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We just returned back from Penang.

Great food as usual and… lousy drivers on the streets, also as usual.

At home, while watching the French TV channel the reporter announced that the local police will act quiet harsh for those driving to their vacation destiny by road.

As we also plan a trip to Europe in a short while, I’ll have to change my Penang driving habits or I might be paying a fortune on local fines:

I’m already preparing myself mentally to respect rules for overtaking, one-way streets, speeding, crossing continuous singel and double lines, parking and a few more. Of course all this while driving again at the correct and right side op the street! It’s going to be a challenge. More later, after our return.

Malaysian style rules were posted alreay in a former mail (see post of Januari 2011). Only for your personal information, a small reminder below.

Just for your information: how about this way of leaving your car parked? Only in Malaysia, I guess. (Wink)

The local way to park your car

A guide for expatriate drivers in Malaysia
by David Astley a British/Ozzie guy now living in KL

Since arriving in Malaysia in 1997, I have tried on many occasions to
buy a copy of the Malaysian road rules, but have come to the
conclusion that no such publication exists (or if it does, it has been
out of print for years). Therefore after carefully observing the
driving habits of Malaysian drivers, I believe I have at last worked
out the rules of the road in Malaysia.

For the benefit of other expatriates living in Malaysia, and the 50%
of local drivers who acquired their driving licences without taking a
driving test, I am pleased to share my knowledge below:

Q: What is the most important rule of the road in Malaysia?
A: The most important rule is that you must arrive at your destination
ahead of the car in front of you. This is the sacrosanct rule of
driving in Malaysia. All other rules are subservient to this rule.

Q: What side of the road should you drive on in Malaysia?
A: 99.7% of cars drive on the left hand side, 0.2% on the right hand
side, and 0.1% drive in reverse (be on the look out for drivers
reversing at high speed in the left hand lane of freeways, having just
missed their exit). Therefore on the basis of ‘majority rules’, it is
recommended that you drive on the left. However, be aware that only
90% of motorcyclists travel on the left hand side – the other 10% ride
in the opposite direction or on the sidewalk. Fortunately,
motorcyclists traveling in reverse are rarely seen.

Q: What are the white lines on the roads?
A: These are known as lane markers and were used by the British in the
colonial days to help them drive straight. Today their purpose is
mainly decorative, although a double white line is used to indicate a
place that is popular to overtake.

Q: When can I use the emergency lane?
A: You can use the emergency lane for any emergency, e.g. you are late
for work, you left the toaster plugged in at home, you are bursting to
go to the toilet, you have a toothache or you have just dropped your
Starbucks coffee in your lap. As it is an emergency, you may drive at
twice the speed of the other cars on the road.

Q: Do traffic lights have the same meaning as in other countries?
A: Not quite. Green is the same that means “Go”, but amber and red are
different. Amber means “Go like hell” and red means “Stop if there is
traffic coming in the other direction or if there is a policeman on
the corner”. Otherwise red means the same as green. Note that for
buses, red lights do not take effect until five seconds after the
light has changed.

Q: What does the sign “Jalan Sehala” mean?
A: This means “One Way Street” and indicates a street where the
traffic is required to travel in one direction. The arrow on the sign
indicates the preferred direction of the traffic flow, but is not
compulsory. If the traffic is not flowing in the direction in which
you wish to travel, then reversing in that direction is the best
option.

Q: What does the sign “Berhenti” mean?
A: This means “Stop”, and is used to indicate a junction where there
is a possibility that you may have to stop if you cannot fool the cars
on the road that you are entering into thinking that you are not going
to stop.

Q: What does the sign “Beri Laluan” mean?
A: This means “Give Way”, and is used to indicate a junction where the
cars on the road that you are entering will give way to you provided
you avoid all eye contact with them and you can fool them into
thinking that you have not seen them.

Q: What does the sign “Dilarang Masuk” mean?
A: This means “No Entry”. However, when used on exit ramps in
multi-storey car parks, it has an alternative meaning which is: “Short
cut to the next level up”.

Q: What does the sign “Pandu Cermat” mean?
A: This means “Drive Smartly”, and is placed along highways to remind
drivers that they should never leave more than one car length between
them and the car in front, irrespective of what speed they are
driving. This is to ensure that other cars cannot cut in front of you
and thus prevent you from achieving the primary objective of driving
in Malaysia, and that is to arrive ahead of the car in front of you.
If you can see the rear number plate of the car in front of you, then
you are not driving close enough.

Q: What is the speed limit in Malaysia?
A: The concept of a speed limit is unknown in Malaysia.

Q: So what are the round signs on the highways with the numbers, 60,
80 and 110?
A: This is the amount of the ‘on-the-spot’ fine (in ringgits – the
local currency) that you have to pay to the police if you are stopped
on that stretch of the highway. Note that for expatriates or locals
driving Mercedes or BMWs, the on-the-spot fine is double the amount
shown on the sign.

Q: Where do you pay the ‘on-the-spot’ fine?
A: As the name suggests, you pay it ‘on-the-spot’ to the policeman who
has stopped you. You will be asked to place your driving licence on
the policeman’s notebook that he will hand to you through the window
of your car. You will note that there is a spot on the cover of the
notebook. Neatly fold the amount of your fine into four, place the
fine on the spot, and then cover it with your driving licence so that
it cannot be seen. Pass it carefully to the policeman. Then, with a
David Copperfield movement of his hands, he will make your money
disappear. It is not necessary to applaud.

Q: But isn’t this a bribe?
A: Oh pleeease, go and wash your mouth out. What do you want? A
traffic ticket? Yes, you can request one of those instead, but it will
cost you twice the price, forms to fill out, cheques to write,
envelopes to mail, and then three months later when you are advised
that your fine was never received, more forms to fill out, a trip to
the police station, a trip to the bank, a trip back to the police
station, and maybe then you will wish you had paid ‘on-the-spot’.

Q: But what if I haven’t broken any road rules?
A: It is not common practice in Malaysia to stop motorists for
breaking road rules (because nobody is really sure what they are). The
most common reasons for being stopped are:
(a) the policeman is hungry and would like you to buy him lunch;
(b) the policeman has run out of petrol and needs some money to get
back to the station;
(c) you look like a generous person who would like to make a donation
to the police welfare fund; or
(d) you are driving an expensive car which means you can afford to
make a donation to the police welfare fund.

