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Archive for the ‘Restoran’ Category

Our latest trip with the airline of Mr Tony Fernandes flew us back to…  Penang, of course.
 A 3 hours 15 minutes flight and a 25 minutes taxi drive later we were ready for FOOD… even if it was close to midnight.
 
Again Penang, you may ask?
Well, yes. I’m considering Penang like a second home after Hong Kong. It is by far the best food place of Malaysia. In fact I consider it the best food place in the whole of SE Asia, although that might be a bit unfair as I have not experienced food from ALL of the nearby regions and countries.
 
Anyway, after the favourite places offering Char Koay Teow, Hokkien Mee, Satay, Loh Bak, Wan Tan Mee, Penang Laksa and having lunch or diner in local restaurants like Heng Kee, Siang Pin Seafood and Goh Huat Seng, we decided to visit a seafood place that we never patronized before.
After all these years, we never had diner at that restoran on Gurney drive, the one with the flashy lights and screaming advertisement billboards.
 
 
 BALI HAI SEAFOOD MARKET
90 ->90D Persiaran Gurney, 10250 Penang
Tel: 04-2288272 / 04-2281272
 

“If it swims, we have it” ???  Oh Right, I swim. Means I may end up in their wok? [Sorry: obvious cheap joke.]  Anyway, during our April 2011 trip,  we decided to give it a try, although personally I was not expecting a lot, even if the restoran was recommended by some local floggers.

I anticipated  it would be expensive without reaching high-end quality service. Right I was unfortunately. On the other hand, their many cooks and chefs’ cooking skills were doing a correct and professional job.  In fact, to be completely honest, Bali Hai is not really a tourist trap like many other places are. It’s a money trap, so, if you agree to pay their prices, food quality is not an issue. Fresh seafood is great and not that difficult to cook. In my book cooking, grilling, ‘wokking’ or steaming some nice garupa, crab, prawns or other seafood has to be done in the simplest way to get the best results.

Perhaps some readers might think I’m too critical. Well, yes I’m getting more critical when the restaurant charges top bucks and pretends to offer top quality. In fact I try to remain very much “feet on earth”. A small kopitiam or a big hawker centre in a loud environment? No problem. But if you want to charge big money, you better  get me state-of-the-art service. Otherwise big no-no. Allow me to explain it this way: If I want to have some food in a small snack bar charging me a few bucks, I can be forgiving about service mistakes and will accept small bloopers. On the other hand, when my wife and I are going to take a bill of a XXX Euros/pounds/dollars in a so-called top end place, everything has to be just as close to perfection as possible,  it’s as simple as that.

Back to Bali Hai: I asked for fresh live fish suggestions. The waitress came with a  seriously declared and confirmed small dead fish of a disputable “brand”, size about 700 grams. Asked about the price:  100 Ringgit !!! Right, so… thanks but no thanks! My guess: if you are a western expat or tourist, price goes up by 25% at least? Anyone to confirm or deny this out there? This Ang Mo is not buying and is not buying fish or crabs from the live aquariums neither, as they sell  at about the price of gold. If I would have ordered the same number of plates we usually order in other local seafood places, we easily would have spent 350+ MYR for food alone! According to what I regard as Penang standards, that is way overpriced, especially for this kind of more or less open-air setting. Those guys are competing in price with the 32Mansion without playing in the same league.

 

Anyway,  finally we ordered some plates from their general menu – mixed fish chunks and veggies; deep-fried squid etc.- Stuff that didn’t need me to take out a second mortgage on our home. Quality wise, it was good and decent food without being exceptional.  … I’m sure the crabs, garupa, sea bass etc would have tasted better. I just was not ready to pay the price.

In short, I made a mental note to myself, not to come back.  I mean, in a place like Penang you can get very fresh and excellent seafood for prices that do not have to compete with Saint-Tropez’ like  jet-set  places. Doh! Doh! Triple doh-lah!!!

Very dead fish yet very expensive

About the Bali Hai Seafood Market itself: it’s a  nice restoran situated along Gurney Drive’s  prime location coast-line . It reminds me in a way of my native Brussels’  “Ilot Sacré”  touristic area near ‘La Grand Place’. Very much an eye-catching place but unfortunately also very much overpriced and good quality only in a few places. Locals know, unfortunately tourists get trapped!

