Twenty ways to buy local
When it comes to eating, drinking and buying local, Penang has a wealth of options – at the very least, the vast majority of the island’s coffee stalls and trinket stores are locally owned and operated. With such a splendourous array of options available,
1 Bon Ton at ChinaHouse
153 Lebuh Pantai, George Town (+604 263 7299/www. chinahouse.com.my). Daily, 9am-11pm. ChinaHouse has been a Penang mainstay since it opened its doors in 2011. The city-block-long café, restaurant, bar and gallery recently added an impressively curated shop to its first floor. The Bon Ton shop sells knickknacks, books, scarves and furniture from local and international artisans, with prices ranging from RM20 to over RM300. The adjacent art gallery is equally impressive, shining the spotlight on the creative works of contemporary, up-andcoming Malaysian talents. The gallery changes roughly every month, and the art within is usually for sale. If you’re looking to make a significant purchase, this is definitely the place to stop in and take a look around.
2 Market Lane Tuak Shop (Kedai Tuak Lorong Pasar)
At the intersection of Lorong Pasar and Lorong Muda. Daily from 9am. Tuak, or palm wine, is a beverage of choice among Penang’s local Indian population. Shop owner Deva has been making the potent alcohol for five years, using coconut trees from Nibong Tebal on the mainland as his primary source of materials. Made through a process of fermentation using a coconut palm flower in a bamboo receptacle, this all-natural product has a slightly milky consistency with a sweet aftertaste. For just RM2 a glass, it is definitely worth a try. If you’re looking to entertain a dinner party with this interesting local flavour, not to worry: Deva offers takeaway containers as well.
3 The Daily Dose
36 Lorong Stewart, George Town (+604 251 9168/www.facebook.com/ TheDailyDoseCafe). Mon-Thu, 9am-8pm; Fri-Sun, 9am-10pm. The Daily Dose has chosen a fitting name for itself for two reasons: Firstly, their baristas are some of the most talented on the island, and will get you hooked in no time to a daily fix of their potent brews. Secondly, Chef Lois comes up with a creative new special nearly every day, which she writes on the everchanging chalkboard menu each morning. Chef Lois visits the Campbell Street Market daily to pick up the freshest of local ingredients for her special of the day, which has previously included comfort foods like curry chicken, sesame ginger chicken and steamed prawn dumplings – a crowd favourite. Other delectable choices include the stewed pork and the House BLT.
4 Nukleus clothing
Available at various locations (www.nukleusshop.com). Purchasing Nukleus clothing is a great way to go local while supporting the environment. These supersoft T-shirts and underwear are exclusively made with high-quality, eco-friendly materials, including bamboo and organic cotton. The Penang-based company oversees the clothing production process every step of the way to ensure sustainable practices are being followed. It doesn’t stop just there; a portion of every Nukleus sale goes towards supporting Malaysia’s World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Not only are Nukleus intimates comfortable, they are also affordable: shirts start from just RM30.
5 Bran et Daguet
3A-G-2 Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong (+604 898 1755/branetdaguet.com). Mon-Thu, 10.30am-9.30pm; Fri-Sun, 10.30am-10pm. Brandon Tan, the Penangborn founder of the designer clothing line Bran et Daguet, has always loved the idea of wearable art. He remembers being young and looking at his aunties’ beautiful dresses and magazines, admiring the sheer artistry of the fashion world. At age 30 he turned his passion into a reality, bringing high fashion to Penang with one-of-a-
kind dresses, cheongsams, jackets and other formalwear. Influenced by both Penang’s rich fashion history and European designers, Tan’s line is remarkably modern, luxe and deserving of a visit. Prices start at RM899.
6 Maliia Bakery
114 Jalan Transfer, George Town (+604 227 1106/www.maliiabakery.com). Daily, 8am-11pm. When you think of mouthwatering Penang food, a thick, fluffy slice of crusty white bread may not be the first item to come to mind. However, Roti Benggali is a Penang specialty with a history as rich as the bread itself. An Indian Muslim migrant named Sheik Mohd Ismail set up the island’s first shop in 1932 with his friends. Ismalia Bakery, as their shop was called, grew famous for their huge bread loaves, typically served with sweet coconut jam and margarine or dipped in a side of curry or brothy soup. The store reopened as Maliia Bakery in 2007, but if you can’t make it there, don’t worry: Just flag down one of the store’s many mobile hawkers selling the bread on the streets.