Q: Does my car require a roadworthy certificate before I can drive it
in Malaysia?
A: No, roadworthy certificates are not required in Malaysia. However
there are certain other statutory requirements that must be fulfilled
before your car can be driven in Malaysia.
Firstly, you must ensure that your windscreen is at least 50% obscured
with English football club decals, golf club membership stickers or
condo parking permits.
Secondly, you must place a tissue box (preferably in a white lace
cover) on the back shelf of your car under the rear window.
Thirdly, you must hang as many CDs or plastic ornaments from your rear
vision mirror as it will support. Finally, you must place a Garfield
doll with suction caps on one of your windows. Your car will then be
ready to drive on Malaysian roads.

Q: What does a single yellow line along the edge of a road mean?
A: This means parking is permitted.

Q: What does a double yellow line along the edge of a road mean?
A: This means double parking is permitted.

Q: What does a yellow box with a diagonal grid of yellow lines painted
on the road at a junction mean?
A: Contrary to the understanding of some local drivers, this does not
mean that diagonal parking is permitted. It indicates a junction that
is grid-locked at peak hours.

Q: Can I use my mobile phone whilst driving in Malaysia?
A: No problem at all, but it should be noted that if you wish to use
the rear-vision mirror to put on your lipstick (women only please) or
trim your eyebrows at the same time as you are using a mobile phone in
the other hand, you should ensure that you keep an elbow free to steer
the car. Alternatively, you may place a toddler on your lap and have
the child steer the car whilst you are carrying out these other
essential driving tasks.

Q: Is it necessary to use indicator lights in Malaysia?
A: These blinking orange lights are commonly used by newly arrived
expatriate drivers to indicate they are about to change lanes. This
provides a useful signal to local drivers to close up any gaps to
prevent the expatriate driver from changing lanes. Therefore it is
recommended that expatriate drivers adopt the local practice of
avoiding all use of indicator lights. However, it is sometimes useful
to turn on your left hand indicator if you want to merge right,
because this confuses other drivers enabling you to take advantage of
an unprotected gap in the traffic.

Q: Why do some local drivers turn on their left hand indicator and
then turn right, or turn on their right hand indicator and then turn
left?
A: This is one of the unsolved mysteries of driving in Malaysia.

Q. What is the use of the hazard warning lights?
A. Contrary to all international protocol, this four way flashing
light is = switched on when the Police are escorting VIPs on the road
to warn lesser mortals to move out of the way and not hinder the flow
of the motorcade. Taking a cue from the Police, motorists use this at
the slightest excuse when it rains to tell other motorist to get out
of the way as using their hazard light anoints them with powers that
part the traffic, somewhat akin to Moses parting the Red Sea.

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It is a fun and weird thought altogether, definitely.

I’ve been feeling like a young 30 something guy my whole life long. Lots of sports and hobbies, traveling much,  operating a few local successful businesses, among them a small flying school…  and leaving finally Europe for living in Asia about almost 10 years ago.    In short: a very busy and adventurous life.

Ok, probably also not the most healthy one but who cares? One only live once. On the other hand, I stopped smoking more than 3 years ago, stopped drinking strong booze also years ago. So, no problem, right?

Wrong, as all of a sudden, according to the doctors, I’m suffering from a weak heart. Huh???  After being admitted to the well-known  Queen Mary Uni Hospital here in town for observation, they even had to fight all of a sudden for keeping me alive. Go figure. A serious shock for my ego, difficult to admit, although, as I realised later, a perfect timing  had brought me to the hospital. In hindsight however some warnings already had been manifesting themselves. I just didn’t catch them.

However, things are getting back to normal after that catastrophic last 3 months of 2011. After our not-so-funny-stay in Penang in september because of the passing away of my wife’s aunt and also her mother and after my personal health problem, we now just returned from Penang after arranging some administration with banks and other firms. And (grin)… after writing and officially registering my will!  (A thing I only thought about doing after that bloody-Near-Death experience.  Maybe all of us should think about that one in time! )

Of course Pulau Penang to me means also enjoying lots of the local food.  I only was hoping my medicine intake results would not be influenced by all the yummy, but alas, maybe not recommended food I enjoy there.   (One only lives once though, remember…).   Lucky me however, because after returning to HK and after some blood checks by my doctor, everything was ok! So, the original planning about retiring to Penang to enjoy the local cuisine stays an objective for my future life. – Great, as now I am ready for returning to my food paradise as soon as we can.

BTW, happy CNY: Kung Hei Fat Choi to everyone.

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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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Marinated spiced  pork, then rolled in thin soybean/beancurd sheets, crispy spring rolls with chicken and beansprouts, deep fried beancurd, cuttlefish, prawn cakes, prawn fritters, sausages and much more. Served as a snack or as a main dish they are deep fried and come with 2 sauces: a spicy chilli sauce and a sticky starchy sauce called loh. Bak means meat.

At Kheng Pin Café (since 1971) at the junction of Penang road and Jalan Sri Bahari or 100 meters further at the Ho Ping Café  (corner of Penang road with Lorong kampung Malabar) are two places that in my view offer excellent Loh bak. But then again as it is a very popular dish all over the island, there really is no “bad” loh bak, only the variety on offer may be different from one place to another. The thing to keep in mind is to go as soon as the stall starts its operation, because the fresher the oil, the better the frying for the best yummy results.

 Ho Ping is situated at the junction of Lorong kampung Malabar and Penang road.

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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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I already wrote about Kopi Classic and its famous Hokkien Mee some time ago. See: https://diehardowl.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/kedai-kopi-classic-hokkien-mee/  

I don’t pretend to have tried all the Georgetown Hokkien Mee stalls but this one remains my favourite. For those of you who haven’t visited Penang before and are going to look for a Café with a sunscreen like the pic just below: don’t, because last year the kopitiam invested in a brand new flaming red sunscreen. 

The former sunscreen at kedai kopi Classic
The former sunscreen at kedai kopi Classic

Have a look at  the video below. It shows the new outside look of the kopi Classic.

Now what is so special about a dish serving a bowl of noodles in a broth? As far as I’m concerned the most important part is the making of the broth itself. It’s a shrimpy and spicy soup and I guess it’s all about balancing the ingredients with a not too sweet and real spicy shrimp/pork broth.