Brussels' Ilot Sacré

Bali Hai employs a lot of friendly service staff ( although their training could be better) and a number of good local chinese cooks and helpers doing a fine job in the kitchen. I understand their system is attractive for tourists to whom it will look like the (real clean) tropical local food paradise. Indeed, I know the “looks” and (lack of) decoration  of  some smaller local restorans tend to put off less adventurous visitors. (Walls not Swiss-like clean-looking, cigarette butts on the floor, very basic tables and seats…) 

Amazing as it sounds: for some of the local penangite clientèle, places like Bali Hai also tend to exert some kind of attraction (???), maybe for a special occasion when making a point (aka showing off) is more important than the price/quality relation. I believe it’s a cultural thing that westerners are not really grasping. I’ve seen the same happening in Hong Kong’s expensive restaurants when local Honky patrons were ordering bottles of Chateau Petrus to impress their guests. Followed then by adding ice cubes to their wine!  Argh …pure and plain blasphemy in my book!!! 

To conclude, Bali Hai Seafood Market is worth a visit if you don’t mind the prices they charge.  If you come by car, you can park along the seaside for a minimal parking fee, or at a parking lot behind the restoran.

Personally, I prefer to patronize the many other good seafood places in and around Georgetown. If not looking as “nice” or trendy, they are [according to my personal taste] more authentic, serve great quality and are very much loved by people who don’t care for todays superficial bling-bling attitude.

 

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KUNG HEI FAT CHOI…

A special good address but in my view, not necessary only for the steamboat experience though. Steamboat is called “Chinese fondue” in mainland Western Europe and I prefer to have it at home because too messy to go for it in a restaurant.

The other thing is that my “steamboat” cooking pot is heated electrically while the original one (like in Goh Huat Seng)  is heated by charcoal. Thus (allthough more ORIGINAL (?)),  you end up with all your clothes and hair stinking because of the coal fumes.

As a former cigarette smoker, I think it’s funny that lots of people complain all the time about getting second-hand smoke from a cigarette but accept first hand smoke from a  charcoal fueled steamboat restaurant! It’s almost as strong as the cannabis coffee shops in Utrecht, Netherlands. Then again,  just funny and I can live with it. Just don’t forget to throw your clothes in the washing machine when returning home after diner.

Anyway, we do like this place because they have some great recipes for cooking seafood, fish and vegetables, teochew style. Another reason is that the restoran only gets crowded after 18:30 or even 19:oo hours.

So we usually get there at or even shortly before 17:00 hours, firstly to avoid the traffic jam(s) created by people returning home from work. Another reason: no trouble finding parking space. Also, the restoran itself is still 95% empty at that time, allowing the cooks to pay extra attention to cooking OUR dishes. (:-0)

We prefer not to order everything at the same moment but continue with new orders after finishing a few plates. Makes more sense to keep your food warm! No menu available as most food comes from the daily market offer to get the freshest available seafood and fish. Just ask the Supreme-Leader-lady-in-charge who writes down your orders about what is on offer. You also can ask for some specials you want to try. Enjoy their excellent  teochew cooking skills.   

Some not-to-miss and must try dishes:  prawns [of course] with that heavenly taste of BBQ/stir fry cooking. For westerners, please note that we eat here almost all of it, including the shells. Personally though I do not eat the major part of the head. I just suck it clean. (Excuse my burp.)

 Below is what I tend to call my favourite dish at Goh Huat Seng:

Deep fried chunks of garupa filets,  prepared with a succulent  Sechuan pepper sauce. A definite A+ or 10/10 rating. It’s really excellent but do not tell them too loudly as the price might, ahem, get “adapted” even more.

