It’s day 2 in Penang, and coincidentally our last full day in Malaysia before heading over for the sunny shores of Phuket. Despite the sheer variety of food available to us here our trip isn’t all about the food (shockingly), we’ve got a packed day ahead of us with temples, more temples, durian, snacking, food courts and the occasional naps we manage to squeeze in between.
Day 8 – Where things are hot hot hot but durian is not not not
We’re in Little India this morning, perhaps spurred by our early night the day before we’re up and out of the hotel by 8. Like most of Asia, Little India isn’t truly awake until at least 10am and the famed colourful stores are all closed as we wander down the streets.
Breakfast – Kassim Mustafa
Kassim Mustafa is one of the few open restaurants, there are a few locals scattered about the various tables but it’s mostly empty as we take our seats. It’s surprising, but we haven’t had Indian food on this trip since our visit to the Cameron Highlands, I find myself craving some roti and strangely enough – Ayam on this fine morning.
I think I’m a little nuts for ordering a hot Tea Tarik in this type of weather, but it’s strangely soothing to drink on this quiet morning. Ever since coming back I’ve found I just can’t drink normal coffee anymore, it just doesn’t have the same sweetness I’ve become accustomed to, my co-workers think I’m crazy and can’t stand it!
We’ve gone for a curried assortment today, there’s a selection of curries available in the windows and a bit of pointing and miming gets us a strange variety. Despite the early morning, I’m craving some friend chicken (never too early!), the pieces are overly huge and the batter a little softened, but it’s the kick I need. Helen‘s gone for Paper Dosai again, the super thin sheets are savagely ripped apart and drowned in sauce.
True story, I initially thought the Squid Egg curry was actually Chicken Curry… it only took a few bites to realise just how very wrong I was. The taste and texture simply seem like normal squid, but a quick inquiry reveals the truth and suddenly it’s one of the less appealing dishes on the table (I feel like a wuss for saying that, but it’s true! It was too early in the morning for squid baby curry).
Despite the smorgasbord on the table I’ve only got an eye for one thing, Roti Canai. It’s a dish that I’ve adored thanks to dozens of visits to Mamak in Sydney, my only concession is to order an Egg variation to make it a little more filling for breakfast. This roti canai is a little drier than I prefer, but combined with Tek Tarik and some curry dipping action it’s a simple way of starting the day.
Pit Stop – Han Jiang Teochew Ancestral Temple
With our stomachs sated we’re walking around the area a little, it’s still early in the morning and the majority of the stores in the area are still opening, not to be deterred we simply circle the area a few times before spotting a temple opening it’s doors across the street.
We’ve stumbled across the Han Jiang Teochew Ancestral Temple, it’s a small space nestled between residential buildings and recently restored in 2002 and is decked out in sleak lines of shining brown with tints of red and gold. It’s a beautiful result, and judging by the clean floors and gleaming walls is obviously well maintained after its restoration.
The only other person in the temple this morning is one of the caretakers, he goes about his tasks lighting the incense and sweeping the grounds before settling down and watching us ramble around the grounds. There are plaques up on the walls with photos showing the progress of the restoration and the changes are truly striking. It’s obviously impressed more than me as in 2006 it was the winner of an Award of Merit from the Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation.
Pit Stop – Khoo Konsi
We’re keeping an eye out for Khoo Konsi, it’s been featured on practically every single pamphlet we’ve picked up and the photos seem stunning, a golden temple all lit up at nighttime. That said, it’s surprisingly difficult to find and it’s 5 minutes of turning around in the streets before we walk up an empty alleyway to finally find the temple.
Initially I’m a little disappointed, the temple in the pamphlets is golden and shining with lights, at first glance it’s just a little dull and brown and dare I say it.. boring?
Why hello. I’m eating my words only seconds later and my mouth may have been hanging open a little as I walked towards the entrance and realised that just about everything visible was plated in gold. It’s a striking sight and one that has me resisting the urge to see if I can chip away any of the plating, just as a souvenir of course!
The gold plating isn’t the only thing drawing the eyes, intricate carvings also decorate the surroundings ranging from standalone statues to ornate window sills. They’re all tinted with the faded remainders of the paint which would have one rendered everything into bright shades of red and green, the paint is already eye-catching enough as it is, I can’t imagine what this temple would have looked like in its prime.
There’s a little room off to the left of the primary temple, turning the corner I nearly have a heart attack and am about to apologise to the group of staff members whose lunch I’ve disturbed… only to realised they’re WAX!! My only consolation is that Billy tries to trick me into walking into the room, admitting he nearly fell for it too!
Lunch – Teksen Restaurant
Choosing where to eat lunch in Penang seems so much harder than it was in any of the other cities on our visit, maybe it’s because we’re finally in a town where none of us have that sense of familiarity. Simon‘s on the ball with a quick bit of research and finds out about Teksen Restaurant, we’re in the car and at the restaurant in no time.