Penang being a food paradise has of course many signature dishes but for me personally, a big bowl of kopi Classic’s Hokkien Mee is the best way to start the day. So, for the newbies, what is it all about?

Mr Ooi's hokkien mee

Mr Ooi's hokkien mee

Hokkien Mee is a mixture of yellow noodles, rice noodles and bean sprouts  served in a prawn and pork broth. What makes it special in my experience and view is the balance of the strong, spicy and flavourful shrimp/pork taste. It’s usually served with sliced and fried shrimps, thin slices of lean pork and sprinkled with crispy fried shallots. If you come very early to kopi Classic you also can get great fried lard crisps adding an extra kick to your noodles dish.

The bowl comes also with a spoonful of added chilli for people who really like it hot. YES, I do!

Noodles for HM

Noodles for HM

Some stalls in Penang add too much extra pork meat while cooking the broth;  in my view that makes the soup way to sweet. Some also add sliced hard-boiled egg (what I like) but no extra egg in the Classic’s bowl though.

The Classics' Mrs & Mr Ooi crew in full operational mode

The Classics' Mrs & Mr Ooi crew in full operational mode

The place usually starts business at 8 in the morning. Regulars however are already sitting round the tables as early as 07:30! Just bring along a book or a newspaper. Or you also can admire the team getting prepared to fire up the gas-cookers, unloading bags of noodles to start a new day for us to enjoy delicious Hokkien Mee. 

There is another Hokkien Mee stall in the “One Corner café” coffee shop (Jalan Bawasah).First we tried to visit the place on tuesday, kopi Classic’s closing day. No good as it was also their closing day. Then we tried again 2 day later ( it was not yet 11:oo am), they already were closing down: sold out!  We’ll try again on a next visit as it also has a reputation for being one of the best in town. As a matter of fact,  I later read somewhere that Kedai Kopi Classic Hokkien Mee’s Mrs Ooi is the elder sister of Mr Lim Bok Huat, owner of the stall at One Corner Café.  So, I guess they share the same recipe and in fact are having 2 of the most popular HM businesses in Georgetown. Both stalls closing Tuesdays,… to avoid losing customers to one another? A good alternative in my opinion is the Hokkien Mee stall in Swee Kong café, across the police station in Pulau Tikus. They open very early and close already round 09:00 in the morning.

Hokkien Mee (Swee Kong)

Just a little warning: when asking for Hokkien mee in Singapore or KL, don’t expect the same dish  as in Penang. In Singapore they use both the egg noodles and rice noodles, stir fried in lard and served dry without soup. It comes with shrimps and sliced lean pork, sambal (chilli) and lime. In KL they use thick egg noodles braised in thick dark soy sauce. Ingredients include cabbage, squid, fish cake, pork and crispy fried cubes of pork fat.

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Back from having been  away for some time lah!

Flag of the State of Penang, Malaysia.

 Since our latest visit we have counted the months, weeks and days before finally touching down again in Penang some 10 days ago. And boy …  were we in need! Desperate for Food with Capital F. So, as from the moment of arrival till the eve before flying out one week later, I gained about 5-6 kg. Na und? So what?  Anyway, that still is only about 70+ kg for a guy over 6 feet. No danger for turning into a sumo or average USA-er there yet [grin].

Of course we went to many of our favourite places in George Town during the week. I’m personally getting good at comparing quality at different stalls for their recipes of CKT, Penang Hokkien Mee, Loh Bak, fried rice, satay and more. In fact, I/we even start being  picky! On average we visited and sampled food from up to 5/6 different shops every day and almost always it was well worth it. Regarding Hokkien Mee, Kedai kopi Classic and Swee Kong remain among “da best” but we tried many more and all were ok,  from average good to real good, to very good.  Yet… we also started noticing [already during our last trip] that we better avoid the newer, so-called modern Hawker centres, equipped with LCD screens and loud music. As it seems the food quality at those places is going down hill while prices are climbing and the offered decoration is of a definite and certain lack of taste for those older than 13. (My opinion only). Now sadly that is nothing new for me but I was hoping Penang would have been able to avoid that kind of “modernisation”. I explain:

On our last visit to Belgium I invited my wife to one of the local stalls selling Belgian fries. Once upon a time in Old Belgium they all were selling their stuff with an ok to very good/excellent quality. Those hawkers prepared the potatoes at home (peeling, cutting) as well as they did prepare themselves the extras like curry chicken [local Belgian style], beef carbonades and more. Nowadays however the youngsters that take over the business, buy the food from industrial manufacturers. Gosh, even the fries now, they buy them pre-cut, if not [the horrour] frozen.Go figure. In fact it’s simple, they don’t find pleasure in preparing. They are becoming a lazy bunch. The only thing they want is selling and getting your/my money. Well, we just vote with our feet and our wallet as we do no longer buy from that lazy bunch. To find a decent “fritkot” (translation: fry-stall) one, sadly, has to look around for quite a while. I hate to say it but having been there and seen that, I’m afraid that Penang’s GOOD hawkers also are a disappearing breed. Let’s hope I’m wrong but…

I’ll be posting about our latest experiences in the coming days, as for the moment I’m in “kicking-off mode”, being back home in HK. Not because of jet lag but more because of Makanan lag, sort of.

In the mean time: here is a nice read from another blogger from Penang… (living in the UK… the poor thing) for those who are new to culinary Penang Hawker Food.

http://breadetbutter.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/what-is-malaysian-food/

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 Location: Pulau Penang – Malaysia. – Gurney Drive North – Open air night hawker centre.  – January 2010.

This Indian Penangite gentleman has a very well-known stall, selling Rojak. I also think he has a few talents as a performer. Perhaps one day he’ll be discovered by Bollywood, who knows. In the mean time he already is world-famous locally and on the YouTube’s Penang visitors site. Personally I think little performances like this emphasize the multicultural aspects of Malaysia and more specially among Penangites from different origins. A strong and leading example from a country that has a majority Malay muslim population. Hopefully it stays this way!

More about Rojak?  Wikipedia says it better than I:

“Mamak rojak, or Indian rojak (Pasembor)

Indian rojak in Singapore.

