13 July 2004

Penang Foodie 1

After Thailand, I headed south to Malaysia, or more specifically Penang.

Penang, or by its Malay name Pulau Pinang, is a predominantly Hokkien-speaking Chinese city island in multi-racial Malaysia. Nicknamed the "Pearl of the Orient", Penang is well known throughout the region for its hawker food, and any half-decent foodie should make their way there to at least sample some of the local delicacies.

This is the cityscape view of Penang. In the faint background, if you squint hard enough, you'll be able to see the Penang Bridge.

Another shot.

First stop, Lorong Selamat - a favourite amongst locals.

The hawkers' aluminium push-carts line the narrow street lane. Foldable tables and plastic chairs are strewn all over the adjoining coffee shops. During peak-hours, be prepared to wait and fight for vacating tables. There's a wide variety of hawker food to be had here, including all the perennial local favourites such as "assam laksa" (spicy sour fish-based soup with noodles), "kway teow th'ng" (flat noodles in clear chicken and prawn stock), grilled chicken wings, curry mee (or "curry laksa", noodles in coconut-milk curry) and so on.

One of the favourite amongst favourites here is the "char kway teow", which obviously explains the crowd at this lady's stall. So the golden FatMan rule dictates that this is a must-try.

As we placed our order, we were forewarned by the lady boss that it'll be at least 30 minutes' wait before I can savour this. Hmmm .... the anticipation is building.

While waiting, we decided to order "popiah", the colloquial for spring rolls.

Typically in 2 varieties, fresh or deep-fried, this former version is made by wrapping the flour popiah skin with filling of finely shredded yam bean (locally called "sengkuang"), firm tofu, beansprouts, lettuce, fried shallots, chopped garlic, chili sauce and sweet sauce. RM1.50 (USD0.40) per roll.

Still waiting, we proceeded to order "or chien" or fried oysters. Raw oysters are placed onto a bed of egg and starch mixture and then fried. Add in some chili paste, soya sauce and pepper. Topped with spring onions. RM6.00 (USD1.60) per plate (small serving).

FINALLY our "char kway teow" arrived. "Char" means "fry" and "kway teow" is flat flour noodles. What you get is a plate of kway teow noodles fried with garlic, large prawns, cockles, thinly-sliced chinese sausage, egg, chili paste (optional), soya sauce, chives, beansprouts and served with a dash of pepper.

Note the red slivers of chinese sausage. RM5.00 (USD1.30) per plate.

Overall, only the fried kway teow had at least some "standard". The popiah and fried oysters were forgettable. I must note though that the quality of hawker food here, once the pride of the state, is on the decline since my previous visits. And prices have also increased steeply. Sign of progress? Or greed? Or is it just me?

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