Nicol David's go-to places for great Penang hawker food

An elated Datuk Nicol David after winning the Womens World Open Squash Championship in Belfast, Ireland, in 2006. The athlete is the pride of Malaysia. Photos: Filepic

When Malaysian squash superstar Datuk Nicol David goes on a holiday, chances are she’ll be enjoying some mouth-watering food while lounging on a beach.

“I’m the food lover who is a beach bum,” she says via e-mail, punctuating that line with a smiley face emoji.

“I also like city holidays where I can venture around to check out funky bars or music, while exploring the beauty of design or natural surroundings that the city has to offer,” adds the 33-year-old.

The eight-time Women’s World Squash champion is a force to be reckoned with, and also the pride of Malaysia. Nicol was the world No.1 for a record-breaking 108 consecutive months! She’s also the first squash player to win the World Junior title twice – in 1999 and 2001. Her achievements make her one of the most celebrated figures in sports.

Posing with a dish she whipped up. The squash sensation describes herself as a foodie and beach bum. 

Those feats are, of course, achieved through many hours of intense training on the courts. But there’s also another way the iconic sportswoman stays focused – going on a getaway.

“My life is all about schedules and following routines. So I really appreciate my holidays – to refresh my body and mind. This prepares me to start stronger for the training and competition season to come,” she shares.

A great holiday, according to Nicol, is one where she gets to wake up at anytime and without any plans laid out for the day.

“Most of my travels have been in Asia. I have travelled through Asean countries, such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Brunei,” reveals the Penang-born athlete.

Nicol appreciates the unique culture, history and heritage in the Asean countries that she has visited. “There’s a vibrant energy I get from each country I go to,” she explains.

“The thing that really stands out is our love of food! We enjoy the flavours and spices every day.

“It’s something that I feel connects us all and, at the same time, draws people from all over the world to witness this when they come,” Nicol enthuses.

Where would she go for some amazing food?

“Thailand, of course. I would go for their Tom Kha Khai first thing! My next destination will have to be Vietnam so I can dig into their phó,” she answers. Tom Kha Khai or Thai coconut soup is a spicy and sour hot soup with coconut milk. Phó is Vietnamese noodle soup.

Of course, there is also the warm hospitality displayed by the people of the region.

“I feel it is part of Asean culture to make everyone feel welcomed, in hopes that they (tourists) can take something back with them.

“Those who visit will find that everyone is very friendly, always showing genuine warmth that comes from the heart,” she explains.

Nicol says seeing the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, is one highlight of her travels in the region. But if she had to choose a favourite Asean destination, it would be her hometown of Penang.

“I’m so proud of its heritage and natural beauty. After travelling the world, and being a complete foodie myself, I’d say Penang food is still the best! The variety and unique flavours win, hands down,” she says.

She is more than happy to share her personal foodie recommendations.

The squash champ’s favourite nasi kandar – at Minah Restaurant on Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Penang. 

Nicol’s top must-try foods in Penang are: char koay teow (local hawker at Batu Lanchang Market or restaurant Chulia Court), fried oysters for supper (local hawker at Terengganu Road), assam laksa or lemak laksa (local hawker at Pulau Tikus or Genting Cafe in Jelutong and restaurant Babylon Beach Blanket), nasi kandar (Minah Restaurant), white curry mee (Beach Street Food Court), and grilled fish (Green House Burmah Road).”

The char koay teow in Penang is unbeatable.

When in doubt, turn to the locals, Nicol advises.

“Always ask the locals where to go or what to eat, and they will point you to the best places,” she says.

Back to the sporting front, Nicol says the Asean region has a lot of potential.

“There is more sports knowledge, and support from the national sports councils regionally, that has brought high-performance athletes in big sports like golf, tennis, boxing, extreme sports and motor-racing.

“This has encouraged more sports viewers to support their national heroes in their sports, and have role models to aspire to,” she offers.

Something else that she would like to see thrive in the region is its identity.

“I hope to see every Asean country savour their heritage while taking those steps forward to be powerhouses in every aspect of life, through their economy, infrastructure, sports and quality of life,” she concludes.

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