In Malaysia, mamak rojak (or Pasembur) contains fried dough fritters, bean curds, boiled potatoes, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, and cucumber mixed with a sweet thick, spicy peanut sauce. Traditionally, Tamil Muslim (Mamak) rojak vendors used modified sidecar motorcycles as preparation counters and to peddle their rojak. These mobile vendors now use modified mini trucks. The Pasembor available in Singapore is an assortment of potatoes, eggs, bean curd (tofu), and prawns fried in batter, served with a sweet and spicy chili sauce. In Penang, where it is very famous, it is always called pasembor, but in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore it is called rojak.

Fruit rojak consists typically of cucumber, pineapple, benkoang, bean sprouts, taupok (puffy, deep-fried tofu) and youtiao (cut-up Chinese-style fritters). Raw mangoes and green apples are less commonly used. The dressing is made up of water, belacan (shrimp paste), sugar, chili, and lime juice. Ingredients vary among vendors with some also using hae ko prawn/shrimp paste, tamarind or black bean paste in the mix. The ingredients are cut into bite-sized portions and tossed in a bowl with the dressing and topped with chopped peanuts and a dash of ground or finely chopped bunga kantan (pink ginger bud). Penang Rojak is another type of Rojak found in Penang, Malaysia. It is similar to fruit rojak, but adds jambu air, squid fritters and honey to the mixture.    (End of Wikipedia quote.)

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Hello everyone. A belated happy new year for 2010 and also an early “kung hei fat choi” for the coming Chinese new year and the arrival of the year of the Tiger… (not the beer and… neither Woods.)

Remember Tiger Woods and his wife's skills with a #9 iron?

Year of the Tiger?

 I’ve not been posting for a while but, as we just returned from a stay in Penang, the inspiration came back. For starters I’d like to write about a local specialty, maybe not  loved by all of us? A little bit of controversy here.

Evaluation by an Ang Moh: 

Durian is a fruit from South-East Asia, mostly unknown to Westerners who haven’t traveled in the region. Loved by most locals, the opinion of Westerners is more divided. In fact it’s definite an acquired taste (and even more importantly an acquired smell!)

 I admit I don’t like it and… neither does my wife, who is a Penang native but never liked the fruit. See: it’s not just Gwailos that have trouble with the Durian. They (the Durians, not the Gwailos, although ?) come in a few different varieties, some sweeter some more bitter. For the real lovers the more bitter tasting one is the best. The funny thing (Although I personally don’t see the fun of it!) is that the smellier they are, the better they are supposed to taste, all this according to some diehard lovers of the fruit.  The season for the Durians of Penang mostly runs from April till the end of June. The ones we bought last week came from other parts of Malaysia. Anyway, there’s a lot of other fruits and fruit juices around that I do like. Ever tried fresh nutmeg juice for example? Unknown in the West but heavenly refreshing. Just order it without extra sugar.

 In the mean time, I’ll leave the Durian to my mom in law, like I also leave the “Brussels cheese” (also very stinky) to my dad. I’ll settle for the food stuff I like more!  No hard feelings heh, you durian lovers?

Cheers all.

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IMG_1370   Lok Pin at Anson road is a place selling Fish Head Behoon, Chicken Rice, Hokkien Mee, Wantan Mee, Loh Bak and (according to the stall’s owner own saying) “Famous Asam Laksa Anson Road”. On the street in front a few more hawkers selling pancakes, fruit, Mee Goreng…

The café itself was under renovation. I don’t know what it looked like before but now it seemed  they were busy turning it into a more modern place, with more fancy seating and tables and a few flat screen TVs on the walls and giving it a so-called trendy look. We’ll have to come back another time to see the final result. I’m always a little wary about this kind of renovation. Most of the times it turns a beautiful place into a cold venue with no traditional or heritage feel left at all. I wonder what the stance of Unesco is.

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 The Penang Asam Laksa we ordered was worth every sen. Nice sourish, not watery it is one of my favourite plates and one of Penang’s signature dishes, totally different from laksa from other Malaysian regions. A yummy balance of sweet, sour  and spicy flavours. One suggestion: don’t miss it!IMG_1372

Loh Bak is also very good, …especially as I forgot to pick the most important item when I was chosing among all the different goodies… Hmm, yes after they fried our plate and served it to our table, my wife wondered where actually the Loh Bak was???… Right, my blooper for the day.IMG_1383

 Where is the Loh Bak hiding, he?IMG_1381

Some tropical downpour all of a sudden helps to cool the temperature at lunch hour. 

 According to pancake specialists (not me… yet), the pancakes from this stall just opposite Lok Pin are among the better on offer. Have a look at this review of a Ban Cheang Koay stall: http://www.penangtuapui.com/2008/06/speedy-makan-makan-part-4-ban-cheang-koay-anson-road/

After a huge but short downpour, the streets are drying in only a few minutes and everybody resumes cooking, buying and eating. This place below, called “Kedai Kopi Juventus” is the neighbour of Lok Pin and sells among others Curry Mee, not FC Juventus T-shirts. It’s the old style small kopitiam with neon tubes, not fancy but I like the atmosfere perhaps more.IMG_1385

Have a look at this café just a little round the corner, I think on Siam street. These are the ones I personally like much more than the new modernised places. All it needs is a decent maintenance and eventually some restoration, not modernising. No need to make it look like boring western places without a soul.IMG_1388

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Some thoughts, not directly related [yet] to good food, although it’s a sign on the wall that also our dear hawker food, traditional centres and even cafes and local restorans are probably more endangered than we think…  in a not too far future. 

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Every time we fly back to Penang, I am mortified  to see at what quick pace George Town is changing, not always for the better. Old big mansions left without  basic maintenance are falling literally apart, sold already to the real estate “developers” who start planning how to get authorisation and permits for another high rise with shopping mall, another hotel and more so called upscale condos. However, after its listing by UNESCO in 2008, the 18 meter height restrictions were imposed. So what’s going on with city planning?A city landscaping mess... and that was only 2006!  Serious action needs to be taken to preserve and restore historical houses, heritage mansions and to not allow high rise construction everywhere.  

According to an article (March 26, 2009) by Yusof Sulaiman, eTN Asia/Pacific :

 [Quote] Together with Malacca, UNESCO has proclaimed George Town a historic site of The Straits of Malacca as it “constitutes a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia. Featuring residential and commercial buildings, George Town represents the British era from the end of the 18th century.

