Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Foodie Heaven - Hawker Food

I've had very memorable meals at swish restaurants but sometimes, it's the meals at the dingy coffee shop with the cook frying up a storm in front of you, that seem to taste so much better. This is especially true in Penang, a foodie heaven.

Eating at such hole-in-the-wall places, especially when one is no longer very accustomed to, takes some getting used to. The eating experience will be improved if you keep your eyes away from the ground, try not to look at how dirty the floor is. Looking at the cracked and peeling walls is all right because that is distracting without being disgusting. Observing how the hawker is banging away at the wok also adds to the whole experience as sound and not just sight, is at work, and then you get the whiff of delicious food as he/she plates it up.

The Penang char kway teow at this coffee shop boasts of generous serves (3 here) of fat, juicy prawns. The portion overall is not big but is sufficient especially when one orders the delicious "halogen meat" (no idea why it is thus named but it is really a kind of sausage) or "lor bak" as a side dish. The lor bak and prawn fritters are the best I've had on this trip.

1 of the things that I've been looking forward to and which I savour in my memory, is this cold, slippery, yellow dessert, "kee kueh" ("kee" being yeast in Hokkien, makes me wonder if indeed yeast is used but it sure doesn't seem so). Its consistency is like agar-agar and is rather tasteless on its own, so you eat it with a thick and rich brown sugar syrup (gula melaka). I really wanted to go back another day to get another helping but regrettably, didn't get the chance to.

Another dessert which of course one cannot miss on a trip to Penang is the famous Chendol. This is a shaved-ice mountain drenched in coconut milk and brown sugar syrup piled over the green starchy, wormy bits and well-cooked and almost mushy sweet red beans.

Finally, the foodie's tour of Penang's hawker stalls cannot be complete without a bowl of the sourish Assam laksa. This is different from the rich coconut version which is more prevalent in Singapore, Malaysia and even Sydney. This is a sourish tamarind soup with fish flakes flavouring the dish, with bits of pineapple, ginger flower, cucumber shreds and a bit of lettuce.

And so satiated, I finish my 4-day trip with at least 1 kg more than when I arrived. All well worth it.

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