Returning to Penang

It’s weird going back to a place you’ve been previously. There’s the thrill as you remember how good last time was, combined with some nervousness that it won’t be as good this time round. Add to that, I was travelling with hubby Dom this time, and it was with some trepidation that I introduced him to my beloved Penang.

I needn’t have worried.

Penang – home of arguably the best food in Malaysia, historic shophouses and grand colonial mansions, with harbour views (if you have the right hotel) and 24 hour service be it street food, convenience stores or curry houses – what’s not to like?

After a long day’s travel from Kapilai, including a few hours stopover and walkabout in Kota Kinabalu, we were both ravenous by the time we hit Penang. Dumping our bags in the hotel, we hurried to the Red Garden, an open-air hawker centre nearby. You may remember my post on Luscious Laksa in Penang from last year, where I talked about the various foods there – if you haven’t, check it out!

I had the Assam Laksa that is (as I mentioned in last years Penang post), not based on a coconut broth as normal laksa is, but a sweet/sour combo of pineapple juice, tamarind and more. We shared a plate of assorted satay sticks with peanut sauce, and Dom had frogs legs in garlic. I found the laksa fishier tasting than last year’s ones, and not quite as delicious as I remembered – but the satay and frogs legs were YUM!

As you can see, they were washed down with a cold Tiger beer or three, and after a good meal and refreshing bevvie, it was time to hit the sack. And what a sack! This time we stayed at the Cititel on Jalan Penang, and it is very modern and stylish, with fab views over the harbour.

What we were looking forward to the next morning was having a roti canai and teh tarik at the Malay/Indian place just a few doors up, the Restoran Jaya. I mentioned this in last years post, the badly punned “Currying Favour in Georgetown“.

Oh, the roti was so flaky and beautiful, with a lovely tasty curry, and Dom’s lamb-filled roti was delicious too. Um, we drank our teh tariks before I thought to get a pic – but you know what a cuppa tea looks like. Dom loved the place as much as me, and we returned the next morning as well. I can highly recommend this place for all sorts of food – and it’s open 24 jam! That means 24 hours in Malay – and it means you can get a feed any time, day or night. Gotta love Malaysia! I didn’t get the street address, but it’s on Jalan Penang, right opposite Kafe 78.

A little lie down was in order after our hearty brekkie, as we had a big day ahead of us, fitting in seeing the sites of old Penang, as well as eating some great Curry Mee and Char Kway Teow (yes, at the angry aunty’s famous CKT place).  But that can wait for another post – all this food writing is making me hungry!!

Have you been to Penang? What are your fave food places – especially for breakfast and roti canai?

Storm in Batu Ferringhi; Currying favour in Georgetown

Just a quick one today to finish off my food blogging from Penang.

On my second afternoon in Penang, I decided I HAD to see Batu Ferringhi, the beach named for the foreigners who’ve been flocking there since the 70′s.  I wanted to enjoy one more sunset by the ocean. Alas, the bus from Georgetown, in peak time, took AN HOUR to get there!! So by the time I found a place where I could actually access the beach from the road, the sun was setting fast.

There are so many huge resorts that have their own private bit of beach fenced off, that it’s hard to find public space. At the western end I found a nice quiet Resort-less part of the beach with some beach bars and cafes. (This is definitely the part of the beach I’ll stay at when I come again).  I took my place on the sand and gazed, despite ominous clouds in the distance promising big storms ahead…

Sure enough, the clouds continued to darken the skies, bruising the sunset with every minute that passed. I grabbed a beer but had barely had a sip when the heavens opened and a wild electrical storm erupted. Cool!

OK, not so cool for sitting out and enjoying on the sand, but I found a spot in a cabana to enjoy the dramatic display.  A german family joined me and we chatted while the rain continued. When the rain  began to lighten, I decided it was time to hop on back to Georgetown and grab myself some tucker. This time I hired a cab :)

Back in my hotel room, I had a fantastic view of the elctrical storm from my windows.  Gotta love the coast. But by this time I was famished and needed a feed close to home.