“It is believed there were “inconsistent and contradictory” statements given to UNESCO as part of Penang’s listing process, according to Ooi Chun Aun, an aide to Penang’s chief minister. He has now proposed holding an “official domestic inquiry” to extricate itself from being at the end of a legal lawsuit by four property developers who claim they have been prevented from continuing with their hotel building projects because of height restrictions, under terms of its World Heritage Site ruling. [Unquote]

Could be much nicer... How about cleaning away some of the road polluting fron that building? And a lick of paint on the outside walls?

Could be much nicer... How about cleaning up the car exhaust related pollution from that building? And a lick of paint on the upper outside walls.

George Town also has streets full with rows of pre-war “shophouses” where generations of Penangites lived and still live, conduct businesses, operate restaurants or traditional craft chops on the ground floor, their living quarters being upstairs. Smart way to avoid rush hour traffic from and to work. 

although many houses nowadays remain in a questionable condition.More pollution and... not cleaned in about a decade?

 IMG_1244Individual owners also have some responsibilities…

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IMG_1275A good thing is that here and there people who changed those houses into pure residential housing achieved fine and remarkable results. Pictures here about a few examples along Burma road and another successful renovation along Bangkok road.IMG_1007bis2

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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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This Chinese old style eatery is situated on Lebuh China, close to the corner with Lebuh King. China street is one of the oldest streets and used to be the main Chinese commercial street in the early days. In Hokkien it was called “Tua Kay”, meaning main street. Lebuh China starts just in front of  the oldest Chinese Buddhist Taoist temple in Penang, dedicated to both the Goddess of Mercy (Kuan Yin Teng) and the patron of sea travellers (Ma Po Cho). It was built by the first Hokkien and Cantonese immigrants in the early 1800s.  IMG_1008bis

The restaurant has been around for a very long time and is well known for its Char Siu and its Kangkung Ham Har.

They also serve some real great fish tofu, cooked in a soya bean gravy. ( It’s one of my personal favourite dishes at Heng Kee). IMG_1011

We also like their very fresh little prawns. Together with the veggies, the tofu and a bowl of rice, it’s a very tasty food for Lunch.IMG_1019

Let’s not forget to add some spicy Chilli.IMG_1020

Each time we are back in Penang we try to visit Heng Kee. We don’t always succeed though as there are so many, many eating places that we also want to visit.

Heng Kee Restaurant. – Owner: Wong Chan Toong. – 6o, Lebuh China, Penang.  TEL:04-2610010

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After the accidental discovery of a Malay stall proposing a do-it-yourself Assam Laksa dish, we finally were about to reach the initial target of our expedition journey. It’s situated close to the sea, along a small river in the Kampung Jalan Baru, a Chinese community close to Batik Pulau.IMG_1475

I saw a lot of private houses that were having hawker stalls on their grounds, although most of them were not in operation. We got the impression it was a  friendly small community where everybody knew everybody. Next time we visit, I want to walk a little around in the village and also follow the river to the sea. Maybe we could try to ask some of the locals to show us around in one of their little fishing boats.IMG_1487

So,there it was! We finally found the place. We drove into a big parking lot and were ready for some reputed food. The house in the background was the major cooking place. Alongside a house in front, there were also a few stalls, selling Loh Bak and fruits.IMG_1488

Loh Bak and Fruit stallsIMG_1486

Assam Laksa & Hokkien Mee ready to be served!  At the left side of the house in the back, there is a covered terrace with tables and seats for the customers.In the beginning there only was one other table being occupied but by the time we left, people were already waiting to be seated.IMG_1484

About the quality of the Hokkien mee and the Assam Laksa, we can only agree that it is up to its reputation! I really recommend this place without hesitation and I suggest that you gals and guys go and try it out for yourself. The people serving and cleaning the tables were all very friendly. It’s a small family business from their house, only open for customers during the weekends.

The Loh Bak was also very tasty.IMG_1480

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 A big bowl with tasty succulent Hokkien Mee.IMG_1478

 The Laksa, very rich with a thick fish soup.IMG_1482

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 It was our first visit but clearly, we will be back for more.IMG_1483

All those little fishing boats along the river leave a very nice impression and add to the attractiveness of  this Kampung. It’s clearly not yet a site for visiting tourists and I hope it stays that way. IMG_1489

 

Location:

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This was going to be a challenge: I only had very few information how to find a certain place I read about. It was way out of town, a private house in a fishing village on the West Coast, near to Balik Pulau. Anyway, we’ll be trying to find it. Moreover we wanted to drive via Batu Feringgi, the Telok Bahang dam and reservoir all the way to Balik Pulau. A very scenic road through the hills of Penang. At times it remembered me of some driving I used to do in Europe’s Dolomites or Ardennes. When we finally arrived in Balik Pulau, we started asking around, got lost a few times but finally we had the impression we were nearing our destination driving along Jalan Bharu (P16). For the exact location check the map at the end of this post. Along this kampung road look out for a small bridge over a also small river; before the bridge on the right you can see the stall, it’s a small makeshift place. It’s a Malay food stall promoting its own Assam Laksa. I think the place is called Sungai Pinang kampung. We decided to have a look and have some food, in case we wouldn’t find our initial target.

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A friendly Malay lady told us the Laksa on offer was a self service operation thingy. So we started to fill a bowl with those thick rice noodles, chopped some onions and the other laksa ingredients like bunga kantan flower ( torch ginger in English), cucumber, lemongrass, chilli, mint…

bunga_kantan_torch_ginger_bud

The fish stock is made with mackerel (ikan kembung) and its most important feature is the assam ( tamarind) which gives the soup its typical sour taste.

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The good thing about that self service was that you could pick more or less of the ingredients and noodles according to your preferences .

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After all the ingredients were added the lady did pour the hot Laksa broth in our bowls and then it was up to us to judge the dish.IMG_1471

 It was tasty and although the broth was rather light we did enjoy it very much. After we finished the lady put a box with homemade cookies on our table, inviting us to have some. IMG_1472

Price: 1 Ringgit/person all in! Incredibly cheap.

