News and links

I’m slowly getting back into the groove. Too many things happened all at once – first I was recovering from my trip where I crammed way too many things in (as usual), and then some personal things came up that required my attention. But expect more here soon.

It took me 2 1/2 hours just to catch up on my blog reading. Either I’m following too many blogs or people write posts way too often!

And just to show you all that I truly have a boring life, tonight’s big plans are a trip to the newly opened 2nd location of T & T. Sad, I know. Maybe I’ll spend enough to get a free set of “Japanese multi-function bowls” or a clay pot….

Cooking on the go in Malaysia

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

Hawker frying noodles

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Rojak, Malaysia

This is another dish I had at one of the kopitiams (apologies for the blurriness). Rojak is a kind of salad found in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. This specific one pictured here is one made of fruit.

Rojak

Rojak

According to Wikipedia:

Fruit rojak consists typically of cucumber, pineapple, turnip (jicama), 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 (Water apple), squid fritters and honey to the mixture.

It was an odd mixture of the salty and sweet dressing, layered on top of the fresh tastes of fruit and cucumber. While it was interesting to try, it’s not something that I would go out of my way to look for.

Restoran 77, Malaysia – curry fish head

Restoran 77

Restoran 77

Restoran 77 was one of the few non-hawker places we ate at while in Malaysia. And as the sign says, we were there for the curry fish head.

curry fish head with okra

curry fish head with okra

Not to say that we didn’t eat other things too. We had quite a few dishes actually, but the fish head was the one that stuck in my head. Tender, flaky bits of fish and okra, stewed in a curry sauce. The okra was a tiny bit slimy, but otherwise this dish was fantastic. I wish there had been more fish though. Especially since my grandmother ate half the dish before the rest of us could have a taste. (That’s her hand in the photo below, stealing more fish.)

our meal

our meal

Let’s see, we also had fried rice, tofu, some sort of vegetable that I can’t remember but from the looks of it is probably gai lan, and something in a clay stew pot that I also cannot remember – possibly chicken. Oh, and fresh orange juice served in beer glasses.

Restoran 77

77-D Gurney Drive (a.k.a. Persiaran Gurney)
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia