It’s not hard to bring a little piece of Balik Pulau back home if you know the history of the countryside.
Credit: Arif Alias
Located just a short drive away from Penang National Airport, Balik Pulau is where you'll find nostalgic countryside experiences. Paddy fields as far as your eyes can see, remote beaches, and colorful street art are just some of the highlights on offer for visitors looking to escape from the city noise.
But long before it became a popular tourist destination, this part of the island has been a rural anchor sustaining its people for centuries. It was recorded in 1807 that there was a Malay village with 35 to 40 people there, who supported themselves by planting rice, sugar cane, pumpkins, and other vegetables and fishing at the river mouth. Over time, cottage industries began to flourish – some of these industries have been within families for generations.
Here are 3 flavourful souvenirs you could pick up while you're here. They're a great gift as they're practical, and they represent the rich agricultural history of Balik Pulau.
Bedak Sejuk (Cooling Face Powder)
Lean Seng brand bedak sejuk (Credit: Perniagaan Bedak Sejuk Lean Seng Facebook)
Touted as Penang’s last bedak sejuk maker, Lean Seng brand bedak sejuk was started by Yeoh Keng Beng in 1975. The half a century-old business is currently operated by Keng Beng’s sons, Seong Huat and Seong Chin, and the siblings are still making bedak sejuk the old way.
Bedak sejuk making is a laborious process due to its month-long fermentation process and drying time. Credit: Free Malaysia Today.
Traditionally, bedak sejuk is used by womenfolks as cooling face powder. It is believed to help remove skin blemishes, improve the appearance of skin and relieve itchiness.
The factory welcomes visitors to try their hand at making the powder beads.
Address:160 Mukim D, 11000 Balik Pulau, Penang
Ghee Hup Nutmeg products.
Penang's spicy past is no secret – the island has been a spice island where nutmegs were grown from the period nearly of its first settlement. By the 1840s, it was noted that Penang's production of high-quality nutmegs almost satisfied Great Britain's total demand for the spice.
"Today, Penang remains the only place in Malaysia with nutmeg trees," author of Penang Heritage Food Ong Jin Teong tells Los Angeles Times in 2018. "People from Malaysia, when they come here, they have to buy nutmeg products."
Nutmegs. Credit: Eric Yeoh (Facebook)
In Penang, one of the remaining places to see nutmeg at its source while shopping for nutmeg products (juice, oil, balm, tea, and more) is at Ghee Hup Nutmeg Factory. Established in 1953, Ghee Hup Nutmeg Factory is the biggest nutmeg producer in Penang. The factory is now run by the third-generation owner Mr. Chang Kun Mim.
Address: 202-A, Jalan Teluk Bahang
Website: Ghee Hup Nutmeg Factory
Belacan. Credit: Peter Yeoh.
The most pronounced – and pungent – cottage industry is the making of belacan (shrimp paste). A popular taste-enhancing item in Malaysian cooking, this product is sold throughout Malaysia and shipped abroad.
“Belacan is one of the most important ingredients in Nyonya cooking - blocks of pungent, fermented shrimp paste that adds an umami deliciousness and depth of flavour to our curries and sambals.
“Chop Kim Hoa is one of the belacan factories dotting Penang island, run by a bunch of brothers. You can smell the place even before you see it, as the heavy smell of belacan hangs in the air all over the place,” says Hungry Onion founder and Penang Walkabouts moderator Peter Yeoh.
Credit: Peter Yeoh.
Chop Kim Hoa is the last family-run belacan factory in Penang. The pungent shrimp butter is still dried and processed by hand by the Lo brothers in Balik Pulau.
Address: 37, P237, Kampung Bakar Kapur
Wai Ting, Loong. #JOM GO: Balik Pulau on bicycle. 2019. New Straits Times.
Syafiqah Nazurah Mukhtar, Lim Sok Swan. Walk Zone: Balik Pulau - Penang Island's Rural Solace. 2021. Penang Monthly.
Reena Sekaran. Beauty in the hands of Penang’s last bedak sejuk maker. 2021. Free Malaysia Today.
Austin Bush. Nutmeg, a pumpkin spice staple, takes the spotlight in Malaysia. 2019. Los Angeles Times.
Ooi Kee Beng. The Spice Island of Penang, 1834. 2011. Penang Monthly.
Trishaw Press. Facebook.
Peter Yeoh. Penang Walkabouts Facebook.