Dried ginger flower buds

dried ginger flower buds

dried ginger flower buds

Went over to my dad’s house on Sunday, and was given a lovely surprise. They just found them in Chinatown! I didn’t think you could find them anywhere over here. And they made assam laksa! I had a happy, happy day.

We hydrated them and they were still kind of chewy, so next time I think I will try using hot water or cooking them to soften the petals. They do have the scent of ginger though, and taste floral and gingery at the same time.

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Gurney Drive Hawker Centre night market, Malaysia

Gurney Drive Hawker Centre

Gurney Drive Hawker Centre

At one end of Persiaran Gurney (Gurney Drive) in Georgetown, there is a very large hawker centre that only operates at night. One nice thing about it is the large amount of choice available there. One not as nice thing is that prices are generally higher than at other hawker stalls. Saying that, however, the food is still pretty cheap by North American standards.

Like other hawker places, when you sit down you must purchase a drink. In this case, with so many tables, each section of tables are claimed by certain drink vendors. So you could be sitting at one table and have to order soy milk, and if you’re sitting at the next table over, which happens to be owned by a juice vendor, then you order juice. In my case, I had a delicious fresh squeezed watermelon juice from the stall in the photo.

Gurney Drive Hawker Centre - juice stand

Gurney Drive Hawker Centre - juice stand

This next hawker stall sold seafood. The cockles (similar to clams) in the baskets along the bottom of the photo were lightly cooked and really delicious. A friend asked me if those cuttlefish were real; yes they totally were.

Gurney Drive Hawker Centre - seafood

Gurney Drive Hawker Centre - seafood

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The dreaded smelly fruit

You can’t go to Malaysia and not eat some durian. Unfortunately.

For this dreaded moment, we took a car trip to a small town called Balik Pulau, located in another part of Penang. The ride was actually quite interesting as we saw parts of the coast, as well as forests and plantations. Balik Pulau is famous for its access to durian and apparently for its Penang assam laksa.

Durian is an acquired taste that is not for everyone. The fruit with a sharp, spiky skin. Inside are soft globes of edible fruit, with a large seed inside each piece. Texturally, the fruit is creamy. Taste-wise and smell… well, try imagining something left in the gutter to rot for days. There’s a very good reason why this stuff is banned from hotel rooms. As you can tell, I am not a fan.

Durian is also one of those things that my father insists on getting me to try over and over again despite my protests.

“Oh it takes better than it smells,” he said the first time. (I was a naïve child.)

“Try it again – this one was more fresh before it was frozen.” (All durian found in Edmonton is frozen.)

“It tastes much better with salt.”

Lies, ALL LIES!

And the other lie is that when it’s fresh it’s milder and creamier. I can’t dispute the creaminess, but the taste was still nasty. I told him it was the absolute very last time I was ever eating it. Hopefully he actually believes me this time.

Durian from Balik Pulau

Durian from Balik Pulau

Penang assam laksa from Balik Pulau

Penang assam laksa from Balik Pulau

While in Balik Pulau I also tried some Penang assam laksa – you can see from the photo that this is one had a lot more fish in it than the other photo I posted earlier. The flavour was good too, but not as good as my favourite one back in Georgetown.

I also had a sip of some nutmeg juice, made from the fruit of the nutmeg (nutmeg spice is made from the seeds). It was slightly bitter but refreshing at the same time. Probably not something I’d want to drink again, but definitely interesting to try.

Kek Seng Kopitiam, Malaysia

Laksa, popiah and ais kacang with durian ice cream oh my! Just a warning, this is going to be a long post. Kek Seng Kopitiam (coffee shop) is an institution in Penang. It’s been around for years and years, and frankly the atmosphere is a little dingy (although all the tables, plates, bowls, etc. were clean). The food is a little more old fashioned too; unlike at someplace like New World, the food is pretty much how it was served 30+ years ago (found something online that says Kek Seng opened in 1906). When we were there it was quite busy but we managed to snag a table.

One thing I miss dearly about Malaysia was the easy access to laksa. And by laksa, I mean Penang assam laksa. I talked about curry mee (curry laksa) a little while ago. That one is a coconut-based curry broth. Penang-style assam laksa is a sour, mackerel-based soup that is flavoured with tamarind, lemongrass, galangal, chilli, ginger flower buds, mint, pineapple and onion. You also usually get a soup spoon filled with a thick, sweet prawn paste called Hae Ko, and the whole thing is served with rice noodles (either thick or vermicelli).

The assam laksa at Kek Seng was one of my favourites that I had throughout the trip. A strong fish broth with all those spices and a slight sourness; my mouth is watering as I type this. This first photo is of the hawker stall; those pink things are the ginger flowers. When I’ve shown that photo to other people, the reaction I’ve gotten has been “you mean they actually use flowers and not ginger root?!”

Penang assam laksa hawker stall

Penang assam laksa hawker stall

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