Luscious Laksa in Penang

In my travel and food tales, we got as far as Penang. Where do I begin with Penang? The yummy food, the gorgeous colourful architecture, the great harbour, the delicious food…I was loath to leave Langkawi as I love the ocean so much, and the ferry ride was no picnic, as you may have read in my earlier post. But it was with real excitement that I strode out of my hotel to go in search of food and fun.

I asked one of the guys at reception where is good nearby for Malaysian food, and he told me, “Red Garden”. The best bit? It was just up the road, on Jalan Penang.

Red Garden is a foodcourt that is out doors yet undercover.  As it says, “Food Paradise & Night Market”. I descend the stairs and immediately feel the buzz – people everywhere are chowing down seated on white plastic chairs, or trying to decide between the numerous food stalls there. There was Thai food, Laksa, Satay, Fillipino food, Chinese Yum Cha, various noodle dishes, fish head soup, oyster vendors, nasi goreng and ayam… But for me, it had to be the Penang style laksa for my first meal. I went here:

and had this:

Penang, or Asam Laksa is different to the usual Laksa Lemak we’re more familiar with in the west, which has a coconut milk base. ‘Asam’ is ‘tamarind’ in Malay. This laksa has fish, pineapple, tamarind, lemongrass, galangal, chili and mint forming the flavour base of the soup, so it’s sweet, a little sour, a little spicy, and a whole lotta delicious. 

You can’t see the white rice noodles here, but they are lurking below. The fish was flaked and reminded me of tinned tuna actually, although often kambong fish or mackerel is used. This and the belacan (shrimp paste) provided the salty flavour.  The cucumber and mint were cooling, the spice provided by the galangal, lemongrass, chili, ginger and tumeric, sweetness provided by the pineapple, with the tamarind lending the sour note.

I expected to perhaps not like it, but I really enjoyed it. It is different from the coconut milk curry laksa, but no less delicious.  I totally cleaned the bowl! However, I had a little room left in my tummy..so I headed for the stay stand. I ate them before I could take any pictures, but the chicken satay sticks with accompanying peanut sauce were SUBLIME!

As I looked around, everywhere people were having a good time. It’s a really relaxed, friendly, fun place to eat. Oh, and servers come around and get you drinks – soft drinks, beer, whatever you want, and bring back your drink and change to your table. Now THAT’s service!  Be prepared though, if you ask for a beer you get a big bottle :)

On the way home, I had to stop for a teh tarik (the sweet, strong, milky frothy tea favoured in these parts).  A roadside stall was just the place to stop and have a brew.

I then dawdled home to rest up awhile. Later that night I had my most fun night out of the holiday…but I’ll leave that for another post. This one is all about the food, baby!

Next morning I was feeling a touch seedy due to the shenanigans of the night before, so starting the day with breakfast wasn’t high on my agenda. However, by the time I’d seen a few temples, shrines and mosques and covered most of the sights of Georgetown, I was ready for some food.  I saw a few places in Little India (yes, Penang has one too) that looked ok, but on Jalan Chulia, heading back towards Jalan Penang, I found this place that looked really nice.

As you can see, he had a lot of specials, but I wanted a roti canai (which is a typical Malaysian Indian breakfast). Alas, being a Panjabi place with northern Indian food, he didn’t do Roti Canai as such, but he made me a lovely hot Tandoori roti and served it with dahl – which is what roti canai is anyway. Some of the dahls and curries on offer:

The roti was beautifully textured and straight from the tandoor oven, the dahl lovely and light
. The Penang heat had knocked me around so much I had to have an icy cold coke to recover. And then a lie down!
Come 3/3.30 in the arvo I was ready to hit the pavement again and see some more sights…but first, lunch proper. Just across the road from the Oriental Hotel where I was staying, and next to the White House Hotel, is this great corner eatery, called Kafe 78.

There were many authentic local dishes on offer, but looking at this, I knew I had to have the Curry Mee.

And when it arrived, I was not disappointed.
Similar to laksa, Curry Mee has a cocount milk/fish broth base. Often it comes with various different noodles – yellow chow mein egg noodles, and rice (behoon) noodles. Mine was the lighter broth or White Curry Mee, and the spice paste came separate on the spoon, as you can see. You add it to your personal taste, and it then makes the broth a gorgeous red colour. It was really delicious and if I didn’t have to go see some more temples in the afternoon heat, would have stayed for another bowl!
It had cockles, prawns, fish balls, calamari, chicken, yummy fried tofu, crunchy fresh bean sprouts,
For more info on the various curry mee’s you have have throughout Penang, see http://www.what2seeonline.com/, and in particular this entry.
I decided to treat myself to a rickshaw to my next temple, but walking back through Little India, I came across the Restoran Ros Mutiara, which had a lady manager (you can see the feminine touch, can’t you?)
However, it wasn’t Nasi Kandar I was after (I’d already had the Curry Mee), but Ais Kachang. I was hot, and needed some sweet icy goodness, and they had a sign inside indicating they could provide me with just that.
Ais kachang, if you’ve never had it, is a beautiful dessert essentially composed of shaved ice, with sweet beans and corn kernels at its heart, and with sweet syrup and condensed milk drizzled over.  I know, to westerners, beans and corn in a dessert sounds really strange, but trust me, it works.  Though blurry, this pic shows the beans down below:

Mine was flavoured with rosewater, and coloured a sumptuous rose pink, as you can see. As I ate and it melted, it became a mauvey pink chilled soup. This dessert is SOOO refreshing, it leaves you with a zing in your mouth and a spring in your step.

And that is long enough for one post. Next up, my final 2 meals in Penang (sob!)

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