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Food,Glorious Food: Al Jazeera: Street Food – A taste of migration: Penang’s multi-culinary heritage


Penang, the island-state off the northwestern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, traditions and religions.

As a historical trading port, life there has been determined by migration for hundreds of years, and ethnic Malays, Indians and Chinese live together side by side – leading to a unique mix of cultures and food.

“Each of them respect each other’s religion, each other’s customs and their habits. In Malaysia, we have this word called tolerance. You have to tolerate each other in order to live in harmony,” says Teresa Pereira Capol, a Heritage Trust guide.

For many of Penang’s residents, food has evolved to become an art form, a social spectacle, a live display of one’s ethnic roots. But for most of the street vendors, life is harsh and working hours are long. They continue their trade just as their ancestors did, often in the same street their relatives once occupied. Yet they remain proud of this heritage. “We don’t want changes …. We want to keep the everyday life … the cultures, the way of life, the traditions that come with it, [we want to] keep it all intact,” says Capol.

But changes are occurring and many of the homes are disappearing. Development has been inevitable, yet the architecture of the past also needs to be preserved.

“Heritage is not just the buildings and the roads, heritage is actually the people, the people’s lifestyle, way of life, the ambience of a city – and that should be preserved,” says Dato Kee Phaik Cheen.

Al Jazeera wanders the streets of Penang to explore the island through its unique food, history and people. Editor’s note:

This film was first broadcast on Al Jazeera English in 2008.


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