped to my chest while my shutterbug husband waited a few paces away hoping for a brightly clad lady in a sari to wander through a doorway.  Within minutes, my children and I were subjects of dozens of mobile snaps, the same people who may have been wondering what this white guy is going to do with the picture of their granny in her faded traditional dress.  If your children get frustrated with people asking for their photos, encourage them to speak for themselves, and respectfully ask to not have their photo taken.

Kidnapping.  Not real kidnapping, but it may feel that way the first time your baby is whisked out of her high chair by a waitress at a restaurant and paraded through the kitchen doors for show and tell to the chef.  Before you panic about the whereabouts of your bloodline, understand that this too is quite normal.  If your child seems OK with it, perhaps look at this as an opportunity for him to get used to different people and check up every 30 seconds on his whereabouts.  If not, keep your eagle eyes open for a potential swoop and use your hand on  your child to say hands off.  Explain calmly and respectfully your child needs to stay at the table as he is eating, etc. and after you can bring him around to see what is going on behind closed doors.

Boy?  The long red ponytail is tied up in a pink bow to match the tutu your daughter is wearing and the security guard smiles up at you and asks “boy?”.  What may be obvious gender cues to Westerners do not particularly apply here, so don’t be offended for the mishap.  Also understand that in many families it may be more desirable to sire sons, and they may have been actually wanting to avoid offending you by assuming your child was male.  Smile and introduce your baby girl.

Yoo-Hoo! Over Here!  There are lots of ways to get a child’s attention, and clapping in their face, pinching their cheeks and ruffling their hair are a few local favorites.  There is not a great way to avoid this treatment, so you may need to go with approaching the situation with patience and grace.  If your child is sleeping in a stroller, look out for the cheek-pinching granny approaching and clearly mime SHHHH! baby sleeping!  Your tolerance and respectful body language will wear off on your kids and teach them to get out of the way, and help keep reactions in check.

Feeding Time. I recently took a visiting American friend and her 11-mo-old to my favorite Indian breakfast spot.  As her son perched on the counter while we paid the bill, the Uncle taking our money popped a sugar cube in the tot’s mouth and clucked his chin.  Now, this child had likely never had anything but organic veg puree his entire life and here he was with a refined sugar cube down his gullet!  I could sympathize with my friend’s horror.  Unfortunately, offering treats to children is very common.  Teach your kids about eating food from strangers, and intercept whenever possible.  Explain it will soon be meal-time and we can save it for later (in mom’s bag).

The theme here is responding respectfully.  I have found there to be a wide cultural rift in the treatment and perception of children, and most of the time it is for families’ benefit  here in Asia.  People truly love children, and while the treatment may be paralleled with that of a zoo animal, it is all with the best of intentions.  Keep your values safe, but maintain perspective, especially as you may photograph or report on some interesting cultural phenomenon you witness here.

For a future post: How children react when they move home and realize they are no longer the best thing on Gurney Drive.

Hardware Stores

17 Apr

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Admittedly, I most often go to the hardware store to buy lightbulbs.  While I am there, however, I notice what else is on offer and have picked up some things I knew I needed but didn’t know where to look.  Check out these shops for your home project list:

Mr. DIY is one of my favorite everything stores in Penang.  There is also a wide range of tools and household fittings that are perfect for patching up a rental (read: not the best quality, but cheap!).  2F, Island Plaza.

Chulia St Hardware Alley is a great place to visit even if you don’t need any tools.  This alley way across from Rainforest bakery on Chulia St has several stalls selling every tool imaginable, as well as a good selection of knives (just had my kitchen knives sharpened there too!), hardware cloth, fittings, bike components, etc etc etc. I go to the guy in front, Ong Cheng Hock Hardware, 298 Chulia St.

Yong Tanjung DIY Hardware is a perfect stop along the road from Island to Gurney Plaza.  You can pull right in and be out in minutes with exactly what you need.  The owners are super nice and helpful and have a cute poodle too.  Great selection of lightbulbs, random hardware and outdoor/landscaping needs, with higher end fixtures.  7-B Jalan Tanjung Tokong.

Parkson Gurney 3F stocks a decent amount of hardware stuff and light bulbs, plus basic tools and loads for the home.  Conveniently right in Gurney, unfortunately can have Gurney sized lines at the check out on weekends.

Daiso stocks a lot of little random hardware items you might not find elsewhere.  At only 5RM a piece you might be tempted to fill up your basket!  Cash only, Gurney 3F and Paragon LG.

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!

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