IMG_1469After paying we innocently asked the shop owner if she knew about some Chinese community in the neighbourhood that was reputed for its Hokkien Mee. (We didn’t mention Chinese Penang Assam Laksa, as we thought it might not please her.)  And yes, she knew about that place, only 1 or 2 km down the same road along the river on the outskirts of a local Chinese fishing village. So, we were going to have more food and more precisely the food we initially came for! I’ll write about that experience in a next post.

Location:

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IMG_1508bisA well established seafood restoran mostly patronised by locals. Fresh seafood and many fishes like garupa and pomfret, depending on the catch.

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I especially enjoy their Shark’s finn soup. I understand that nowadays the PC police is frowning upon that dish but I  like the taste. There is crabmeat added. I normally spice it up by adding  white pepper and some kind of soy vinegar sauce.Sharkfinn soup

You can order your food from a large menu. Usually though my better half has a good idea what to order without looking at the menu. We only ordered a few items as we just returned from a serious food excursion to Balik Pulau.IMG_1510

For starters we got a succulent dish of prawns cooked with veggies ( flat green beans, mushrooms, carrots and onions) in a lightly thick tasty  sauce.IMG_1512 

Adding chillies and white pepper to my taste.IMG_1514

As we already had steamed whole fish many times at other places, we ordered the fish to be served grilled.IMG_1513

 It was very well done, a crispy skin with soft but tasteful fish meat that easily came of the bone. This is one of my favourite preparations and cooked really to my liking.

Siang Pin Seafood. – 598, GF-02, Jalan Tanjung Bungah, 11200 Penang. Tel:012-4960546 – 016-4522923 – Jocelyn Cheong – Sole Proprietor.

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Location:

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Wa i chiak Hokkien Mee!

According to Wikipedia there are 3 kinds of Hokkien Mee. My favourite is the Penang version.

Hokkien hae mee
(prawn noodles)
Hokkien char mee
(fried noodles)
Refers to either the Penang prawn noodle or Singapore prawn noodle Refers to the Kuala Lumpur Hokkien noodle
Soup based (Penang) and stir fried (Singapore) Stir fried
Egg noodles and rice noodles Fat yellow noodles
No dark soya sauce used Dark soya sauce is used
Prawn is the main ingredient with slices of chicken or pork, squid and fish cake.
Kang Kong (water spinach) is common in the Penang version
Slices of chicken or pork, squid and cabbage

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Together with Penang Assam Laksa and Char Koay Teow, Penang Hokkien Mee is one of the signature dishes of the state and more precisely of the island [Pulau] of Penang. The soup is a ‘sourish’ and ‘shrimpy’ tasting seafood broth using fresh prawns, dried shrimps and pork meat. It’s served with egg and rice noodles, small prawns, sometimes with thin slices of pork and a half hard boiled egg. Served with a spoon of chilli paste for an extra kick aiming at your taste buds. I’ve eaten Penang Hokkien Mee at different kopitiam and hawker stalls and here I’m trying to get a few of them in some kind of  ranking with my personal rating.

Kedai Kopi Kwai Lock is one of the bigger coffee shops in Pulau Tikus. It is located at the corner of Jalan Burma and Solok Moulmein.

HokkienMeeRating: 13/20.

Good balance between the sourish broth and noodles, little prawns. A decent but average plate. Good spicy chilli. It’s a big coffee shop and very busy in the morning.

Kedai Kopi Swee Kong is situated just opposite Kwai Lock, also on the junction of Jalan Burma with Moulmein. Opens very early in the morning till about 9:30. Reopens afterwards for lunch.

HokkienMeeRating: 15/20

Comes without the egg but it’s very tasty. If I recall correctly there are also some small clams mixed in the broth. Worth a try but do come early,  you might have to wait a while as the place can be very crowded.

Kafe Khoon Hiang – Jalan Dato Keramat at the corner with Jalan Dunlop.

HokkienMeeRating: 9/20

When I ordered the dish was looking very promising. Alas, at the first tasting it turned out to be a disappointment. The secret of a good typical prawn broth was definitely not mastered by this cook. Way to sweet and even adding lots of chilli paste was not able to improve the taste. A pity.

Bee Hooi Coffee Garden– on Kimberly road is a big cafe. We were strolling through the neighbourhood and decided to have some refreshments at the outside terrace. Then my eyes made contact with a Hokkien Mee stall in full schwung. Of course,I had to order a bowl> Mind you, only for analysing and rating purposes [grin].

IMG_1316  Rating: 15/20

Very good balanced broth with many prawns and added hard boiled egg.

Kedai Kopi Classic –  Address: 126, Jln Perak, opposite Padang Brown food court. It has the reputation of being one of the best Hokkien Mee stalls on the island and yes, the stall lives up to that reputation!

HokkienMeeRating: 18/20. Simply superb.

Sungai Samagagah-Kuala Jalan Bahru. Fishing village near Balik Pulau at the Kampung Jalan Baru. Private houses that open their kitchen for guests only during the weekends. This one is famous for both Hokkien Mee and Penang Assam Laksa. The Hokkien Mee was very good and served in a rich broth with plenty of sliced prawns and pork meat. Yummy.

HokkienMee

Rating: 17/20. Excellent, full of rich flavours. Quality ingredients.

My apologies for only reviewing a small number of outlets. I’m sure there are many more excellent Hokkien Mee sellers. It would take a life time job to review them all. When returning and testing more places I’ll update this post.

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Lam Heng Cafe is a corner coffee shop at the end/beginning of Macalister Road. It’s in this place that the sisters operate their business. The kopitiam also offers Assam Laksa, Mee Jawa and their own Otak-Otak. They say the Laksa is also of superior quality but I haven’t tried it out yet. Next time…

2007 Picture courtesy to Jay Jun's blog

2007 Picture courtesy to Jay Jun's blog

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Regarding the Sisters and their reputation, I admit being a tad sceptical. No doubt that their Char Koay Teow is among the better on offer in Penang but I must say that the quality is lacking consistency, especially when the skinny Sis is stirring the wok. Sometimes it’s completely out of balance, like on our visit in June, but then again, last week the plate was perfectly cooked. I don’t know how to explain those inconsistencies unless maybe that the girls are getting older and are loosing some of their skills. Not impossible, as I experienced the same with some elderly members in my own family.

