During our visit to Balik Pulau in search of durian, my father dragged me over to this cart and insisted I take some photos and record a video of the hawker at work. I’m not posting the video — mostly because the audio that comes with it consists of my father poking me and asking over and over if I’m doing it properly and me protesting back that yes I was taping it and if he’d stop poking me the camera wouldn’t shake. I am posting a photograph though, because the scene was actually quite interesting.
The hawker is frying noodles on the side of the road. I love the image of her cart because it’s on wheels and at the same time practically contains a whole kitchen, complete with a wok and fire. Yes, real fire. When she turned the crank (visible over by her apron), it manually spun a metal fan, which in turn fanned the flames and increased the heat.
I can’t comment on the food however, as we didn’t buy any of it. I did feel a bit guilty that I took photos and videos of her without purchasing something, but we had a van full of people wondering why on Earth the two of us were staring at some lady frying noodles when we were all supposed to be in the van and travelling back to Georgetown. Van full of angry people > my guilt.
Hawker frying noodles
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
Curry mee is a curry and coconut milk noodle soup. In many parts of Malaysia and in Singapore, it is known as laksa or curry laksa. In Penang, it is known as curry mee as laksa in Penang refers to assam laksa, a very differently flavoured dish. (More about that to come in a different post.)
I had curry mee twice during my trip. The first was at a small place in Langkawi, an island in Malaysia that is popular for its beach resorts. I don’t remember the name of the place but it was like a mini-cafeteria in a strip-mall near Underwater World, and sold a variety of Malaysian and western foods. The burgers apparently sucked somewhat and the Hainanese chicken rice was so-so. I had curry mee and Ribena, a blackcurrent drink popular in parts of Asia and in the United Kingdom. The curry mee wasn’t bad. Decent spicing, vegetables weren’t too soggy… I just wish there had been more of them and a little less noodles. This photo is also the current image header for this blog, which I wrote about earlier. And yes, I was mocked by my father for buying Ribena (adults usually see this as a kid’s drink). And then I was laughed at for taking a photo of it. But hey, I like the taste and it has vitamin C.
Curry mee and Ribena - Langkawi