Penang’s street food and trishaws are in focus to revitalise local tourism

Penang’s street food and trishaws are in focus to revitalise local tourism

The two pillars of Penang’s tourism industry are hoping for a bounceback in the current endemic era

PENANG wants to improve two of its touristy treasures – street food and trishaws – as the state looks to sustain its growth momentum in the leisure lifestyle sector.

Both institutions of the state’s tourism industry have been undermined due to Covid-19, which made worse an already bad situation as they were somewhat already neglected since before the pandemic struck.

Now more than two years later, Penang is served with a shadow of its two great assets in tourism.

Food connoisseur Khoo Boo Lim said that many hawkers have chosen to hire foreigners to prepare delectable dishes, as the local cooks prefer better paying jobs overseas or in establishments, which offer better wages.

“The end result is an erratic taste at times. But there are still hawkers plying their trades for the ages. They need to be supported. Tourists are unaware of some great hidden tasty dishes in Penang because some locals prefer if we keep it a secret,” Khoo mused.

Those good references for street food, are mostly aging hawkers; the state’s young generation needs to be encouraged to take up this craft of cooking tasty food, he said.

Penang is one of only two states in the country that still serves up trishaw rides, the other being Melaka, and the tricycles were part of the considerations of Unesco when the world body decided to award both townships with the World Heritage Site status.

Hence, for state executive councillor Yeoh Soon Hin, who oversees tourism and culture as well as arts with heritage, it is a big goal to achieve – conserving and preserving trishaws and tasty food for future generations to savour.

Not to mention it must also be nutritious.

Last Friday, Yeoh threw his support to the Ascott Gurney Hotel’s move to help provide maintenance services to the trishaw rider community.

The ‘beca’ or trishaw came into being in 1941 after it replaced the rickshaw, which is traditionally pulled by pedestrians in Penang. Now it is driven by riders.

As the inner city of George Town was the first settlement by the British in Peninsular Malaya, the trishaw began to complement different kinds of transport.

Decades before taxis and stage public buses made their debut in Penang, thousands of trishaws became the main reference for public transports, ferrying schoolchildren, housewives, office and factory workers, as well as civil servants.

It offered the passengers an intimate and nostalgic view of their neighbourhoods in a leisurely manner, unlike their experience in motor vehicles.

From 1,000 riders in the 1980s, today it is down to less than 200 with many earning an average of RM1,000, whereas the minimum wage is now at RM1,500.

How does Yeoh overturn such setbacks – that is his job as an exco member.

Yeoh first wants the corporate side of Penang to do more, praising Ascott for taking the initiative to help the riders by providing maintenance services and promoting the service to their guests as well as marketing it to the masses here.

“I think more hotels can also emulate Ascott,” said Yeoh.

Such efforts have been done before by the hoteliers but just like the plight of the trishaws they promote, it was not sustainable, at best only on an ad hoc basis.

Yeoh wants a determined effort now and for this, he knows that the state must also be involved, hence the clarion calls are now out to offer an apprentice programme to produce new riders and to train technicians on how to maintain trishaws. Anyone in the private sector who is willing to help, would also receive the state’s attention.

Yeoh also wants entrepreneurs to help design new forms of trishaws which can be powered by renewable energy and designs which are eco-friendly.

From the current figures of just 200 riders with only two registered trishaw technicians, Yeoh hopes to double the numbers in the years to come.

The future can be bright as now, on average a hardworking trishaw rider can potentially earn up to RM200 daily and if he peddles for 30 consecutive days, it is a monthly wage of RM6,000 which is comparable to other vocations.

“Tourists are coming back to Penang but there is a need to protect and promote what was sellable to them before,” Yeoh stressed.

Ascott Management country general manager Mondi Mecja has pledged that the property here would help trishaw riders.

Separately, Yeoh also disclosed the signing of an agreement between the Greek National Tourism Organization and the Michelin Guide to have the world renowned cuisine master connoisseur to have its footprint in Penang.

“Michelin can promote local culinary scene, making our state a profound gastronomic destination in the world. Penang is a well-known food paradise of Malaysia which has been continuously recognised by the international medias. For example, Penang Assam Laksa was ranked seventh in CNN’s World’s 50 Best Foods 2020, char koay teow, cendol and nasi kandar are some of our delicacies that brought visitors to our shore.”

While Penang is having International Food Festival annually, Yeoh said that he kept dwelling on the fact that the state was missing from the Michelin Guide. He also added that the Michelin Guide is not only restricted to fine dining and high-end establishments.

Street food and local establishments can also receive 1 Michelin Star or a bib gourmand as well.

“The dynamism in our food culture has created several notable Michelin chefs from London to Singapore. And now would be the perfect time for our talented chefs to come to Penang, attaining their Michelin Star in their home country.”

To build up the momentum of Michelin surveyors on the ground here, Penang has also launched a LovePenang Street Food Competition last month.

Prizes of up to RM200,000 are up for grabs for the hawkers that receive the highest number of votes, while voters with the highest points might get a chance to win cash prizes too.

The competition is open to a maximum of 2,000 street food stalls that register. There are 21 street food categories that are classified as Penang’s iconic food along with three general food groups. Among the categories are char kway teow, nasi lemak and laksa, while those not in the categories will be grouped under three general food groups such as desserts, snacks and other foods.

The street food competition started yesterday and ends on November 30.

source – The Vibes

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