A birthday food tour, Penang
Be forewarned, I am going to say delicious a lot in this post, because everything was.
We started the day with lots of smiles sitting atop our bed with me opening the birthday cards and presents that I have been carrying since we left England. Opening finished and after a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and pandan pancakes at our gorgeous hotel The Muntri Grove we headed out to do a few quick chores. We needed to get a USB cable for me for our heretofore excellent but now annoyingly crapola Netgear trek and a lens case for JHubz. Which will mean he can leave his mahoosive camera bag here and just pack the lens individually, as space is at a premium and somehow his case is heavier than mine.
It is hot here, HOT HOT HOT, awesome, but not the best to walk around in. Also there are no sidewalks, so walking around is a pain in the butt. But it is beautiful, row upon row of little colonial era shophouses. Junie later told us that the British implemented a so called five foot way that is at the front of all the shophouses but over time the landowners have reclaimed this space and in a lot of cases blocked it off or made it impassable in other ways. So most of the time you are in the road. The cars seem cool about it and we haven’t felt scared once. Well except for when our bicycle rickshaw driver was driving us into incoming traffic but that is another story.
After a successful morning shopping, an hour of stupidly painful not at all reflexology reflexology (yes yes I never learn) and some delicious steamed pork buns we found during our wandering, we returned to the hotel, which is down a narrow lane. Our guide from Food Tours Penang, Junie collected us at 16.30 and after a little issue navigating the very congested over parked driveway drove us to our first stop, a famous Cendol stall just around the corner. Dessert for starter, she’s clearly my kind of woman! Cendol is a popular dessert made of shaved ice, palm sugar green worm like rice flour jellies and coconut milk and I think it is delicious. Whilst I was indulging my sweet tooth JHubz was trying Asam Laksa for the first time, a sour fish and tamarind based noodle soup which he loved.
At the bottom of the World Heritage Zone in George Town are a number of jetties grouped together, jutting out over the sea. Apparently when the Chinese emigrated to Penang in the late 1800s they could not afford to pay rent and so built their homes on jetties over the sea where they would not have to. Each jetty is named after a different clan and populated by those from that Clan, Chew, Tan, Lee, Yeoh, Lim and even a New jetty for those who did not belong to any of the others. Junie brought us to the Tan Jetty for our next sampling, it isn’t much to look at unlike some of the more photo friendly ones but the food was so good we went again today. First we walked up the Jetty a bit to the shrimp fritter and Loh Bah stall. We had shrimp fritters, Loh Bah, adeep fried, wrapped in something, sausage and tofu with bean sprout fritters, all of them absolutely delicious! We then walked back to the entrance of the Tan Jetty and had dessert. Slices of sweet potato and yam with a layer of glutinous rice sandwiched in between, dipped in batter and deep fried – Kuih Bako. We had something else that was also deep fried also tasty but not a patch on the Kuih Bako. I admit it sounds a bit strange but was totally yum and we were gutted they were closed when we went today, so will have to go back again tomorrow as there is no way I can leave without trying them again.
We then went to the low cost housing area and amidst several tall blocks of apartments found a little outdoor hawker centre where we stopped for ‘a Malaysian hamburger’ Seasoned pork roasted on a charcoal fire with caramelised onions in the softest white bread roll. Thankfully this was the one place we were given a tiny portion each, although it was absolutely delicious, we were both getting a little full.
Next we headed to a huge hawker centre where our table was soon covered in all sorts of wonders. Hokkien Mee for JHubz; a noodle soup with egg, shrimp, chicken, galangal and lots of chillies and shrimp paste to season. I had clay pot chicken rice, the chicken was amazing but I was too stuffed to eat much of the rice. JHubz had a dry noodle dish which he didn’t touch much as he was busy wolfing the Mee and I then had Birthday/Lam Mee, a delicious noodle soup with finely sliced omelette and dried shrimp. The broth was out of this world.
We waddled out of the hawker centre to the car saying to Junie we would just look at Little India, our next and final stop. Just look! No trying! Well that lasted as long as it took us to get there and sit down. We had Dosa, I know this as our wonderful friend Amar translated my “delicious wafer thin cone of fermented rice bread thingamajigger” to Dosa, which is admittedly less of a mouthful. With our dosa we had a range of sauces to dip in, including a lentil one which was, you guessed it, deflippinglicious. Little India was alive with people and noise and colour, a really lovely experience.
We loved everything we tried except for ambra juice which we were not overly fond of. All the portions were full sized and more than enough food for a dozen people. It would probably be a good idea to go with a group of people so that you can share food and avoid the waste.
Dropping us back to our hotel we suggested stopping at the roadside as the lane had been so tricky to navigate earlier but Junie wanted to take us down and accidentally drove into one of the narrow drainage ditches that border most of the roads. A small crowd gathered offering opinions. The wheel was well and truly stuck. She could not reverse or go forward. There was talk of a tow truck which for sure would rip off her spoiler. One confident man tried to reverse it, resulting in no movement but much burnt rubber. Then a huge chap came along and within minutes he had organised five big men to lift the wheel arch, freeing the wheel while directing another man at the wheel when to accelerate to get the car back on firm ground. It was a seamless and quite impressive operation and a bizarrely nice way to end the evening. Strangers coming together to help another stranger.
We really like Penang. I think we could have spent a good week here but sadly only have four days. There are lots of beautiful buildings, the food is truly amazing food and the people we’ve encountered have all been warm and friendly. It was an awesome way to spend my 44th birthday, living the dream that I thought was never going to happen.
ps probably a good idea to wait about half an hour or so after you receive the new blog notification if you are a subscriber. I am a stream of consciousness blogger and immediate poster who then spends about half an hour correcting the typos I missed and adding things I forgot *grin*