7 Jonathan Yun Jewelry
152 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town (+604 263 1152/www. jonathanyunjewelry.com). MonSat, 10am-6pm. If you are looking for something truly special – and eminently wearable – to commemorate your time in Penang, you can’t go wrong with a purchase from Jonathan Yun’s gorgeous jewellery store. Using silver, gold, precious stones and pearls, the native Penangite creates each piece by hand, often looking to his hometown for inspiration. Jonathan has worked for eight years as a jewellery artist and has won several awards for his creative designs, including the Hong Kong Jewellery Award. He offers three stunning collections: the Penang-influenced Vintage series; the ocean-inspired Coral series, and the natureinspired Eden series. Prices start at RM80.
8 Kean Aun Hoe
544 Jalan Jelutong, Jelutong (+604 658 2716/ www.keanaunhoe.com). Mon-Sat, 8.30am-7pm. Traditional Chinese medicine shop Kean Aun Hoe has been in current store owner Mr Teoh’s family for four generations. His grandfather established the shop in 1957; soon, his daughter will take over the business. Kean Aun Hoe is locally known for its family recipe bak kut teh herbal soup mix, as well as their quality Chinese herbs which help boost the immune system, cure specific ailments and improve overall health. Included in their large collection of medicines is an impressive selection of various types of ginseng.
9 The Leaf Healthy House
5 Lebuh Penang, George Town (+6012 498 8491/ www.facebook.com/TheLeafHealthyHouse). Mon-Sat, 11.30am-3pm, 5.30-9pm. The Leaf Healthy House proves that ‘delicious’ and ‘healthy’ need not be mutually exclusive terms. Health-conscious locavores will rejoice at the assortment of tasty fares at this all-veg café, including their flavourful nasi ulam and perfectly rolled popiah. As proponents of sustainable living, owner Candy and her husband use almost exclusively organic products and purchase their vegetables fresh from the nearby markets. By keeping their prices low – meals start from RM7 – they hope to convince visitors of the virtues of vegetarianism and a ‘green’ lifestyle. The Leaf’s talented chefs ensure that the only thing you’re left wanting for is a second helping.
10 The Soap Cellar
22 Lebuh Lembah Permai 4, Tanjung Bungah
(+604 899 2980/ thesoapcellar.com.my). Mon & Wed-Sun, 12noon-8pm. The Soap Cellar has been providing Penang with highquality, all-natural face soaps, oils, bath salts and other spa products since 2011. Using a blend of local and UKbought ingredients, each bar of soap is hand-made using recipes the owners have spent plenty of time getting just right, which ensures that each finished product smells heavenly, doesn’t spoil quickly, and leaves skin feeling soft. In addition to making ready-to-use goods, The Soap Cellar also sells individual ingredients for those who’d rather make their own soaps or skincare products. Soaps start at RM20.
11 Ghee Hiang Pastry Shop
216 Jalan Macalister, George Town (+604 226 9915/ www.ghee-hiang.com). Daily, 9am-9pm. As you open the doors of Ghee Hiang, you’ll want to take a moment to delight in the sensory experience of this legendary Penang institution. Each morning, pastry chefs make dozens of flaky, savoury biscuits on the premises – you can even watch them through the kitchen window as they swiftly roll and stuff the dough to perfection. If the droolworthy smells from the oven aren’t enough to entice you into buying a box or three, perhaps this store’s long history will: these famous pastries were first cooked up in 1856 by a migrant pastry chef from Fujian. Its perfectly cooked mung bean biscuits have been a mainstay at holiday parties and events ever since.
12 Studio Howard
154 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town (+604 261 1970/ studiohoward.com). Daily, 10am-6pm. Penang photographer Howard Tan vividly remembers spending time as a child with his father in George Town. As they would walk together down the city’s lanes, he
would notice the beautiful shop houses, the trishaws parked by the street, and the local people simply going about their day. These childhood memories came quickly back to life as soon as he picked up a camera. His keen talent for capturing those unique Penang scenes is evident in each of his prints, as is his passion and love for the city itself. His eponymous shop sells his work as well as a small selection of crafts from other local artisans.
13 Armenian Street Beaded Shoes
4 Lebuh Armenian, George Town (+6016 454 3075). Daily, 9am-6pm. Mr Tan, the famous Armenian Street maker of beaded shoes, has been in the business for over 40 years, having been taught as a child how to bead footwear in the intricate Penang Nyonya style. Although the trade is not as popular as it once was, he still has a steady stream of customers looking for a special way to remember their time in Penang. Nothing is more unique to Penang than asking Mr Tan to design a pair of shoes from scratch specifically to your sizing and requests, but be prepared to wait a while for the results – such a delicate process can take two to three months, and will cost you over RM300.
