I may be biased. Because I was born and grew up in Penang in the early 1960s. No matter how long I have been away from my hometown. Almost half of my lifetime was spent living overseas, I will still come back to Penang. I am sure I am not the only Penang-lang or Penang-kia who feels like this. So what makes it so special and keeps drawing me back to Penang?
Is it the food? is it the people? or, is it the place? For me, it is all 3 of them. They are all important to me. First and foremost, what makes Penang unique is the people. It is a melting pot of different races and cultures living harmoniously together. Penang has become more modernised every year in the past 3 decades. But, this has not changed the people. Tradition runs deep and rich among the locals.
The food. It is uniquely Penang that blends the different cultures of Chinese, Malay, Indian and southern Thailand in spices and flavours. This can be traced back in the eighteenth century during early settlements of Chinese and Indians. Penang was a strategic trading port in the Straits of Malacca for the East India Company at the time. Merchants and seafarers traded their goods, spices, textiles, teas between China and Indian subcontinents. Some merchants and seafarers chose to settle on the island and married the locals. That evolves the food culture over the generations. One such food culture is the "nyonya food". A Chinese style kitchen influenced by Malay and Indian cooking in preparing and blending different spices to get a unique flavour and taste on the individual dishes.
That is why I kept coming back to Penang, my beautiful hometown. It is the people and the place that makes my homecoming so welcoming. It is easy to get along. The food, which is uniquely Penang that is authentic to Penang. Generations of cook mastering the same dish, plate after plate, and bowl after bowl of Penang food that was passed down from parent and the parent before them.