Being a mall rat
It’s Malaysia, so you really can’t run away from large shopping malls offering everything you may need or desire. Popular ones in Penang are the Sunway Carnival mall in Seberang Perai, Gurney Plaza on Gurney Drive, 1st Avenue Mall right beside KOMTAR in George Town and Queensbay Mall overlooking the water in Bayan Lepas. What they have in common is the almost similar chains of clothing, food and beverage stores. In this instance, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. Instead, it becomes a convenient all-in-one place suitable for every age group.
However, there are more boutique malls such as the still new Straits Quay mall in Tanjung Tokong that is slowly winning hearts with its one-off stores such as Sugar that has ready-to-bake measured ingredients for individual cakes and charming baking paraphernalia and Bran et Daguet sells one-off clothing for women designed by Penangite, Brandon Tan. Also, the quirky Fresh Desire that carves bathing soaps into appetising shapes of food such as delectable cupcakes and pastries. These carved soaps in shapes of food are remarkably real looking, so be warned!
Big spender’s tip: What’s really sweet here is a little shop on the ground floor called Sentuhan. It sells handmade soaps, photographs of scenes around Penang by Howard Tan, woven bags, coffee table books and also glass sculptured bowls produced by Fuan Wong. It’s well worth popping by for quality and practical souvenirs.
This little piggy went to market
No little piggy should ever stay home and risk missing out on the gems that can be found in Penang markets such as Chowrasta Bazaar on Jalan Penang that encompass fresh produce as well as inexpensive clothing, second hand books, hawker food of all types and knick-knacks. Another interesting one is the Thieves’ Market each evening at the end (or beginning) of Armenian Street. Old objects such as watches and a manual iron, the sort that needs hot coal, can be found here.
Then there are weekly night markets that rotate from one neighbourhood to another. What’s predominantly sold in these night markets is local food hence making these places a good place to sample local flavours at very cheap prices. Besides food, it’s also a good place to shop for fresh produce such as local fruits and when the durian or king of fruits is in season, you’d be able to identify it from a distance through a sniff of its sharp, pungent scent that cannot be ignored. This one’s an acquired taste! More often than not, there are one or two stalls selling practical household things like plastic buckets, scrubbing brushes, pots and pans.
Now, there’s one night market that opens daily and is known through the length and breadth of this region and that’s the Batu Ferringhi night market right on Jalan Batu Ferringhi that begins at around 5pm and only shuts a little after midnight. This has been a shopping haven for tourists to buy clothes, hats, sunglasses, knickknacks and playful beach things like floats, spades and the like.
Big spender’s tip: The nutmeg is unique to Penang but funnily enough, it’s not as ubiquitous as one would like it to be. Luckily, the pickled variety, which is the more favoured, is sold at Chowrasta market on Jalan Penang in airtight packs which is convenient for a long journey.
Where colours and scents thrive
There’s no denying the pull of Penang’s Little India. Even from three streets away you can hear Hindi pop songs permeating the air, calling you to come be a part of it all. As you come within one street of this Indian enclave, a plethora of fragrances will assault your sense of smell. You’ll be taken aback but you’ll be curious, following your nose toward the many sources of those scents. Mainly, the almost 3-dimensional smells stem from Indian spices, slowly burning incense sticks and delicious curry-based food.
Now, know that subtle is not what you’re going to get in Little India. Here, it’s all about colours. Vivid and alive, these colours are dangerously blinding and they pop from fabric, flowers, statues, food and from every possible inanimate object you can ever imagine. Our advice is, give in and be led into a world of frenzied consumerism. Here, there are glittery sari stores on every street, and one offers more beautiful pieces than the next, or so it may seem. So, be ready to break down due to indecision!
While walking around the sprawling area of Little India, buy a vadai or three, which is a deep-fried savoury donut made out of lentils. They’re truly yummy and energy-giving too. Then there’ll be a stall selling Indian desserts with a mountainous pile of jalebi dripping with sugar syrup. It’s quite similar to funnel cake but with a vivid orange hue.
Big spender’s tip: Where you find a sari store, chances are, you’ll find a jewellery or bangle store two or three doors away if not right beside it. Here’s where you’ll find glittery plastic bangles in every colour you can think of, stacked from floor to ceiling. They’re cheap as chips and so much fun for girls!
Pray to be street wise
For charming twist to souvenirs, take home a piece of Penang’s ‘spiritual culture’. To begin with, for temple prayer things such as joss sticks, among others, they can be found in shops such as Bee Chin Heong on Lebuh Kimberley.
Although, the most charming one is an unnamed stall, right by the entrance of the Kuan Yin temple on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. The guy who’s been manning this stall since time immemorial also makes joss sticks of around four feet high and as fat as a child’s leg wrapped by a dragon design. To see their impact, there’s always a large bunch being burnt at the entrance of the Kuan Yin temple. A terrific advertisement for him, wouldn’t you say?
Now, if you walk on, there’s a stretch of stalls selling flowers and flower garlands used to beautify Hindu deities in the Hindu temples on the same road. What’s startling here is the bluer than blue chrysanthemums. You’ve got to see it to believe it. Don’t miss the large tree at the corner of this road and Lorong Stewart. Behind it, almost hidden, is a little altar in honour of a Hindu deity and it’s always prettily decorated with fresh flower garlands.
Big spender’s tip: Right beside the Kuan Yin temple is Lorong Stewart that has a row of stalls and hole-in-the-wall shops also selling heaps of temple prayer things. It’s great to poke around in them and find treasures such incense sticks and old fashion match boxes.