Sizzling woks, boiling pots, and crowds at food stands overwhelm our senses while walking the streets in George Town, the multicultural capital of Penang.

Exotic scents carry a mixture of chilis, spices and curries that combine with meats, fish, soup, and incense. A plethora of colorful food stands surround us, and we pick one without having a clue as to what is cooking in that wok, but it looks fabulous. Especially since we are starving.

Unable to read the language or understand the cooks, we will eat anything at this point. So, we stand in line to order Char Koay Kak, which we now know means fried squares of rice cakes, including garlic, chili paste, bean sprouts, and a hint of fish sauce. Delicious.

Happy Chinese New Year! The celebration lasts for weeks, and we sit right in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage site of George Town, where three distinct cultures collide and reward travelers with their celebratory spirit.

Chinese architecture and culture abound. From the restored Mansions built by Chinese industrialists in the 19th century, to the clan jetties converted to residences that housed the enormous influx of Chinese immigrants who arrived in early 1900, particularly in Chinatown, where temples and Dim Sum thrive.

Innovative street art surprises us, as you never know what type of painting, mural, or sculpture grabs your gaze when turning a corner.

Buddhist and Hindu shrines and temples spring up in random areas, but none grander than the Kek Lok Si Temple, Malaysia’s largest Buddhist temple.

We explore this massive hillside temple (in sweltering sweat), containing numerous steps and steep inclines, and hear monks chanting as we admire the splendor.

The higher you climb, the greater the reaching views over town.

Lucky to be visiting on the New Year’s Eve, as that is the day most families celebrate by gathering in their private homes rather than visiting temples or celebration sites. As a result, we have the temple almost to ourselves.

Looking forward to the darkness tonight, because during Chinese New Year this temple becomes a mass of lights. People travel from all over the world to experience the magnificence. But first, we must find food and drink. Back to walking the streets looking for food, on an evening when most stands close for New Year’s Eve. Finally, friendly people can sense that we are lost, and point us in the right direction to find food at a massive hawker stand where only two stalls are open.

Hordes of folks fill the area and I use my natural talent of finding cold beer in a foreign land. Unfortunately, my natural talents end at finding beer.

Starving, and getting drunk quickly on account of being dehydrated and exhausted, we cannot figure out how or what to order. Nobody will even look at us, hopefully because they are too busy. After a lot of pointing and nervous, jerky body movements, I get up and try to order something. We wait in anticipation as to what it will be, and when it might come to our table. Bland, white chopped chicken never tasted so good!

Voila! Night falls and the lights come on at the temple. Forgotten are all the recent sweaty steps and desperate moments, lost on a deserted, dusty street, thirsty and hungry. The brilliance of the Temple replaces all negative memories.

Time for a total soaking of sweat to clear out the toxins, with a huffing hike. This morning’s walk takes us to the top of Penang Hill.

We make a straight-up hike even higher by getting a bit lost as we cut through the tropical forest. Sometimes you find the coolest things when lost. This time, we find glee when arriving at the top.

In Penang, the “food capital of Malaysia,” as in most southeast Asian Countries, hawker centers (conglomeration of street food stands) be the place to be, and boy, did we spend time in hawker centers and free-standing food stalls on the street.

As the final days of our adventure here pass, we feast and savor a variety of delicious dishes and desserts. Here are a few of our favorites:

Penang Nasi Lemak – Flour Pea coconut rice with fried anchovy and pickled cucumber with spicy sambal sauce.

Fried Oyster Omelet – Fresh oysters with eggs, rice flower coriander leaves and chili sauce.

Loh Bak and Prawn Fritters – A five spiced minced meat roll and prawns in rice flower batter deep fried with spicy dipping sauce.

Last but definitely not least – Cendol – Green jelly noodles served over shaved ice with kidney beans and drizzled with copious amounts of coconut milk and palm syrup. YUM!

In our humble experience, Penang is definitely “The Food Capital of Malaysia.”

Thank you, Abundant Universe!

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