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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Penang Hill, Bukit Bendera

Located 6km from George Town, Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) is one of the most popular destinations in Penang. Penang Hill is actually a complex of hills and spurs and the highest point is Western Hill which is 830 meters (2730ft) above sea level. Apart from the cool climate and the fantastic panoramic view of George Town, Tanjung Bungah and the mainland from the summit, you can also enjoy the picturesque colonial bungalows, a beautiful flower garden and a bird sanctuary. Some of the flora and fauna of Penang Hill are considered as endemic species, and are so rare that their existence is endangered.

The most convenient way up to Penang Hill is by means of a funicular railway in Air Itam (there’s not much places you be seeing such funicular railway system these days!). There is a tunnel which measures 258 feet long and 10 feet wide starting at steepness of 35 feet high, which is the steepest tunnel in the world.

The funicular train leaves every 30 minutes and can carry up to 80 passengers. One way ticket cost of RM4. It takes about half an hour to the top. The funicular train does not go straight to the summit and will pass several small stations, where the locals will alight. There are also some small hotels and guesthouses on this stretch. During holiday seasons, the wait for this ride can take as long as 1hr.

The alternative is to hike up. You will pass by several pit stops on your way to the summit. Some of the more famous pit stops at the mountain are 52 and 84, at these pit stops, the view of island is visible to hikers which are able to get some water, tea and coffee (you might even get biscuits if you are lucky) prepared by locals stationed on the hill; don’t forget to drop some change into the box to help maintain the services for others. Pit stop 84 is the last one before reaching the top of Penang Hill, it will take you another 45 minutes from 84. There are a number of trail leading to different peaks as follows:

  • Moon Gate at Waterfall Road: 5.5km about 3 hours
    About five minutes away from the Botanic Garden entrance. This trail takes you to Bukit Bendana and 84. The moon gate was once the main gate into the grounds of a colonial mansion aptly named “Yu Yi Yuan” (Yu Yi Garden). The mansion is now in ruins and lies just 15minutes walk from the gates, but its history is significant in the chronicles of the migrant Chinese in Penang.
  • Hye Keat Estate , Air Itam
    This path takes trekkers through a connection of fruit and vegetable farms and forks off to 84 whilst the other veers off to the Middle Station. From the Middle Station, trekkers can opt to trek all the way up to the top of Penang Hill or hop onto to the funicular train all the way up or down.
  • Tiger Hill trail: 8km about 5 hours
    This uphill climb starts from Air Itam , not far from the Kek Lok Si Temple. The trail heads up to the Air Itam Dam and then to Tiger Hill, ending at Summit Road. From the exit point at Summit Road, it’s another 30min to Strawberry Hill. According to trekkers, this trail is worth the hard work trudging into valleys, passing by a farm, streams, jungle shrubbery and trees. Not much left of this on the island, it is a must do before it completely disappears.

Another way to go up the hill is by hiring a 4WD vehicle which is the least popular choice. Hotel Bellevue provides this service from RM70 to RM130 depending which part of the island are you from.

Locatrion: The station to get to the top is located in Air Itam. At Air Itam, you should come to a roundabout. One side leads to Kek Lok Si Temple and the other to Penang Hill.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nasi Lemak at Rasa Malaysia

One of the staple dishes of Malaysian cuisine, nasi lemak is rice steamed with coconut milk and served (usually) with hard-boiled eggs, tiny anchovies, sambal (chili paste), sliced cucumbers and (occasionally) fried chicken. It's often served for breakfast at Malaysian street stalls, or sold cold and wrapped up in banana leaves as a quick on-the-go lunch. Nasi lemak is eaten with your fingers, as is traditional in Malaysia - most restaurants have a tea pot full of cold water and a bucket for pre- and post-meal washing.

The rice is soft and moist and rich with coconut milk, the sambal pungeant with chili and prawn paste. Cucumbers add coolness, peanuts and tiny anchovies (called ikan bilis) add crunch. Check out this recipe, at Rasa Malaysia.