Things are busy when we arrive, but luckily we’re still able to snag a table towards the front of the restaurant and it’s with a sigh of relief that we settle down. A quick round of drinks before the food comes out and once again I’m turning to my hot weather saviour, Soy Milk. It’s a chilled, frothy concoction and just what I needed before chowing down on lunch.
I’ll be honest, before my Malaysia trip I hadn’t even known that Sting Ray was edible, let alone that it was a popular choice of seafood! I find its meat a curious blend between the bone structure of a squid with the texture of fish and have no hesitation in agreeing to the Sting Ray Curry. It’s easily the highlight of lunch, a rich spicy curry sauce drenching generous servings of stingray and towards the end I find myself drinking the remaining stock with the ladle. NO SHAME!
Fried Roast Pork… Do I really need to say anything more? I take one moment to pray for my clogged up arteries and dig in with glee. Glorious diced roasted pork which has been fried up to a crisp, giving a contrasting crunch to the usual sweetness of the pork, it’s no surprise that the plate is picked clean long before lunch is over.
It’s almost as though we feel a little… guilty about the amounts of fat and oil we’ve been consuming. We’re making up our greens quota with Kanglong and Bitter Gourd, the latter is a standard stirfry but the Kanglong is a spicy hit in the mouth, fresh greens with strong belacan sauce rounding off lunch perfectly.
Pit Stop – Durian Hunt
Don’t be fooled by the light lunch, despite our content bellies we continue on with quick hits of Char Kway Teow and even a roadside cart snack stop. I’m ready to call it a day but suddenly we’re on the road and up in the mountains of Penang searching for an elusive Durian farm, an endless drive later we’re about to call it quits before a stand suddenly appears up on the curve ahead of us and we’re pulling aside for our next pit stop.
We’re going for a mix of normal and bitter varieties of Durian, the Durian are hanging off the side waiting for us to choose – the only problem is none of us know the trick to picking a ripe Durian! Unluckily for us, we’re just outside of peak Durian season and it’s showing in our fruits – they’re large but regretfully unripe the flesh almost hard to the touch. Our luck continues and the next two are only a scant improvement in texture with all but the strongest of us (Billy & Helen) calling it quits by the 3rd!
Our bill is a ridiculous 99MYR (35AU) for 3 Durian, and I can safely say that I’m not going to be eating any more Durian for a long time to come!
Dinner – Gurney Drive Food Court
I know I keep saying it, but the weather in Penang is unbelievably hot. Stepping out of the car at Gurney Drive Food Court I have the vague thought that being near the ocean will cool the air a little, but it’s the exact opposite. The humidity is unbelievably heavy and it’s the first time that I’ve started sweating while doing nothing but sitting down at a table.
The rain has stayed away tonight and the crowds and stalls have returned! It’s actually a struggle to find a table, and our group splits up for a few minutes to divide and conquer. I’ve decided pretty early what I’m keen on tonight and after dropping off my order I’m back at the table to defend our area while Billy goes off wandering.
The ordering system is familiar, we simply tell the stall our table number and they arrive with our food and we pay at our table. It’s a double-edged sword as we also notice a few lost looking staff members with bowls of noodles scanning tables looking for misplaced customers.
I have fond memories of Claypot rice in Malaysia, it was actually one of my first posts on the es&t (2 1/2 years of blogging, woo!), so knowing this was one of our last Malaysian dinners I zeroed in on the Claypot stand. It’s without a doubt the worst dish I will eat on the entire trip. The rice is pre-made and the congealed egg sitting on the side is so cold it’s an almost rubbery texture, it’s so terrible I abandon it without guilt only a few mouthfuls in.
Helen’s a fiend and has gone for Assam Laksa one last time, determined to show up Uncle Chow’s. Once again it’s a failure, and when asked to rate it she puts it par with the Assam from New World eaten last night. It’s official, Penang has lost to Uncle Chow’s.
Cockle shells are making their appearance at dinner yet again, and once again are a constant struggle to open. These difficulties are compounded by the appearance of a sister cockle shell, in a trumpet shape complete with spikes determined to prick you. It takes a few tries before I manage to master the knack of opening these shells, it’s a rubbery salty mouthful made all the better with chilli sauce. The age of the trumpet shells is a little suspect as we get 3-4 which have become home to tiny crabs!
Coming from the same store is a fried fish, served up on a Banana leaf and quite fittingly, a huge mount of Rojak to finish everything off. Eating at a food court is probably the best way to experience a Malaysian meal but the humidity is absolutely crushing in the heavy crowds. We’re calling it an early night, it’s a long drive back to Kuala Lumpur in the morning before we’re off to beautiful Thailand, Phuket!
Check out the rest of the Malaysia Monday’s series here!
No. 12 Lebuh Chulia
10200 Penang, West Malaysia
18 & 20 Ground Floor
Jin Beng Coffee Shop
Penang, West Malaysia
Gurney Drive Food Court
Penang, West Malaysia