For my final dinner, I could do no better than return to the Red Garden, and this time I couldn’t resist the Yum Cha/dim sum. I had char siu bow (a BBQ pork bun), steamed siu mai (pork dumplings) and har gow (shrimp/prawn dumplings).  Mouth watering!!

And, since Penang is meant to be THE best place for food, I had to have the KL Laksa.
Like the curry mee I had earlier, the spice paste came separate on the spoon, so I could adjust to my own taste.  It was absolutely scrummy.  I forgot that they bring you a big bottle when you ask for beer, and after eating these foods, I just couldn’t finish it. Oh well. After my big session the night before, I was hardly gonna wreck myself again, knowing I was flying back to KL next day. (And I still had a couple of cans in my bar fridge anyway, teehee).
And so I dragged myself a few doors up from my hotel in the morning, to Restoran Jaya. This place was always busy, day or night, and had a large variety of Indian and Malaysian dishes.
You know what I had for breakfast? Yeah, you know….
A hot, frothy teh tarik and roti canai!

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!)

The Ferry Ride from Hell

Oh my. I’ve regretted a few decisions on my holiday so far, but getting the ferry to Penang from Langkawi instead of flying was a DOOZIE! I’d gone on a snorkelling tour the day before at Pulau Payar, an hour away, and since this formed the first part of the ferry ride…well, I’d already done it. Had a lovely boatride the day before. Calm blue ocean and all that.

So I was wishing I’d bought a plane ticket instead. But hey, it’s an experience, right? Hmm… Despite being at the front of the queue, when I came to board the ferry, the seat assigned to me was one of only 4 on the entire boat that had NO VIEW WHATSOEVER. That’s right. Just a freakin’ metal wall next to my face. For 3 hours! Fucken.

And then when we started, the sea was so rough I thought I was in Master and Commander. Oh lawd. I barely took a minute to try to film the rolling waves and hideous waves of heat and nausea came over me. And not just me. Everywhere on the boat people were moaning, spewing in plastic bags, kids were crying…it was hideous. (Although funny, in retrospect, I guess. You have to laugh.)

I blocked out the horror by the judicious use of earplugs and an eyepatch, and attempted to sleep. It actually worked. Whilst I could still feel the rolling motion of the boat on the ocean, as long as I couldn’t see the chaotically rolling horizon, I was ok. The beer I brought with me, most DEFINITELY stayed in the bag, let me tell you. Of course my seasickness medication was locked away in my luggage, somewhere in the hold. The day before had been calm; I didn’t think I’d need it. So I wasn’t feeling best pleased.

And then there was this loud BANG! And then the boat stopped. And the aussies near me were like “what’s happening?” Through my earplugs I heard them say some guys had gone over the side, diving with scuba gear. What the? Apparently a fishing trap had got caught in the propeller, and this was a fairly common occurrence, judging by the resigned way in which the guys went over. This happened at least twice, with a third stop not requiring diving.

So, the trip from hell, that I couldn’t wait to get over with, that was supposed to take 2 and three quarter hours, now took over FOUR. Oh joy! I promised D I’d email or skype him around 6pm,  but I didn’t get to my hotel room until 7.15. The boat had left at 2.30pm. I’d left my hotel in Langkawi at 11.30am. Long day much? Hell yeah!

However, I CAN say that the food has been great. My hotel room here has a panoramic view of the Penang skyline, despite being only 75 ringgits. There’s been lovely temples, and interesting architecture. I went boozing with some US pilots last night, and dipped my toes in the sea at Batu Ferringhi this afternoon. It’s not all doom and gloom. But jeez, sometimes ya just wish you’d chosen ‘a’, not ‘b’, don’tcha?

A lesson to you, my friends. TAKE THE PLANE.