Story of the Street
Pitt Street or Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling is one of the oldest roads in George Town. It was laid out after Light Street. It was named after William Pitt the Younger, the Prime Minister of Great Britain when Penang was founded in 1786. The street is called Koan-im-têng-chêng (观音亭前) in Hokkien which meant in front of the Goddess of Mercy Temple. Meanwhile, some locals call it Yâh-kha-kay (椰角街) which meant the street under the coconut grove. In the past, there was a large police station in front of the temple. Thus, Toā-ba-laí is another name of the street, which meant big police station. The street has been officially renamed as Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling since the 1990s.
The nickname of Pitt Street is the Street of Harmony as there are four different places of worship located within metres of one another along the street. The Kapitan Keling Mosque was built in 1801. While British administrators and Europeans resided at the northern end of Pitt Street, St. George’s Church was built in 1816. Meanwhile the Chinese built the Kong Hock Keong Temple, which is also known as the Goddess of Mercy Temple in the early 18th century. Then, the Hindus also constructed the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in 1833. The nickname also reflects the harmonious coexistence of various religions and cultures that have lived here for centuries.
As the Indian Muslim part of town, there are numerous of Indian Muslim eateries around the area. Meanwhile, there is also a row of Indian Muslim jewellery shops upon crossing Chulia Street. George Town’s money changers are a close-knit Indian Muslim community with about a third of them originating from the same village in India. Hence, there are a number of money changers along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling too.
Kapitan Keling Mosque
Kapitan Keling Mosque is the oldest and largest mosque in George Town. The Penang’s first Indian Muslim settlers (East Indian Company troops) built it in 1801. The Indo-Moorish structured complex is surrounded by low walls and topped with Moghul-style copper domes. The mosque was named after the ‘Kapitan’ of the Keling (a leader of the South Indian community similar to the leader of the Chinese community), Cauder Mohuddeen Merican. It was once used as Penang’s state mosque when the construction of the Penang State Mosque at Air Itam road took place in the 1970s. The mosque was originally a small single storey brick mosque. Over the years, the mosque has been expanded many times to its present scale, the largest mosque in George Town, Penang.
St. George’s Church
St. George’s Church is a 19th century Anglican church. It is the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. Convict labour from East India Company built the church in 1817. The Church was built with a combination of Neoclassical, Georgian and English Palladian architecture styles. Furthermore, the interior is pastel blue with marble floors. Besides, there is an elegant Victorian style pavilion outside the main building on the church ground as a memorial to Sir Francis Light. Hence, the St. George’s Church is one of the most impressive colonial buildings in George Town.
Goddess of Mercy Temple
The Goddess of Mercy Temple is also known as Kuan Yin Teng or Kong Hock Keong (Cantonese-Hokkien Temple). It is the oldest Chinese temple and also one of the most important temples in Penang. It was built in 1728 through the joint efforts of the early Chinese settlers, especially the Hokkien and Cantonese communities. Besides religious purposes, the temple is also used for social functions until the establishment of the Penang Chinese Town Hall. The temple was originally dedicated to Mazu, a sea goddess worshipped by the Hokkiens. Then, the temple’s main deity was changed from Mazu to Guan Yin when the temple underwent renovation in 1824. Additionally, the temple is also one of the most magnificent Chinese architecture style structures in northern Malaysia.
Penang Chinese Town Hall
Penang Chinese Town Hall was established in 1881. It was originally intended to resolve the controversy between the Hokkien and Cantonese communities. Besides, Penang’s Chinese merchants founded Penang Chinese Town Hall in order to take over the economic and social functions of the Kuan Yin Teng Temple. In the 1980s, it was rebuilt into its current 12-storey office block. Meanwhile, it also plays an active role through involvement in Chinese cultural events until today.
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
The Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple was built in 1833. It is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang. Moreover, it is a typical example of Hindu architecture, built in the south Indian Dravidian style. It is located on Queen Street and the back entrance is on Pitt Street (Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling). In addition, it is dedicated to the Hindu deity, Sri Muthu Mariamman, which is considered a motherly power figure, a goddess of mercy and patron deity of the peasants of southern India.
The Star Office
The Star Office is tucked within a colonial three-storey building. It was first used as a godown and a dispensary for the distribution of opium and alcohol in 1906. The property was later owned by a millionaire from Penang, Loh Boon Siew. He then opened Malaysia’s first Honda showroom within the building. In 1971, The Star (Malaysia’s most popular English-language newspaper) was founded in George Town with the building as its headquarters. Since then, the building has been known as The Star Office. After that, The Star’s headquarters was moved to Petaling Jaya and its Penang head office to Bayan Lepas. Its reporters are still using The Star Office. The building now provides space for Areca Books, the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra, a resource centre and an exhibition centre.
