This town in the southwest part of Penang has a lot of hidden delights waiting to be discovered, writes Ewe Paik Leong
A SPOONFUL of goat's milk pudding enters my mouth, feeling firm and cold. It releases an aroma that reminds me of powdered milk. This surprises me as I was expecting a strong goaty aroma.
Next, I glug down a bottle of goat's milk and find it palatable as well. Also available are goat's milk passionfruit yogurt, goat's milk coffee and nutmeg yogurt.
Here I am sitting in at hatched-roofed shed in Saanen Goat Dairy Farm, some four kilometres away from Balik Pulau. What I like about this place is that no appointments are necessary to visit. Snack over, I enter the barn to feed the Saanen goats. The moment I set my gaze on the animals, I am reminded of the Mary Had a Little Lamb nursery rhyme.
NUTMEG, BEDAK AND BELACAN
From the goat farm,I proceed to Ghee Hup Nutmeg Factory, sprawled in a valley surrounded by hundreds of nutmeg trees. As I
stride towards a zinc-roofed shed, a sweet musky aroma swirls in the air.
Inside, a man is explaining the different parts of the nutmeg and their respective uses to several people gathered around a table on which are placed baskets of the fruit.
In another section, workers are removing the mace from the shell by hand. I head straight to the sales section to browse the different products offered. A sip from a paper sampling cup of nutmeg juice prompts me to buy three bottles.
My next destination is the Lean Seng Bedak Factory, which is a little hard to find as there is no signboard. The front porch of a house displays laminated cards showing the various stages of powder-making.
In the compound, trays of bedak are drying under the sun almost everywhere.
According to the owner, Yeoh Siong Huat, his bedak products are even exported to Japan!
Then I head for Chop Kim Hoa Belacan Factory, where globs of belacan (shrimp paste) spread out on wooden stands are drying under the sun, resulting in the smell of rotting fishing permeating the place.
According to a worker, the production process starts by grinding krill in a machine. The resulting pulp is mixed with
salt and allowed to ferment. Then the pulp, which has turned brown, is dried under the sun, compacted into slabs and wrapped using a machine.
Earlier, I was in the town of Balik Pulau, where the first landmark that greeted me was the roundabout with an obelisk.
The monument was built by Koh Seang Tatt in 1881 to commemorate the visit of Sir Frederick Weld, Governor of the Straits Settlement (1880-1887) to Balik Pulau. Koh was the great-grandson of Koh Lay Huan, the first Kapitan Cina of Penang. While cruising around town, I recalled reading that Balik Pulau was founded in 1794 by the East India Company, when the British set up clove and nutmeg plantations here.
In 1821, the settlement saw a boom in population when Malay refugees from Kedah settled here after the state was attacked by the Kingdom of Siam under King Rama II.
Next, I visited the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus which was founded in 1845 by Reverend Fr. Docotey.
The present structure was erected in 1854. DisplayingGothic architecture, it has a tower crowned with a transept spire. The tower is adorned with louvred windows on three sides, and a clock is outfitted to the facade of the spire.
At Jalan Balik Pulau, the Mahkamah Rendah Syariah Daerah Barat Daya is another attention-grabber. A front porch abuts from the main four-storey building and they are crowned with domes. The crenellated roof lines of the main building and of the front porch were inspired by Mughal architecture.
Across the road stands the Masjid Daerah Balik Pulau which sports two minarets capped with unusual bullet-shaped domes.
A verandah supported by semi-circular arches run along the front of the building.
Geometric designs adorn these mi-circular sections of the arches.
Also vying for attention along the main drag are three murals by Russian street artist Julia Volchkova, which adorn the walls of pre-war buildings. Measuring almost six metres high, they add colour and life to the surroundings.
There are The Silat Master which depicts Johari Omar in a fighting stance, Dancing Hakka Girl is Pang Yi Chuen and Old Fisherman is Yeoh Choon Seng.
The famous Kim Laksa is located in Nan Guang Coffee Shop. Bowls of laksa noodles were stacked up in a glass case and they looked tempting. However, having made plans to try assam laksa janggus in Kampung
Perlis, I give this assam laksa a miss.
Lunch takes me to a zinc-roofed shed housing Jiang Siang Cafe which stands on the bank of the Sungei Pulau Betong.
As I stroll along a board walk, I am taken a back by the sight of monitor lizard scrawling on the mud flat below me, with several the size of komodo dragons!
A restaurant worker says that fishing boats discard inedible species of their catch into the river which attracts these amphibians.
Behind the cafe stands a small market selling crabs that still wriggle and fish that still flop on trays. I buy a grouper, prawns and mussels and bring them over to the cafe to be cooked.
Within minutes, steamed grouper, fried prawns and lala kam heong are brought to my table. Amidst the hot stuffy air, the aroma of cooked food drifting about starts the engine of my appetite.
The steamed grouper arrives in a pool of soya sauce and is sprinkled with minced ginger and scallions. The firm pearly-white meat brings the whack of the seashore to my taste buds.
The flesh of the fried prawns almost makes my lips quiver because they're slightly saltish but they're plump and fresh. The mussels cooked in kam heong style deliver a light zing of curry minus the spiciness.
Lunch over, it's back on the road. Turning to Jalan Sungei Pinang, I make aloop via Jalan Baru and Jalan Sungei Nipah before heading back to Jalan Balik Pulau again.
In this area bounded by the threeroads, sprawl verdant rice padi fields, scenic lakes and quaint traditional Malay houses on stilts. Several cyclists are enjoying a ride.
Ata particular point at Jalan Baru, I spot the famous assam laksa janggus and my car screeches to a halt at the roadside. Luck is not with me. It only opens at 4pm and time is not on my side.
A NICE END
Minutes later, my GPS takes me to the crescent-shaped Pasir Panjang Beach. I turn barefoot beach-comber to test the golden sands. They are powdery, and shells and snails are found beneath.
A sign says "swimming prohibited" because the beach ends in a steep slope and waves can reach up to 0.6metre high.
Nevertheless, a group of Western tourists are picnicking and swimming here.
I proceed to Countryside Stables. It is home to more than 30 horses of various breeds and several donkeys. Visitors can enjoy rides in carriages as well as on ponies and horses. Hay can be bought to feed the horses. The darlings of the stable are the miniatures horses which children love to pet.
Finally, since I am craving for assam laksa janggus, I decide to try Nasi Tujuh Benua at Bayan Lepas. Finding this restaurant
isn't easy but I'll give you a landmark.
It's located behind the Olive Tree Hotel, across the main road Jalan Tun Dr Awang.
A menu on one wall states that the seven types of rice comprising its signature dish are "minyak, tomato, lamuni, lemak pandan, hujan panas, kacang and putih."
I queue for my seven types of rice and once they are placed on my plate, I proceed to pick my main dishes from several aluminum trays.
The seven types of rice bombard me with refreshing tartness, comforting pats on the cheeks, the uplifting high notes of pandan and much more.
A bite on the fried chicken drumstick sends echoes to my ears! Yet its inside is almost a melt-in-your-mouth affair. The turmeric vegetables release jolts of heat and funk which give the rice a solid lift.