Penang cuisine is as diverse as the island’s culture itself. If you love food like me, when you have the opportunity, remember to visit the Wonderfood Museum in Penang to understand more the cuisine of this multicultural island (Well, actually, the whole country of Malaysia is multicultural, not Penang alone, but I spent the whole time of the trip at Penang, so I only wrote about Penang.) There were F&B models from street stalls to luxurious restaurants, which were eye-catching, and most importantly, looked the same as the real things!
The museum was divided into 3 main areas. Info Zone gave us the information about the daily dishes of indigenous people, the dining table arrangement, the way to combine the dishes in one meal. Wow Zone had typical dishes such as cendol (a kind of sweet dessert – chè bánh lọt), laksa (a famous noodle with chicken, shrimp, and fish broth), curry mee (curry noodles), rojak (fruit salad), char kuey teow (stir-fried noodles) … made in huge size which will make you “say wow”. Educational Zone helped people to raise awareness that some of your favorite foods harm the environment.
Before coming to Penang, I envisioned that there would be 3 outstanding cuisines: Malay, Chinese and Indian. Coming there, I knew another cuisine which was Perakanan cuisine, or also Nyonya cuisine. Perakanan, also known as Baba-Nyonya, is a group of Chinese people settling in Penang, Malacca, Singapore, Indonesia and marrying local Malays to create a unique culture that mixes Chinese culture and Malay culture. Perakanan dishes are cooked using Chinese ingredients in combination with the seasoning spices of the Malay community.
Another interesting information about Nasi Kandar is that – the dishes originating from Penang of Indian Muslims include rice with fried foods such as fried chicken, fried fish, fried squid, fried shrimp … and sprinkled with more various types of curry. The most common side-dish vegetables are okra and eggplant. The rice used for nasi kandar is often packed in wooden crates for a distinctive aroma. According to Wikipedia, the word “nasi” means “rice”, while the word “kandar” means “carrying pole” – in the past, the street vendors carried two baskets of rice to sell on the streets.
Or the information about Malay eating habits: they can eat up to 6 meals a day including breakfast, some snacks before lunch, lunch, a bowl of noodles at around 4-5 pm, dinner in the evening, and supper at 10 pm (for this point, I thought to myself “why they are just like me?!”)
Or the fact the people of Penang are very proud of their country’s durian. I heard a lot of it, and when coming there, I was told by some locals “remember to try it!!!!!”, when I came into the museum, there was a very big corner for durian and mangosteen, but I thought, “Oh, durian in Vietnam is delicious too!”. Until I found a place to try (because it was not durian season, there were not many places to sell), I did not buy the best one – the “musang king” but only the average one, but I was convinced totally. “Oh my god, how can this durian is both fat and fragrant! Incredible!” – I told my mother so 😅😅😅 I’m too craving to mention!
I have to admit that among many interesting museums in Penang, Wonderfood is my favourite. To be honest, I cannot remember all the dishes after going around the museum, but it’s a cute start so that I could have a clear imagination about Penang cuisine, and when I have a chance to try the dish in reality, I will remember and understand it more.