What Is Hari Raya Without Ketupat And Lemang

The celebration for Aidilfitri - throughout this month of Syawal as Malaysians keep to their tradition of holding the Hari Raya open house.

At these functions, held either in residences, offices or hotels, the spread of food would undoubtedly have the 'compulsory delicacies' of ketupat and lemang.

For the Malays, the menu for their Hari Raya food offering would be devoid of the sparkle minus the presence of these two delicaies.

The senario is rather straightforward, as without ketupat and lemang, the plates of chicken and beef rendang as well as the serunding (dried spicy meat floss) on the dining tables would remain almost untouched with the absence of these two Hari Raya delicacies.

That is how synonimous ketupat and lemang with the Aidilfitri celebration..


Lemang is a traditional Malay food made from glutinous rice and cooked in bamboo stick. The glutinous rice is mixed with coconut milk before compacted into a hollow bamboo stem.

A person needs to be skilled when doing this as to ensure that the right amount of rice is placed inside without it spilling over as the mix of of rice and coconut milk cooks and expands.

One also needs the necessary skill to roast the premix lemang over the fire for hours, to ensure that it cooks evenly. When cooked, the bamboo is split open and the cooked Lemang is taken out to cool. Once cooled, the lemang is sliced up and eaten with either the rendang or serunding.

Ketupat is a type of dumpling made from rice without any filling and very popular among the Malay community.

here are two types of ketupat -- 'ketupat daun palas' and 'ketupat nasi'.

A rather unique skill is also needed to weave the casings of these rice dumplings.


Hence, those who have the skills to make lemang and ketupat are taking the opportunity to make these delicacies in the Syawal cheer due to demand from the public particularly organisers of the open house functions.

For lemang seller Salim Bakar, Syawal is the month of windfall for him.

"I started selling lemang one week before Hari Raya. The demand was good. Throughout Syawal I expected to sell about 100 sticks a day as many people have placed orders for their open house functions".

Salim sells his lemang at a wooden shack at the 5th mile of the Rawang-Batang Berjuntai road near here.

He sells a stick of lemang at RM8 each. That comes to a 'cool' RM800 a day.

Stalls and sheds selling lemang have sprouted in many parts of the Klang valley and the average price for a stick of lemang is RM8.

For former corporate man Datuk A. Ahmed, his Hari Raya celebration would not be complete without the lemang.

"It is a must for the Malays during Hari Raya as kuih bakul is to the Chinese during Chinese New Year," he said.

He said lemang is a traditional Malay food that originated from the Minangkabau community.

"Lemang or lamang is associated with the identity of Negeri Sembilan," he said.


For Rohaya Harun, a clerk in the private sector, she exercise some caution when buying lemang from the roadside stalls on the fear of bringing home lemang that was undercooked, either too soft or too hard, and cooked unevenly.

Usually she would pick the lemang of her choice from the same stalls over the years.

"Some of those in the lemang trade are not the experts on this delicacy as they cook it for only once or twice a year hence the lemang is cooked not the right way.

"What a waste would it be then, when the lemang bought is expensive but does not taste good for the palate," she said.

As for ketupat, those not skilled in making the ketupat casings would choose to simply boil the instant 'nasi impit' (compacted rice) or 'pulut' (glutinous rice).

However for the rather 'sentimental person' who thinks that ketupat is irreplaceble, he would opt to buy the ready-made ketupat casings from the market or even hypermarkets despite the high price of the item.

"The originality is always the preferred choice,' according to them.


For those not skilled in weaving the ketupat casings, they should try learning the skill during their spare time as instant nasi impit can never replace the ketupat.

The same with lemang. Some spare ground in your neighbourhood can be used to roast the lemang sticks. After all, the practice of preparing the lemang mix and roasting it over a fire is sure to enhance ties among family members and neighbours during the Aidilfitri celebration.

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