I’ve been very bad with keeping you updated on our holiday adventures but I’m trying to catch up. In Hindi there’s a slang word called ‘Paado”/”fado” which means to stuff ones face. And that’s pretty much what we did in Penang. Here’s some drool-worthy pictures and descriptions for you foodies out there. Vegetarians look away now…From KLSentral we took the 8:45am train to Penang through the lush Malaysian countryside. But first we had to fill our tummies with breakfast at the station. The choice at the food court is all Malay food. It is not cheap, especially if like us you eat with your eyes and not your wallet.
We booked the Premier Class seats at RM 67 per head, online. The seats were very comfortable, reclining quite a way back with an adjustable foot rest in front but the seats looked like it had seen better days. The compartment was freezing so I recommend wearing warm clothes or taking a shawl with you.
As part of our ticket we got a free banana cake which was delicious and a bottle of water. The lunch on the train was very very average and while not as tasteless as the Central Market Food Court, I’d recommend buying your own packed food at the KL Sentral Food Court. So while you do get food on the train, it is not great. We ate a chicken noodle that was the only hot food on offer. And the recommended Milo Ice.
When you reach Butterworth train station, everyone moves towards the ferry point to get you to Penang. At the time we went (Dec 2012) it looked like there was construction work in progress connecting the station platform to the ferry because it was in shambles. There were no ramps or escalators to wheel heavy suitcases to the ferry boarding point. Everybody, including us, struggled with their suitcases and prams to get up the long steep flight of stairs. Travellers, you have been warned. At the ferry boarding point there is a small narrow booth to change your notes in to coins as the turnstile that allows you on to the ferry only opens when coins are inserted. This is a fast moving exchange of notes for coins and we didn’t actually get all our correct change. Looks like an antiquated system where coins constantly get jammed and is not user friendly. Possible the only turnstile I saw in Malaysia that had to be manned by a person because it was so unreliable. You were lucky if you got through without some part of you being amputated by the guillotine action of the turnstile or your luggage trapped on the other side of the barrier.
The ferry to Penang costs only RM1.50 and you are packed on to a large boat with limited seating which also carries cars. There is a small “Minum stall” (Drinks stall) at the exit end of the ferry. Luckily though it’s a short journey of 15 minutes.
When we reached Penang ferry terminal it was raining and there were very few taxis around. So we paid what seemed to be an exorbitant RM20 to get to the New Asia Heritage Hotel on Kimberly Street. We reached just as the rain began to pelt down. But we received the warmest greating by two friendly old Chinese guys manning the reception. Ever so friendly, helpful and polite, the best hoteliers on our trip along with Rucha Gupta of Footprint B&b in Chennai. More about our room and hotel in the next post as I devote this to all the food we ate in Penang.
The compulsory chicken rice. A seemingly bland rice and boiled chicken that comes alive with sambal paste.
We couldn’t have chosen a better street for a couple of foodies – Kimberly street comes alive from 5pm till very late at night with hawker stalls. I think the variety is better than Chulia street. We didn’t make it to New Lane but Kimberly fulfilled all our desires. WE hit the streets around 6 or 7pm and didn’t stop till we were truly exhausted.
It baffles me how they get the orders right. You order at the hawker stall on the street, then sit inside a covered area and somehow the food from the street reaches the right table inside. How do they match up hundreds of faces with orders? The Last Appetite blog has a very good explanation for the Wok Hei Economy – how hawker stalls and cafe’s or Kedai Kopi’s enjoy a symbiotic relationship.
We began the hawker stall raid on Kimberley street with a very daring, Offal Soup. Offal of pig – intestines, liver, heart, lung and a duck egg. At first I was a little suspicious but the broth was so very delicious and the meat didn’t have the sickly texture of liver that usually puts me off. Admittedly, the DH was able to polish off more than me. We ordered it because it was the most popular dish, at least one on each table. I ate more of the seafood and the DH knocked back a couple of Tiger Beers while I insisted on yet another plate of Char Kway Teow. Somewhere along the way we also had some excellent chicken wings with a very hungry cat sitting next to us waiting for its share of the bones. Many of these hawkers look like family run establishments who do one dish because they are bloody good at it. Apparently the reason why you see some hawkers one day and not the next is because many gamble away their profits for the day and then don’t have enough to stock up for the next day’s sales. But these guys are experts at what they do. The restraunteurs of small town India with their Multicuisine/Multi specialty “Chinese Indian Panjabi Tandoori” establishments could take a leaf from the Wok Hei Economy book and focus on one thing and do it well.
It was then on to some expensive steamed octopus with two spicy sauces, chilli and soy.
The next morning we ventured out in search of Dim Sum for breakfast. I’d read a lot about Aik Hoe on Lebuh Carnavon from a few blogs and Time Out Penang. It’s a very old establishment that refuses to revamp its decor with the shop’s name imprinted in to the stainless steel folding chairs. But our search led us to shop that was closed. Round the corner however, opposite the covered wet market on Lebuh Carnavon, was another dim sum place whose name I didn’t get but it’s very easy to find if you’ve found the wet market.
