IF you’re wondering about visiting the Wonderfood Museum in Penang, stop now. Just go… if you want to find out why, then check out our review…
I’m standing in front of a giant plastic bowl of curry mee.
Behind me are tiny miniature people running around a field of broccoli and cauliflower trees and a table containing some pink and blue bananas, multicoloured pasta dish and some green corn.
I’ve never taken acid in a supermarket, but I’m pretty sure that if I did, this is what it would be like – thankfully, you don’t need mind-altering substances to experience this brilliant madness, you can just go to Wonderfood Museum Penang.
There’s a lot of odd museums in Penang – there’s one devoted to ghosts and spirits, a trick art museum where you can live in paintings, an upside-down museum, they’re all interesting, but none of them really seem to fit what Penang is about, but Wonderfoods, for all its madness suits its location.
Penang is known for amazing food, every corner has a hawker centre, street stall, or fully-fledged restaurant, selling something that looks or smells delicious (usually both), so a food museum in Penang makes perfect sense. And this one is really good fun!
What To Expect at Wonderfood Penang?
Madness. Complete and utter, bonkersville. And I mean that as my highest compliment.
It spans two floors and has three zones – Wow Zone, Info Zone and Educational Zone – each with its own unique rabbit warren of different rooms.
The thing that’s consistent throughout though is incredible models of plastic food that appear everywhere – there are hundreds of them.
They are stuck on walls, made into dioramas, turned into mini rooms with a theme and magnified thousands of times to selfie-ready props – using these fantastic works of foodie-art you also learn all sorts of odd facts about food – and a bit about society.
One of the first rooms plays with the colours of food with motivational quotes lining the walls – ‘What if food was colour blind? We can live without discrimination,’ reads the one above an entirely black and white table of food. A model of mouldy food reminds us that nothing lasts forever so try and live in the now.
Personally, I’m not sure what type of brain you have to have to link motivational quotes to a model of a monochrome burger, but look at it….it’s fabulous, so whatever they are doing they can carry on with it as far as I’m concerned.
I literally wandered through the whole place with my mouth open. Either at the intricacies of the models – little dioramas of people living in a giant food world had the most incredible details – or the quirkiness of the facts that I was learning.
For example, standing in front of a table showing representations of the world’s most expensive dishes I discovered that someone has created strips of bacon covered in chocolate and edible gold leaf that they are selling for US$40 a strip!!!
Eh, why? Who would buy that?
Mind you, it’s positively cheap when you see it next to the $4200 pizza or the $1100 burger.
Even the ‘education zone’, a name that might cause the average heart to sink, is brilliant. A fascinating history of food shows what bananas and watermelons originally looks like before we started cultivating them.
They touch on health showing you just how much sugar is in certain foods and they get a bit political showing what exactly is involved in the production of sharks fin soup.
And, really usefully for anyone bamboozled by the sheer amount of food you find in Penang, dotted around the place you’ll also find information on traditional Malaysian dishes like nasi kandar – with suggestions of where to find the best ones in Penang. Excellent use of museum space!
You really have no idea what is coming around the next corner.
Who Makes the Models?
I was blown away to discover that all the models are actually made by the museum’s owner, Sean Lau, and a team of local crafts folk.
Lau was a graphic designer but fell in love with making plastic food after completing a project on it for a client. He now runs a plastic food making business supplying restaurants in Malaysia with display food and opened Wonderfood in 2015 to educate people about the food we eat.
If you also have a fascination with plastic food you might want to book a future trip to Tokyo and visit Kappabashi Street in Asakusa where you can even make your own tiny models.
Where is Wonderfood in Penang?
It’s located right in the middle of Georgetown at 49 Lebuh Pantai, it’s just a short walk from the most popular bits of street art like the kids on a bicycle or other must-sees like the Clan Jettys.
Wonderfood is open seven days a week from 9am to 6pm. It costs 25 RM for adults and 15 RM for children – local residents with a MYKAD card get in for a bit less.
If you want to get the best pictures, go as close to when it opens as possible when crowds are smaller – afternoons are their busy time and you might find yourself have to queue to hug a giant doughnut.
You probably need an hour or two to see the place properly – I spent 10-15 minutes on the dioramas alone – look, this is one tiny fraction of one below.
And don’t worry if you don’t have a photography buddy. The Boyfriend had headed back to the hotel at this point and so I went to Wonderfood on my own and if you are travelling solo the staff are happy to take photos for you.
One thing to watch out for. When I first arrived I saw lots of people hanging around the entrance and assumed that they were waiting to go in – this nearly put me off going as I didn’t really have the time or energy to queue. In fact, they were just waiting for family members inside.
I went to quite a few of the fun museums in Penang while I was there but Wonderfood was definitely the best. If you’re fed up of looking at street art, or eating yourself senseless, definitely add it to your list of fun things to do in Penang. You won’t regret it.
Talking of street art, there’s a lot more murals to be found in Penang than the ones you see all over instagram. If you’re looking to find some less touristy street art then check out our alternative guide to Penang murals.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.