The Wonderfood Museum of Penang is a quirky look into the world of food, packed with hundreds of super-sized plastic replicas of delicious foods! It’s located in a historic 1940s colonial building in the heart of George Town. There’s a bowl of noodles as big as a sauna, satay chicken skewers as long as your arm, and an epic cendol taller than an adult! They’re all made of plastic, and visitors can pose with and touch the food, whilst learning a little bit about these delicious dishes.
The museum was created by owner Sean Lao, who used techniques to create the giant food just like the plastic food items common in Japan. The museum is perfect for photo opportunities, and staff are more than willing to jump in to help you take your photo. While it certainly caters to those who love kitsch and fun photos for Instagram, the museum is also really informative about local cuisines, food ethics, and food wastage. To make the visit easy to visit, the museum is split up into different sections.
The Info Zone
The Info Zone is all about celebrating local food from Penang and Malaysia as a whole. Many favourite dishes are lovingly recreated in their plastic-y glory, with Malaysian, Chinese, Indian and Perakanan dishes all on display.
There are also wonderful dioramas of the Malaysian street scene that Penang is so famous for. Tiny plastic figurines slurp tiny bowls of laksa at a miniature streetside table, another is a mini street food vendor bantering with mini customers, whilst others display realistic mamaks full of plastic diners.
For non-Malaysians, this is the place to learn about the beloved dishes and eating customs of Malaysia. More miniature models show figures eating nasi lemak for breakfast, Chinese porridge for lunch, and roti and teh tarik for a snack. A visit to the info zone will certainly make you want to find some hawker cuisine afterwards!
The Wow Zone is where you’ll find the biggest and most impressive giant food displays, as well as some curious reinterpretations of how we think of food. There’s the humungous bowl of laksa Penang that looks big enough to swim in, a popular photo op with some complementary chopsticks! In the same room is a mountain of cendol, and durian segments as big as pillows. You can spend all day posing with photos of other Malaysian foods, such as roti canai, curry mee, rojak, char kuey teow, and ais kacang.
Then there are the ‘what if’ displays. What if food was weightless? One plastic diorama has antigravity food suspended mid-flight. Another plastic display presents a banquet of mouldy, disgusting dishes. Creative arrangements of food make you think about the food you like, and why. What if the food had a different colour? One display paints food in different colours, to see how appetising they look (fancy trying purple chicken, green corn, or blue bananas?), and another presents food in black and white only.
The Educational Zone
Whilst not as social media friendly as the Wow Zone, the Educational Zone is the most thought-provoking section. The area aims to educate people about the origins of food and food waste, often using dioramas of more realistically sized food. There are lessons on food wastage and ethics. To demonstrate the inhumane issues behind shark fin soup, a banquet of shark fin soup is surrounded with the bodies of chopped and bloody shark models on the floor.
There is a display of the world’s most expensive foods laid out on a fancy banquet. Plastic replicas of black caviar sit next to an $1100 gold-leaf hamburger and a $4200 pizza, and there’s the story of how a civet cat chooses the world’s finest coffee beans. No mention of my favourite topic, however, Japan’s incredibly expensive custom fruits! Another display places spoons of sugar next to food and drink, so you can see how much sugar we eat.
And on the way out the door, there’s a strong message about food wastage, as a life-sized plastic child figure scrounges for scraps on the floor.
The Wonderfood Museum is more than just a place to take fun pictures with giant food. It’s informative, creative and thought provoking, and definitely one of the best museums around. A visit to the museum can keep you occupied for quite a while, so make sure you put it on your list of things to see when visiting Penang!
The Museum is located at 49 Lebuh Pantai, George Town, Penang, not far from the famous Clan Jetties of George Town.