The Chinese tea was self serve- a little water heater where you could replenish your tea. The tea leaves stay the same but somehow the strength doesn’t diminish or get too bitter. The cups come in a plastic bowl of boiling water, which is a great way of reassuring the customer of cleanliness. Each table gets a little card with lots of chinese words on it. The waitress comes round, inspecting the dishes you’ve taken and puts tally marks in the various columns. When you go to pay, it’s all added up.
Chicken’s feet, boiled chicken and cabbage and pork spare ribs which are traditional Penang dishes, not found anywhere else in Malaysia were to die for. The pork bun was out of this world.
I loved the fact that this was a place that the locals frequented. Another family of “SE Asian” descent (which could be anywhere from Singapore to China) did come in as we were finishing up. Apart from that the place was filled with locals – old men meeting up for breakfast, a couple in their jogging/walking gear, an old woman by herself reading the paper and even a biker who was packing some dim sum to go. But there were no white tourists and we were definitely the only Indians.
Just like we have pictures of gods in our business establishments, so too the Chinese have sayings and offerings for good business prospects.
For lunch, Time Out Penang recommends the Foong Wei Hoong restaurant for it’s fantastic pork dishes and assures you that the strength of the local crowd is a testament to how good the food is. This was the most expensive place we ate and the only restaurant (tables with table cloths, air conditioning etc) we ate at and it was empty at 1 in the afternoon. The food was average. Sure the crispy pork was divine but the honey roasted pork came with thousand island sauce, which was like mayonnaise. They did give us a bowl of chopped garlic and green chillies which transformed every dish in to something we could vibe with. Beware though, these guys are like Air Asia – they charge for everything. The peanuts and face towel you think are complementary are NOT. There’s much better street food out there for a lot less.
I had been looking forward to the Fried Oyster Omelettes at Lam AH coffee shop opposite the fire station on Lebuh Cenai or Beach Street as it had made an appearance on many blogs. This was on the way to where the main banks and ATMs were but the guy hadn’t shown up for work that day. Boo. I still haven’t had an oyster omelette.
A lot of walking later, we stopped at the Guan Fruit Corner, a fresh fruit juice stall run by father and son. We had a star fruit juice served up in a plastic bag, with straw and lots of crushed ice. Very refreshing and lovely chaps too.
Later on that evening, when in search of some chinese pork sausage we came across some dried sea animals – squid and fish mainly.
Walk down Chowrastra street which is filled with Malay and Indian shops selling shiny things emblazoned with sequins and knock off T-shirts and you’ll find Jalan Kuala Kangasar. This is the place for pork products, a little street dominated by Chinese sellers. We went to the Tuck Lee shop to buy barbequed pork. We have been assured that this will last for 6 months outside the fridge and even longer if kept inside. But with how amazing this stuff looks, it won’t be lasting too long in our freezer. You can also find this in KL’s china town.
I loved the hanging lamps over the counter.
We hadn’t yet exhausted the hawker stalls on Kimberly street but we thought we’d make a dent on Chulia Street, the hawker stalls opposite the 7 Eleven. The best stall we have found to date is this one – LOK LOK. At the front were two vats of boiling water and an array of sauces. The rest of the cart/stall was crammed with trays of meats and seafood, cooked and uncooked on bamboo skewers. The idea was to dunk the uncooked meats in to the vats, cook them quickly and then dip in the sauce and eat. But how were we to distinguish between the cooked and uncooked meats, especially for things like fish balls and dumplings where you couldn’t see the stuffing inside. After a little experimentation and keen observation it struck us that the cooked meats had a piece of cucumber at the end while the uncooked ones did not. We also realised that the skewers had a dab of paint at the end, some were red, others black, silver, blue green. And on the cart’s banner each colour had a price, 0.60 cents etc. At the end of the meal you handed over your skewers to the lady, she tallied up the colours and told you how much your bill was. An ingenious method of preparing, serving and charging for food. Small bite sized portions, standing around with strangers, a sort of communal eating that was different from other street food consumption. A little island of variety only seen in one of those tropical fish tanks. A simple idea, well executed – high thinking, simple living.
We didn’t eat as much satay as I thought we would but what we did eat was pretty good, in Penang and KL. Here’s one lady whipping up that smoky charred flavour that is essential for good satay (chicken or beef on a stick)
I had to eat one last round of Dim Sim and the DH had spotted a DIm Sum joint right opposite our hotel. So bright and early at 6am we were there. It was our last meal in Penang before we boarded the ferry to Langkawi. We were not disappointed. I highly recommend the Kweong Leong Sun on Jalan Pintal Tali.
Fried dim sum
Vats of steaming dim sum
What I loved about eating joints in Malaysia in general is that they are rough and ready, not posh at all. What they lack in decor they make up for in giant strides in the quality of food. You don’t need the trappings and finery of a restaurant if you can eat till your belly explodes and your wallet doesn’t, with happy locals all around.