Where to Stay
Broadway Budget Hotel
Broadway Budget Hotel is located within the Little India area and Chinatown. It is clean, tidy and includes all the necessary facilities. It offers a contemporary, quiet and comfortable place to stay. For instance, the room types cover from Standard Room to Triple Room, which could accommodate up to 5 people in a room. In addition, some of the rooms even provide views of the city or Swettenham Pier.
Red Inn Court
Red Inn Court is a boutique eco-guesthouse located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Every stay becomes a memorable experience” characterises the hospitality one can expect from Red Inn Court. They offer two main types of rooms which are King & Queen Rooms and Two & Dormitory Rooms. However, only Queen Rooms come with an ensuite shower and toilet while other rooms come with shared showers/ toilets.
What to See
Street Art: “Bullock Cart Wheel” Sculpture
The “Bullock Cart Wheel” Sculpture was installed in 2012. This sculpture at Pitt Street is based on a cartoonist Reggie Lee for the “Marking of George Town” project. The description of the sculpture is: “In the days when your money could be “as big as a bullock cart wheel”, this was a popular rest stop for the limousines of the time.”
This “Bullock Cart Wheel” sculpture provides two different historical insights. Pitt Street was where bullock carts used to park during the early 20th century. The second insight is about the ½-cent Straits Settlement coin which is an idiom in Penang Hokkien. Bullock Cart Wheel (Gu-chia-lean) means a stingy person, whose ½-cent is the size of the bullock cart wheel.
Street Art: “Tok Tok Mee” Sculpture
The “Tok Tok Mee” Sculpture is located at the junction of Pitt Street with China Street, facing the Goddess of Mercy Temple. It is captured by a cartoonist, Tang Mun Kian in the caricature for Sculpture at Work. The description of the sculpture is: “Tok tok mee is so called because hawkers would strike a ‘tok tok’ sound to signal their presence.” The sculpture tells how the itinerant hawkers of wanton mee, which is also known as tok tok mee, announce their arrival.
Gerakbudaya Bookshop is a small independent bookstore located in a row of shophouses along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. Founded by Gareth Richards, a researcher, writer and editor, the bookstore opened in 2014. Apart from the large chain bookstores which offer popular titles, Gerakbudaya focuses on literary fiction, poetry, translations and titles from smaller, independent publishers. The team is very passionate about books that matter. Hence, they have a collection of over 6,000 titles in stock ranging from books about Penang, current affairs, politics, to arts and culture, lifestyle and even Southeast Asian studies. In 2018, the second bookshop is opened at Beach Street. The new Gerakbudaya Bookshop concentrates more on non-fiction titles.
What to Eat
Nasi Kandar Beratur
As its name suggests, there is always a queue at the stall. But do you know that the official name for this Nasi Kandar Beratur is Restoran Liyaqatali? It is one of the most popular nasi kandar stalls in Penang. This restaurant offers an extensive selection of dishes ranging from beef kurma, fried chicken to squid curry. Meanwhile, there are actually two different managements at the same stall. Nasi Kandar Beratur starts at 10pm until early morning while another team operates during the day.
Nasi Kandar Imigresen
Besides Nasi Kandar Beratur, there are a few spots that are not so famous but serve equally great Nasi Kandar in the city centre. For instance, Nasi Kandar Imigresen located at Lorong Pasar, off Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. Just like any other Nasi Kandar, it serves fried chicken, cabbage and various curries with mild spiciness. In addition, the price is considered relatively wallet-friendly too.
Fok Kee Food Centre
Fok Kee Food Centre is a Chinese coffee shop which was previously known as Jolly Cafe. This restaurant serves Chinese cooked meals. For instance, the dishes include fish head curry, sweet & sour pork, claypot soy sauce pork and more.
Hai Beng Lor Mee
This Hainan lor mee stall claims to have been operating since 1957. It is located in Hai Beng Coffee Shop, which is across Stewart Lane from the Goddess of Mercy Temple. Their broth is the speciality that attracts lots of patrons in the area. The broth here is less sticky compared to those we usually had. In addition, it has a tangy and nice spiced taste.
Bean Sprout Cafe
Bean Sprout Cafe is located right opposite of the Goddess of Mercy Temple. This two-storey cafe has a strong rustic vibe from its exterior to interior. Though the price is slightly higher, the menu offers a wide range of western cuisines and good coffee. For instance, their best sellers include Avocado Toast 3 Ways, Avocado Pesto Spaghetti top with Avocado chips, Classic Pancake and more. Moreover, it’s an Instagram-worthy cafe to chill and hang out with friends and family.
Cafe Little Angel
This is a nice place that offers cheap local and western food. It is a small restaurant with no outside seating, no inside frills. They offer a very wide selection of Chinese dishes such as Fried Rice, Claypot Mee, Penang Laksa, Hokkien Mee, and even English Breakfast. The atmosphere is rather authentic as many Chinese locals would have their breakfast or brunch here.