About Teo chew cuisine according to wikipedia:  

Chiuchow cuisine, Teochew cuisine or Chaozhou cuisine or Chaoshan cuisine (Chinese: 潮州菜) originates from Chaoshan, a region of China in the north-easternmost area of the Guangdong province, which includes the cities of Chaozhou, Shantou and Jieyang. Teochew cuisine, however, bears more similarities to Fujian cuisine, as which it shares many of the same dishes, than to Cantonese cuisine, under which it is vulnerable to inaccurate categorisation. This is likely due to Chaoshan and Fujian‘s cultural resemblance and geographic proximity.  Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teochew_cuisine

And don’t forget to order simple veggie dishes. They always are succulent. Side dishes with baby spinach, …bean sprouts, …bean curd with green beans, mushrooms and shrimps and much more.

Another special dish below: sea snail (Don’t know the local name but looks a bit like the french bulots or escargots, only a bit smaller) . Again cooked with a sauce based on Sechuan pepper and fresh coriander. A bit chewy but still tender.

BTW, these snails are way less chewy than the ones sold for instance near the Brussels’ Grand Place.

SMALL BONUS / Intermezzo and link to Brussels’ street food: Escargot stall or in the local lingo: Caricole stal.

(They are cooked in a broth with celery and lots of white pepper: I mean -> LOTS of pepper! To absolutely try-out if ever in Belgium. Tastewise however I prefer the Goh Huat Seng preparation because more flavourful. 

(photo below By Mr Cl. Carlier.)

Movie here under was borrowed from the youtube site. Filmed by a tourist in a side street from the Brussels’ Grand place. To get you a sniff of the local spirit.

By the way, this is the same street that leads towards “Manneken Piss”. I guess I’ll have not to introduce you to that little bugger, right?  

END OF INTERMEZZO.

Back to Penang now. The movie below gives you an idea about the atmosphere at Goh Huat Seng in a local noisy chinese environment savouring a steamboat menu.  

If you want to pay them a visit, call first to check about their closing days, as they are more or less variable.

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IMG_0962

Contact Person: Mr. Ong Chin Hong

This restaurant in Lorong Chulia is probably older than we are. Many Penangites know the place “since always”, they have been eating at Shing Kheang Aun with family, parents and siblings since their childhood. Some actually remember the present owner when he was a young pre-teenager and the restaurant was ran by his parents!

It’s said to be renowned for its Hainanese as well as for its local Penang cuisine. Although not only a seafood place, we always order at least one fish preparation. Depending on the daily availability you get pomfret, garupa or other delicious fishes, cooked in different ways.119_FUJI0012bis

Mister Ong still uses recipes from his father, such as a pomfret or other fish cooked in a tamarind and ginger flower gravy with curry, served to your table displaying a delicate balance of flavour and taste.IMG_0964 Are you all getting hungry yet again?IMG_0965We also enjoyed a small dish of  Loh Bak. Very nice and flavourful, not dry or oily but I still prefer the one served at the Kek Seng Cafe. However, we for sure are not going to complain!

 IMG_0966Also their grilled prawns are a must-eat. They taste a little “smoky” and have that typical wok or grill flavour that I can not really describe but like so much! It’s as different as the taste of pan frying over a gas stove compared to BBQ-ing or grilling over a charcoal fire.IMG_0969

 The fresh veggies with spring onions, cabbage and mushroom were simple and just fine. They were cooked in a not spicy gravy and went along very well with our bowl of plain white sticky rice. (I always add more white pepper though and chilli, but that’s just me.)IMG_0970

For reservations – Tel: 04-2614786, Mr. Ong Chin Hong. Address: 2 Chulia Lane – 10200 Penang. Closed on Monday.

Just aside the restaurant, its own personal parking lot  including a guard, welcomes the cars of the patrons. Class!

IMG_0960Above: Lorong Chulia and its typical houses.

Unfortunately, a lot of these original pre-war shophouses turn shabby. So a good thing that Penang is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites Program since 2008. Let’s hope that concrete action will be taken to preserve and restore these houses. They were simple but cleverly built with street-long arcades providing shelter from rain or sun, but many nowadays remain in a questionable condition. BTW, being part of the Unesco heritage program is not a magical solution guaranteeing good preservation. It’s an ongoing process. Local authorities and government must act on it. Otherwise site will lose their status. So: keep pushing the elected representatives into real action to protect heritage buildings and mansions.

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