Food me once, shame on you…

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Malaysia 2015
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A while back, a friend of a friend connected us with someone in Penang who does food tours. We’d already booked our first tour at that point but thought it’d be fun to have another take on things, so we arranged a private tour with him. At the time, this seemed like a good idea.

We got up and popped down to China House for a bit, as Morgan was a bit held up. We had some yogurt and coffee – it’s quickly becoming a favorite place to hang out and read.

Morgan picked us up around 10, and the tour began. Our first stop was back to the Clan Jetties for fried prawn cakes. The fact that both tours wanted to go here is a good sign it’s the place for these. We also had the fried pork rolls that we made at the cooking class (theirs were better).

For this tour, Morgan wanted to take us outside the heart of the city a bit, to his favorite places. So, we don’t really know where many of these places are exactly. But the next stop was a roadside Char Kway Teow place. For a while, Morgan ran a food stall that shared a cafe with this place, so he knows them well. The Char Kway Teow was full of more types of seafood than the dishes we’ve had in the past, and was really nicely spicy. Kat also got to try some hot almond milk, mixed (of course) with sweetened condensed milk. It tasted healthy and not at all bad for you.

We’d filled Morgan in on what we had and hadn’t seen in the area already, and he suggested we visit a couple temples while we were outside the city. We visited two Thai Buddhist temples, plus a Burmese Buddhist temple. It was fun to see the different styles – the Thai temples are incredibly bright, vibrant and whimsical, the Burmese site is more muted and narrative.

Cultured up, we went for fish curry at a popular Muslim Indian place. This was a bit like Nasi Kandar, in that it mixed in a bunch of different curries, but also had a variety of vegetables, fish, fried eggs and some chicken. Even more interesting though was the Rasam, a soup. It comes in a drink pitcher that’s passed around the restaurant – you just pour some into a plastic cup to drink. It tastes a lot like a liquid pakora, spicy and savory and delicious, but also very light. This is one that I’ll have to try making at home.

We also got to try a sort of smoked chili pepper that you eat plain. I have no idea how they’re made, but it was one of the stranger taste sensations we’ve experienced. It hits your tongue and reads as unbelievably salty, but the salty flavor quickly turns into a very strong sour flavor. It’s a type of taste we definitely don’t get in American cuisine – Not necessarily something we loved, but we kept eating them to experience it.

Leaving the restaurant, we stopped to pick up some samosas (“for later”) and some local biscuits. Then we went to a small stall in an alley for Kaya toast. Kaya is coconut jam, which is mixed with butter and then spread on either charcoal grilled or steamed white bread (we tried it both ways). It’s really delightful – and steamed bread is fun as well. Perfect for making the kaya nice and liquid, without making the bread crumbly.

At the kaya stall, Morgan’s friend Brian met us (they both met while working at Dell) to grab some lunch. It was fun to hear both of them talk – they us the local english dialect which ends most words with “la.” So, “It’s really goodla, do you like itla?”

Not quite finished, we took the car across down for a new kind of roti canai, this time with braised beef and a fried egg, plus a really spicy curry. We were mostly dead at this point, but it was too delicious not to eat. We hung out there for quite a while, chatting about work and the history of the city, cultures and world travel.

Before letting us go, Morgan took us to one last hawker market to pick up some spicy steamed rice packets (in banana leaves) for later. You know, so we wouldn’t go hungry.

We chose to walk home, mostly so we wouldn’t pass out in his sight. After making it back to the apartment and flopping around in shame for a while, we rallied enough to go for a bit of a stroll. We stopped in to the Georgetown Heritage Center and the Penang Heritage Trust to pick up some maps and pamphlets, then went to the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, which is a restored mansion of the style that was popular with the Baba Nyonyas (Malaysian Chinese) at the turn of the century. Kat went a little crazy photo-documenting textures and designs. The mansion includes an extensive jewelry museum – these folks had no shortage of gold and diamonds.

The traditional craft of Nyonya women is intricate beadwork – shoes to be precise. A measure of a woman’s worthiness as a wife was the number of shoes and bags she was able to make. The more shoes she had, the more desirable she was as a potential partner. The museum included an entire wing dedicated to intricately beaded bags, pillows and shoes.

After that, we wandered rather aimlessly, stopping for coffee and to check out the ruins of the Runnymede. The makeshift tents on the street were beginning to come alive as the Chinese Buddhists prepared to celebrate another night of the Hungry Ghosts month, which includes nightly fireworks and gatherings. It’s a fascinating event. Eventually, we made our way home, having lost all will to carry on. Joyfully.

One thought on “Food me once, shame on you…

  • Susan September 1, 2015 at 2:25 pm Reply

    Love the temple photos — the colors are amazing!

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