Munching through Malaysia 2 – Penang

This is hands down, the best plate of char koey teow I have had. Ever. Better than the famous Sisters char koey teow in Macalister Road. Better than the infamous, grouchy, over-priced and over-rated Lorong Selamat hawker. This comes out of a wok over a charcoal fire in roadside cart in Jalan Siam, fried to perfection by an elderly gentleman who’s been doing this day in and day out for decades. The cockles are generous in quantity, and better yet, the biggest-sized cockles I have ever seen – several of them easily 1.5 times the size of a large Malaysian fifty-cent coin. The question for me is: why have I not discovered him sooner? And now that I have, the next question is: how soon can I go back for another plate? The lines are long. But my fellow diners are just as patient as I am. We wait our turn at the coffee shop across the road. Others huddle around his umbrella-covered cart to wait for their takeaway bundles of bliss. Its hot and the chilli fumes sting the eyes but no one complains. Everyone just waits.

For a decently sized portion with an extra order of additional cockles, it cost me about RM4. It takes about half an hour for the noodles to finally arrive. And the wait was well worth every decadent mouthful of lard-coated noodles. This is a no-compromise, cholesterol-busting dish but I would have it no other way – it just would not be char koey teow otherwise.

The wok and the queues start forming from 4pm until its sold out. Parking is a major pain but if you have a good map, just find a slot in the adjacent streets and walk. Well worth the effort.

Breakfast the next morning was at Seow Fong Lye cafe at Macalister Lane. Famed for its chee cheong fun, we were disappointed to find the stall closed. Luckily, the fish-laden Nonya otak and char koey kak (friend carrot cake) were open to cheer us up.

The otak comes wrapped in a green banana leaf. Once unwrapped, we were a little disappointed by the pallor. But appearances are deceiving. Then the fragrance of lemongrass and daun limau perut wafts upwards. The first bite is soft, almost melts in the mouth. It is not overly spicy-hot but you taste the coconut and the leaves and then before you know it, you realise the fish is not a mash of fish-paste but actual large pieces of fish. Very nice. At RM2 a piece this was not expensive. Or am I measuring everything by Singaporean standards?

The same stall sells fried carrot cake (below). Made a bit ‘healthier’ with the generous inclusion of bean sprouts. This version is fried ‘black’ with lashings of chilli paste. While not the best I’ve had, it is pretty tasty and the morsels of eggy carrot cake large and soft. Unlike other carrot cake dishes, it was not inundated with the black sweet sauce.

This was breakfast but I was not content to stop there. Off we went in search of curry mee – supposedly the most well-known curry mee in all of Penang just across Macalister Road at Lorong Seratus Tahun.

Run by a team of brothers, this coffee shop is in a quiet residential neighbourhood. The first look of the noodles gives the impression that it is watered down. The stock looks almost grey and the taste of coconut milk in the curry is minimal. More disappointingly there was no chilli kick. It looks boring (see below) until we added the x-factor: dollops of dark, almost black sambal from a communal pot. See the before and after versions:

Before adding sambal: a blah version.

After the sambal is added: more verve and sass!

By the way, the globs of dark brown carelessly sliced cubes are really coagulated pigs blood or tu ang in Hokkien dialect. I grew up with these jelly-like cubes that my mother usually included in her traditional Kiam Chye Ark (duck with salted vegetables) soup. It was not about the taste – coagulated pigs blood have hardly any taste – but just the texture and the flavour of the soup/stock that clings to it when you first pop it into your mouth – that is the real kicker. For years, as Singapore became more ‘sanitised’ and banned coagulated pigs blood, I went without these lovely maroon cubes. The last time I had it was years ago during a trip to Bangkok in a dingy coffee shop in Chinatown (but that’s another story). This trip when I realised that curry mee had pig’s blood, I made sure I asked for extra toppings – yum! How I’ve missed them!

We also had a tip-off from a friendly hotel manager in Ipoh at the French Hotel. He recommended the Hainanese chicken rice in the heart of old Georgetown in Jalan Chulia. We went there and found ourselves the last customers of the day at Goh Thiew Chick.We were not sure if this was the right place and confirmed it with the parking attendant at the empty lot where we parked our car. He said there were long queues here most of the time but because we were there late in the afternoon, it was quite empty.

The poached white chicken was almost all gone by then. So we had a mix of white chicken, roast chicken and chicken liver.

Looks good right? Overall, I thought it was serviceable but nothing to really rave about. Still, the rice was well-cooked, flavourful and not too oily, grains nicely separated. The soup, with tiny bits of lettuce, was sweet and to me, really the best part of the meal. Well, we were hungry and the kids devoured everything, but I was not convinced it was really worth a trip.

At night for dinner, we had prawn noodles from Green House hawker centre along Jalan Burmah:

As good as I remembered. The chilli was hot and the kids had a bit of difficulty finishing it but all, despite panting through the spicy-hot heat and downing lots of soya bean drinks, agreed that it was good. The stall only opens at night so its a great place for dinner and late night suppers.

Finally, I can’t not write about durians. It was peak season for durians. We didn’t want to make the long drive to Balik Pulau so we ate at the roadside stall of Lorong Susu. This guy trucks down the good stuff from the plantation every morning and sets up shop by 10.30am, closing only around 10pm. Get there early for the good stuff. The stall also offers mangosteen and other fruits but we were there for only one thing – the durians. His prices are reasonable – we paid about RM100 for three durians, including the Ang Hae – which is usually so expensive in Singapore.

So thus ends our foodie trip to Penang. If you’re heading up, best place to stay is around Jalan Macalister – which is a stone’s throw from all the usual all-star suspects, and also not too far from Komtar and the old town.  All I can say is, come hungry!

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