I prefer the CKT cooked by this sister:

IMG_0934Anyway, my biggest complaint regarding this stall/cafe is their use of styrofoam plates and throw away chop sticks. Ok, there is no need for using their best china plates, porcelain spoons or high-end ivory chop sticks. Good hard plastic plates/spoons/chop sticks will do, thank you very much.  I’m thinking to bring my own plate and chop sticks but am a little bit afraid that might cause a tantrum… Anyway, someone with more guts than I have, ought to tell the sisters that they are really a lazy bunch, apparently oblivious regarding the impact on the environment. We, our kids and grandkids do really appreciate.  NOT!

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Ah Leng

Location :  Kafe Khoon Hiang, Jalan Dato Keramat/Corner with Jalan Dunlop, Penang. Opening hours are from 8am till 2pm and their closing day is Thursday.  It’s situated in the same  neighbourhood as  Padang Brown food court and Kedai kopi Classic. A highly recommended area for food lovers.

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Anyway,  after some 12+ visits in 5 years, [trying  to make that now a 4 times visit per year] I’ve made up my mind about the Penang Char Koay Teow. It’s basically a great dish but at some places it’s way overrated. So, I stopped asking for the special or extra add-on stuff, as I personally feel that the basic dish is the right one. No need for extra big shrimps or prawns, neither for (too sweet) mantis prawns. Just K.I.S.S. =  keep it stupid simple.

I’ve had the CKT at various places and personally I prefer it with regular chicks… Oops, I mean chicken eggs, instead of duck eggs.  Anyone out there tried with goose egg? (Grin).

Thus, when we made our way to Ah Leng, I already knew I was going for the regular dish and boy, THE WORKS! It was simply a great treat!

IMG_1334 Tastewise?  The fast frying-and-tossing-noodles technique of the wokmeister plus a professional handling of the heat, resulted in a most delicious Char Koay Teow dish.  Malaysia, truly Asia? CKT: truly Penang!

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Another stall in the same Kafe was selling Hokkien Mee. As I’m a big fan of that dish, I could not resist and ordered a bowl.

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IMG_1337It looked very nice but after tasting, it was a bit of a disappointment. Not spicy, not sour, the soup tasted sweet.  A pity for sure, but then again, who am I to judge? Lots of people, looking like regulars, came and ordered the Hokkien Mee. So, lets agree to disagree and accept that personal taste is very different from person to person.

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For those with a sweet tooth: Muar Chee

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Sin Hup Aun Kafe is situated in Pulau Tikus at the corner of Jalan Pasar and Jalan Moulmein. On the street in front of the shop there always are a few stalls selling fruits and sweets like those colourful rice snacks and other candy or Muar Chee.

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Muar Chee is made from glutinuous rice paste, steamed. And then, it is cut into small cubes and mixed with grounded, roasted peanuts and sugar. One can choose whether to add some fried onions on top too.

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Have a look how the Muar Chee is made:

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Kopitiam Kek Seng... since 1906

Kopitiam Kek Seng... since 1906

Located along Penang Road, near Komtar Kek Seng is well known for its  durian ice-cream and ais kacang. For my better half, Kek Seng brings back childhood memories about visiting the place with her school friends.  IMG_1260

The shop started more than 100 years ago: established in 1906. 

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As the sweet stuff  is not exactly my thing, we went for some little snacks as we already had a great breakfast earlier at the Kedai Kopi Classic and it still was way to early for lunch. IMG_1262

We ordered a small plate of Loh Bak. I was surprised by its excellent taste but then I learned later that the place is very well known for the loh  bak as well as for its desserts.

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I also ordered a bowl of their Assam Laksa. I did like it although perhaps the soup was a bit light and watery. For the laksa there definitely are better places. I’ll write later about some of them that we patronized.

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 We then tried the Popiah. Very decent one although a little dry as they did not add some of the juicy soup. (My favourite one is served by a stall on Padang Brown.)

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Excellent and refreshing watermelon juice

Excellent and refreshing watermelon juice

All in all, Kek Seng is a nice place to eat and to contemplate the history of Penang… I wonder what George Town looked like in the early 1900s.

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Hokkien Mee 

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 Address: 126, Jln Perak, Pulau Pinang.
Open: 8am-12pm – Close: Tuesdays.
Contact Person: Mr Ooi Hee Phen.
Tel: 016-436 8910

Situated  close to Padang Brown food court, this coffee shop is known for its excellent hokkien Mee. A very popular venue among locals. Even if you show up before 8am you still might have to wait some time to get your dish. In our case, we only staid a little week in Penang, went about 4 times for breakfast there and waited always between 3o till 45 minutes to get our bowl of heavenly Hokkien Mee.

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Lots of regulars indeed do call to make reservations for picking up several batches. While we were there and waiting at a table, sipping on our drinks, the phone didn’t stop! Calling for take away 3, 4, and up to 7 batches.

The place is a real goldmine in our opinion. I couldn’t really count the number of Hokkien mee bowls that were delivered while we were waiting. I’m sure though that after a few hours of morning service, several hundred batches of Hokkien mee are sold every day.

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Also amazing is that the lady in charge of taking the orders never ever writes anything down. It’s all by memory to know whose turn it is and what dish: regular, with more prawns, extra or large. Beats me how she remembers it all but she’s really good at it.IMG_1369

As far as the Hokkien Mee dish itself is concerned: it’s    reallllllyyyy   and trulllllyy  the best I ever had in my life till today. Of course  it’s all about the secret of the broth. The soup here is very well balanced yet very spicy. I also think they add a lot of lala shells in the preparation because I thought eating some of that small shell-meat seafood while finishing the soup.

If you’ve never tried the kedai kopi Classic Hokkien Mee, by Jove,  I’ve only one suggestion for you. Get your butt running for it as soon as you can! You’ll not regret.  No boss, no ma’am, you won’t regret at all!

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Padang Brown, also known as Padang Dato Keramat in George Town is bordered by Dato Kramat Road, Perak Road, Anson Road and Johore Road.

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The chinese section opens in the afternoon while the Malay section runs in the evening. At least that was our impression.

