Penang is know for it’s food. In fact it is a travel destination for the rest of Southeast Asia just for it’s food. Warning this is probably not the last time I will write about food. There is just so much that is good here.
There is one major factor that makes Penang such a foodie paradise, that is diversity. There are three major groups residing here on the island The Malays, which is the predominant Muslim group, the people of Chinese descent also known as Peranakan, most of which have lived here for centuries, their cuisine is known as Nyonya or Malacca, and Indian. This is mainly due to the island being a former British Colony. It was a major port for the spice trade route for the East India Company and tin industry. This creates a really diverse population and delicious food environment. As a side note, these three main groups are all very different from each other. Their customs and religion are very different from each other. So far I have noticed that everyone gets along, and live along side each other with very little conflict. Nathan gets a lot more paid holidays off because everyone is recognized here. We get all the major Muslim, Chinese, Hindu and Christian celebrations. They are all treated equally by the Malay government. I digress, back to food! We eat out or order delivery a lot.
I am still somewhat at war with my new kitchen and it’s appliances. It has gotten better and I am learning more about what ingredients are here and what is not available. But we eat out a lot. There are a few things to consider about this. The first eating out especially in comparison to America is cheap. I mean really, really cheap. I am always surprise by the quality of food vs. the price here. Everything is very fresh and made with quality ingredients. The second is the portion sizes her are much more reasonable. You do not feel like a glutton every time you eat out. You are pleasantly full, but not stuffed. Combine that with all the walking and more activity here, we are already starting to loose weight, just by living here. Since we have been here we have eaten Sushi, Taiwanese, Chinese, Nyonya, Malay, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Western…I am sure I am leaving some out.
There is every thing to sit down restaurants to open air hawker centers. Let’s start with the Hawker Center. The center of deliciousness. There is a really good one just a short walk from our condo. This is a good thing. It is a great experience, and man it is tasty.
This is the Gurney Food Hawker area:
You can get a nice variety of Chinese and Malay dishes here. Some of our favorites are:
This is Char Kway Teow. It is one that Penang is famous for. I am not certain that you can find it anywhere else. It is a fried noodle dish that has egg and shrimp. It often has cockles and Chinese sausage as well. It is stir fried in pork fat, so it has a really savory flavor. It is similar to Pad Thai, but better (and I LOVE Pad Thai).
This is actually two dishes. Chicken Satay with peanut sauce and Nasi Lemak. Both of these are Malay dishes. The Chicken Satay is marinated in some kind of amazing yogurt sauce then char grilled in an open flame. Nasi Lamak is rice made with coconut milk and pandan leaf, a protein (we got fried chicken) that is served with dried anchovies, peanuts, cucumbers and a really HOT sauce called sambal. You can add as much of the side condiments as you want. It is a very common breakfast food, just change the chicken for egg.
This one is my absolute favorite. I have to get it every time we go. It is called Fried Oyster, and is basically an oyster omelet. They add a starch to it to make it a little gooey and caramelized on the top. It is served with hot sauce and green onion on top. The oysters are always fresh and delicious.
There are so many variations of Chinese food. Here in Penang we have the Nyonya. Which has it’s own curry that is really good. It is coconut milk based, sweet and savory and unlike any other curry I have ever had. It has a really distinct flavor. Right now I want to talk about the old American Chinese take out stand by of Sweet and Sour Pork. When I was a kid we ordered our Chinese take out from a restaurant off of 23rd in Bethany called The Chopstick long after we moved out of Bethany. I believe the restaurant is still there, but it changed owners years ago, and has never been the same. When we ordered from there is was owned by a Chinese family, we ordered the same exact thing every time to the point that when we called they knew my Mother, and when we went to pick it up they just went and got us our food. We never had to to tell them who we were. Ever. I always got the Sweet and Sour Pork. This was not your typical American sweet and sour sauce. This was sticky and gooey, a lovely shade of light orange, and was pour right on top of the fried to perfection nuggets of pork. When the old lady that ran the place sold it in the late 80’s they changed the recipe to the standard American take out sweet and sour sauce. It became the thin, watery , unnatural color of red that we all know and sort of love in Chinese restaurants all over America. I have been in search of my sweet and sour sauce ever since. I ordered in Chinatown in DC in hopes it would be my orange sauce. Nope. I always order it, in hopes it will finally find the sweet and sour sauce of my childhood dreams. Well my friends I have found it, and it makes me sublimely happy. This turns out is not just a nostalgic kid thing that doesn’t turn out as good as you remember. Nope, it is just a good as my 8 year old self remembers.
This is it, pictured with an equally delicious Kung Po Chicken
Japanese food. Sushi and Ramen. Do I really need to say more on the subject? I didn’t think so.
This is Mr Shawarma. It might be better than the Greek House in Norman, maybe (and for those of you who know The Greek House that should impress you)…I might have to eat it a few more times to be sure. You can get either lamb or chicken. The yogurt sauce and humus are really good.
Mr. Shawarma is technically Syrian I believe. We like it a whole lot, but let me tell you about the traditional Indian food that you can get here. It is probably one of my favorite cuisines on the planet. We eat a lot of Indian food in Austin. My very favorite restaurant ever in Austin is The Clay Pit ( http://www.claypit.com ), there is also a blow your socks of spicy Biryani Restaurant by our old house that we really liked ( http://www.biryanipotusa.com/austin-tx.html ) If you are in Austin go to these they are fantastic.
How ever they are not as fantastic as the Indian Food we have here, and it makes me seriously happy. We ordered take out last night, and it was one of those meals in which I was really sad when I was full. We had the BEST Butter Chicken I have seriously ever had, garlic chicken, Ghee Rice and Garlic Naan. I think part of the reason it is so good here is because the spices are so fresh and plentiful. The Indian and the Thai food are going to be really hard to leave behind when we go back to the states. They are two cuisines that we eat in Austin on a regular basis. I fear that they will never be quite the same after this.
This is him asking for more. The PB&J was soon forgotten completely:
Now that we have covered some of our favorites let’s cover some quirky things.
Eggs live on the counter not the in the fridge here:
They are perfectly safe. Turns out the U.S. egg producers in an attempt to clean the eggs of salmonella, wash them. Well this breaks down the natural protective layer that the eggs have on them and causes a greater risk of bacteria and salmonella so they have to be refrigerated. I might be over simplifying that somewhat, but that is how it is explained to me. They don’t do that here, so they are kept at room temperature.
This is yellow watermelon and it is delicious.
I will now leave you with the Green Tea Kit Kat. It is not delicious, it is weird. If you come to visit me I might make you try one because it is weird.