14 Rozana’s Batik
81 Lebuh Acheh, George Town (+6014 247 5347/ Facebook: Rozanas-Batik). Mon-Sat, 11.30am-6.30pm. Rozana has been painting batik since graduating from art school in 1988, and nearly everything in her shop is her own creation – a noteworthy feat, considering just how many beautiful shirts, sarongs, head scarves and bags she has on display. She hand-draws and dyes batik paintings of various sizes on both silk and cotton, a process that can take months to complete. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what it might be like to make a Penang handicraft of your own to take home, then Rozana’s is your place: Visitors can stop by any time for a personalised batik class, and can either choose to paint on her predrawn fabrics, or learn how to paint their own. For just RM50-RM150 for a session, Rozana’s classes make for a fun and unique Penang excursion.
15 NR Sweets
75 Lebuh Penang, George Town (+6012 462 0987/ www.nrsweetspenang.com). Daily, 7.30am-10pm. After a hot and humid day walking along George Town’s streets, nothing tastes quite as rejuvenating as a meltin-your-mouth treat from the city’s most beloved sweets stores. NR Sweets has been serving up delicious traditional Indian desserts since 2003, including their savoury carrot halwa, their cardamom-scented Mysore pak and – for those feeling particularly health-conscious – their dense and chewy muntri cake, made with cashews, almonds and figs. While their recipes may be authentic to India, all desserts are made locally and are entirely vegetarian.
16 Sam’s Batik
183 & 185 Jalan Penang, George Town (+604 262 1095/ samsbatikhouse.com). Mon-Sat, 11am-8pm. Established in 1982, Sam’s Batik has become a George Town institution, and not just because of the sheer amount of space it occupies on one of its busiest streets. The vast emporium is in fact comprised of two separate stores, each owned by the same family. Inside, you can find not just batik – although there is indeed plenty of that, as the name would suggest – but also pashminas, intricately woven bedspreads, ornate tops, hand-beaded purses and more. As a one-stop-shop for all things clothing related, they also offer a skilled on-site tailoring service that can quickly take any item in the store and adjust them to fit your proportions. They will also tailor anything else you bring in for a tiny fee.
17 Hock Seng Rojak
Gat Lebuh Cecil, George Town, opposite the post office. Tue-Sun, 1-6pm. Hock Seng Rojak is the self-described king of the concentrated, sweet and spicy sauce on Penang island – and it’s not hard to see why most people agree with its royal status. Here, the homemade sauce is so thick it sticks to your spoon. In fact, some regular customers don’t stir it into their mixed fruit rojak, but dip the fruits directly into the sauce instead. The heady smell of belacan, or shrimp paste, may discourage firsttime tasters, but don’t fear: The genius cooks behind this addictive local sauce make sure that the flavours are perfectly balanced, so that no ingredient stands out too far from the rest.
18 Ghee Hup Nutmeg Factory
202-A Jalan Teluk Bahang, Balik Pulau (+604 866 8426). Call ahead for opening hours. During the heyday of the British East India Company’s time in Penang, nutmeg – along with betel nut – flourished as one of the island’s major exports. Nowadays, the nutmeg trade is much smaller, but Ghee Hup owner Chang Kun Mim keeps the tradition alive and well with his nutmeg factory, the biggest in Penang. Opened in 1953, the factory now has such a surplus of nutmeg that they make teas, syrups, juices, balms, jams and more from the spice, all of which are fun to test and try. Located a bit outside of town, this is a great way to enjoy the more rural side of Penang.
19 Lee Soo Kee Rattan
Lebuh Chulia, George Town, between the Stardust Guest House and the Chulia Heritage Hotel. Mon-Sat, 9am-7pm. George Town’s living heritage adds a very special element to the city’s charm, and watching the elderly Lee Soo Kee as he meticulously weaves pieces of rattan into a beautiful furniture item is a perfect example of this. Having worked for over 50 years in his trade, Lee Soo Kee is a master in his craft, and you’re not likely to miss his expertise when peeking into his shophouse ‘showroom’. It takes him two weeks to craft a chair, and for just RM40 for a small stool, you can’t help but want to purchase something, if only to commemorate his impressive, decades-long career as a local artisan.
20 Gerakbudaya Bookshop
78 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town (+604 261 0282/ gerakbudayapenang.com). Daily, 11am-8pm. With a cosy atmosphere and an unbeatable selection of fiction and nonfiction titles, Gerakbudaya Bookshop is a rare and welcome gem in George Town: a place where you can lose yourself for a few minutes – or hours – in the pages of a book. Owner Gareth’s thoughtful approach to running his shop has helped this little bookstore become a major presence in town after just a year of its opening. Making sure to stock popular local titles, Gareth also displays a number of books that he thinks may catch the eye of curious bookworms looking for a literary adventure. His goal is to make book-reading culture trendy again, and all the signs suggest that Penang is interested in making a shift in that direction.