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Malay section closed in the afternoon

Malay section closed in the afternoon

The land on which Padang Brown is located was donated by David Brown, one of the wealthiest landowner in Penang at the time.
Brown Memorial, erected in Esquire D. Brown’s memory, once stood in the middle of Padang Brown. It was subsequently shifted to the corner, near the junction of Jalan Perak and Jalan Anson, and stands today in the midst of the Padang Brown Food court.
The food court itself has a Chinese section next to Dato Kramat road and a mostly Malay section that borders the Padang. The day of our arrival we checked it out in the evening and it seems that only the Malay section was in operation while the Chinese part already was closed down. I think they open only from noon till late afternoon. But there are also Chinese stall on the other side of the field, along Johore road. They open in the evening as well. We had some great Satays, prepared the Malay way:

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Ordering beef & chicken satay from Satay Station No 33.

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Cooking the Satay skewers to perfection over a charcoal fire.
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Padang Brown food court – Malay section Beef and chicken satay, accompagnied by the traditional cucumber, onion and a well balanced satay sauce. On another occasion we went back in the afternoon to some more food at the Chinese section of the food court. BTW, they have a parking lot that you can enter from Dato Kramat Road,just opposite the “Kedai Kopi Classic”, famous for its Hokkien Mee. This time the Malay section was closed while the Chinese one was starting to get in full swing. We came here to check out a specific stall. According to local foodies, one of the best popiah tastings on the whole Island defends its reputation here. We arrived round 01pm but the stallwas still not in operation. After asking around we were told they usually show up round 2 pm!  Ah…ain’t it sweet to be a famous hawker celebrity? You pick your own working hours as you know patrons will always be lining up to buy your stuff.While strolling around,  a Malaysian Pancake stall looked like selling very nice banana pancakes. I hesitated but still, as I am not really into sweet deserts etc,  I decided not to try it out. Maybe on a next visit.Yummy pancakes for those with a sweet tooth
Malaysian Pancake stall

Malaysian Pancake stall

While waiting for the popiah, my wife decided on getting some cendol. Looked great but again to sweet for my taste buds.IMG_1436

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Then, finally the local Prince of Popiah made his entree on the Royal Tricycle with pots filled with all his goodies.

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IMG_1301So, now let’s see what all the fuss is about. BTW, when you are ordering, do address the old lady because SHE says SHE is in charge of the orders. She was not the most nice person to address (attitude problem that might be related to be a [rich] local celebrity?) but hey, we didn’t come for her but for HIS popiah!

Indeed it is the best popiah I had till now. During our stay we went back several times for more and more. Have a look at the preparation on site, and enjoy.

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We flew Air Asia before in 2004 but this was a first for a direct return flight from Hong Kong to Penang. Not a disappointment at all! Agreed, one has to walk a bit more to get to the airplane and you have to walk up a flight of stairs to get in the plane. So what? Even the POTUS has to do that on AF1!

3 hours and a few minutes after take off we walked through immigration, got us a taxi ticket and were on our way to savour Pg Food Paradise for a week. After getting rid of our luggage at mom’s place, we took the car and went for FOOD!

Kedai kopi Sin Hwa, Burma road, Pulau Tikus: here we come!IMG_1222

 

Sin Wha coffee shop

It happened to be “Malay New Year” this Monday 21st, so the place was crowded. No problem to wait for about 30/40 minutes because at the end of the tunnel there was something better than light: namely Char Koay Teow!

In the mean time we had some refreshing drinks and then, 75 minutes after landing + 40 minutes waiting:

CKT at Sin Hwa coffee shop  

However, the CKT was ok but did not convince me as being one of the best. Maybe the cook was under much pressure because of the many customers that day. It seemed to us that the dish was a bit off balance and a little too oily. I noticed he made batches for 4 to 5 plates at one go. Perhaps that influenced the finesse of the taste?

 Then again: hear, hear… are we too picky? We will try again on a next visit. And yes, even if we are critical, the CKT still was tasty!

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At the corner of the street, facing Kopitiam See Kong was a hawker stall selling Malaysian pancakes. A big crowd around was telling the best marketing publicity story ever… One day I’ll try the pancakes, even if I don’t have a sweet tooth!

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Being both customer and judge doesn’t make us foodies as if we were having a PhD in that inexact science called Epicurean Gourmetology. Admit it, we just are not objective when it comes to food. Our upbringing, our cultural inheritance, our traditions and also our instinctive aversion of some exotic dishes do play tricks on us.

Hawker centres however have a huge advantage with their many stalls to allow you always to find that yummy dish among the large choice on offer. There are so many hawker centres in Penang that it would be impossible to try them all.

We all have our preferences because of that one famous stall in that one particular hawker centre that serves that one famous dish that we consider our favourite.

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Goodall Food Court

Goodall Food Court is quite large, situated at the corner of Jalan Scott and Jalan Gottlieb. Very convenient for us as it’s very close to our house in Penang. My favourite cockles cooked in a hot and spicy sauce are found here.

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Also the satay stall offers very high quality, although I do agree that it’s maybe a very easy dish to cook.

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My wife also likes the Poh Piah sold here

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while her mom says the Durian seller has great quality and is also very inexpensive.

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(Regarding the stall that sells chicken wings and bisshop’s noses: not as good as the one on Gurney drive’s Song River Food court.)

Here is the one on Gurney drive:

Song River food court

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This place is situated at the seashore in Tanjung Tokong, next To Tua Peh Kong Temple. They serve Egg crab, Meat crab, Sand/Flower crab, cockle sheels, fried squid, fried shells, fried noodles / rice / vegetables.  There is also a little stall selling very good quality Malay satays.

We ordered meat crab simply cooked on the BBQ. It’s that way I always prefer eating crab, lobster or langoust (rock lobster) as the meat gets impregnated with some smoky taste through the shell.

While waiting for the crabs to be cooked we had some satay skewers (Chicken and beef) with the traditional shallots and cucumber and the obvious  satay sauce.fishingA bit further along a dam into the sea some people were fishing with a rod and deeper in the bay there was a small fish farm.

small fish farmFish farmYummy traditional Malay sataySatay

CrabThat’s how I like my crab. 

 In fact this place is a prime location and relatively unknown by the tourists. Only locals and we were enjoying the seafood and the view.

After finishing our plates we  had to clean up a bit. Tapwater bassins were available to wash up. No need for soap as there were lots of chopped pieces of green lemons available to clean our smelly hands!

As for the price: 1kg of meat crab for 40 ringit sounds like a good deal.

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