Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ghee Hiang Biscuits, a Penang Food Souvenir

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy New Year!

An assortment of biscuits from Ghee Hiang

Chinese New Year is once again upon us. It's time for visiting family back in the home town, nightly fireworks, celebrating with friends, and giving lots and lots of gifts. While a hong bao (red envelope) filled with money is always welcome, food gifts are a nice touch, especially if it's the local specialty. Paris has its macarons. Belgium has its chocolates. Penang has Ghee Hiang pastry biscuits. I always bring these back to Texas with me. If I don't, my mom is sure to give me a hard time about it. (Hi mom!) She says they remind her of the Chinese pastries she enjoyed growing up in the Philippines.

First of all, Ghee Hiang has nothing to do with the clarified butter used in Indian cooking, in case if you were wondering.

The bakery started in 1856 when a pastry chef from Fujian province in China moved to Penang. Back then, hundreds of Southern Chinese immigrants were moving to what was then called Malaya to work in it tin mining and rubber production. It's grown over the decades to become a popular Penang bakery.

Supposedly, people from other towns always ask someone to bring them back some Ghee Hiang biscuits if they hear that a visit to Penang is coming up. The queue can get quite long if it's a busy travel season because Ghee Hiang biscuits are the perfect Penang food souvenir since you can't bring the street food back with you. (If you're headed back to the USA, note that US Customs really, really frowns on bringing in bak kua, Malaysian pork jerky. I found that one out the hard way, so strike that from your food souvenir list.) Ghee Hiang even offers pretty gift sets with an assortment of biscuits packaged nicely in what turned out to be a very heavy cardboard suitcase.

Tau Sar Pneah biscuits

Their most popular item is the Tau Sar Pneah biscuits. You might even say that it's one of Penang's legendary foods. My mom can't stop raving about them. A fluffy pastry encases a filling made of ground mung beans, sugar, fried onions, lard and salt. It's a little sweet with a hint of savory flavor from the onions. I used to eat a similar pastry when I was a kid and could never figure out why it reminded me of meat. Now, I know that it was the onions I was tasting.

Beh Teh Saw biscuits

Because I have a bit of a sweet tooth, my favorite biscuits are the Beh Teh Saw. The outer crust is unbelievably flaky with a few sesame seeds sprinkled on top. It's definitely something to eat over a plate unless you want to be cleaning up after yourself with a broom. On Chinese New Year, that's a big no-no because you'll sweep away all your good fortune! Inside, there's gooey molasses filling that also has a bit of fried onion in it. To be honest, hubby finds this flavor combination incomprehensible. Perhaps the taste is better suited to an Asian palate instead of one conditioned by years eating ultra sugary American sweets. I like it, so I figure I don't have to worry about sharing. More for me!

Almond Cookies

I also like the Ghee Hiang Oriental Almond Cookies. That's an understatement. I absolutely adore them and could probably eat the entire box in one sitting. These are some of the best I've had. I usually buy just one cookie whenever I go to Ghee Hiang, and it never seems to make it all the way home with me. All that's left are crumbs in the car.

Statues of the Ghee Hiang baby mascots at the Macalister Road location.

Ghee Hiang has four locations in Penang. One is a walk-up window along busy Burma Road. Another is in historic George Town on Beach Street. My favorite location is the one on Macalister Road because it has a private car park, and you can look through a window from the shop to the bakery to see the pastries being made. If you're in Kuala Lumpur, there's a branch in Hutong Village, Lot 10.

See the Ghee Hiang website for a complete list of locations and products. You can also order online.

Umm, now I'm kinda hungry after writing all this. Thank goodness I have some Ghee Hiang biscuits in my kitchen!

Do you have a favorite food souvenir? Have you tried Ghee Hiang biscuits?

This post is part of the following link-ups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. Oh I am glad I am not the only one that likes food souvenirs! From Greece I bring olive oil and honey, from Arizona it is the hot spicy sauce sold at a particular restaurant, Hawaii it is a malasada or two, from Italy (or Spain) it is canned tuna. Haven't tried these little wonders you've featured but will seek them out on our travels this spring and try some!

  2. OMG, you know how a pleasurable food sensation hits your jowls and has them do that cramping up which is immediately followed by incredible amounts of salivating?? That is the brain telling your mouth how badly it is craving something upon first site, smell or taste!! And that is exactly what happened the second I saw that first picture with it out of the wrapper, Michele! So, you can get both sweet and savory right? What are some of the savory options AND when I can visit you guys to enjoy them with you!! Happy Chinese New Year and I hope you, the kids and your honey are all doing terrific!! :)

  3. You are lucky you had the perfect gift to buy your Mum. Our son has just come back from Japan today and he asked me what I wanted as a souvenir. I told him Wasabi Peanuts!

  4. I didn't know that about not sweeping on New Year - very interesting! Cheers - Ellen

  5. Interesting post about these biscuits.I have tasted these biscuits and know they are delicious.(not sure the brand name though)

  6. Hi Michelle, Happy New Year! I have not heard of Ghee Hiang. I a fan of almonds so I think I'll enjoy the almond cookies as well. Interesting about not sweeping on New Year. I heard that superstition when I was growing up in the Phils, but it does not apply only for New Year Day but for every evening as well! My favorite food souvenirs were botted truffles and truffle oil from Italy; honey from Greece; vanilla from French Polynesia; spices from Morocco, etc.

  7. Michele, This is something I've definitely got to try next time I'm in Malaysia. Sounds amazing. Thanks for linking up with us again for #wkendtravelinspiration!

  8. I've visited their shop on Beach Road. They are good! I laughed about the jerky. I bought some for my Dad when I was in Penang, and sent it back to Canada by post. Not a problem, and he raved about it. :) Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

  9. I tried pork jerky for the first time in Singapore recently and despite never imagining I'd like it, it was absolutely delicious but I have a bit of a sweet tooth and those almond cookies sound very tempting!

  10. HI Nancie,

    Thank you for your preview on our products. Hope you don't mind we shared out your website at our facebook acc.
    Once again, thank you and appreciate your support.

  11. Hello Michele - my family and I are moving to Penang in the next two months from Colorado. I am also of Asian descent (Chinese). Could you recommend a hair stylist? Someone who understands "western" styling, someone who would never recommend a perm on any Asian person :0 Love reading your blog, you rock! Kelly

    1. Unfortunately, the hairdresser I liked has moved to another salon, and I can't seem to find him. Many expats like May at Cutting Edge near the Thai temple. You could also try asking AmandaMuse on either Facebook or YouTube. She's a Canadian beauty blogger who moved away from Penang a few months ago and always had awesome hair.


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