When I heard people extol the deliciousness of Penang food, I didn’t think much of it. I have been there, but when I was about 5; so food didn’t figure much unless it was cotton candy or hmmmm… I can’t remember what I liked to eat as a kid; perhaps chicken rice. So anyway, this trip with the family that was meant to be a getaway turned out to be a food epiphany; and so I join in the chorus of Penang food extolment. And curiously, the atmosphere in Penang is something I have missed very much in Singapore… I must have misplaced that feeling, which somehow, became buoyant in Penang.
Perhaps less words and some pictures.
Let’s start with the dish that blew our palates away – The Char Koay Teow. This was for me the epitome of the epiphany. It didn’t help that I had to chopstick-fight my way to the noodles but luckily my kids are not so wieldy with the chopsticks so I could shovel more kway teow than they. They food was still hot even as we polished it off. Must be the one plate of food cooked in one wok at a time OR we finished it so fast it didn’t have time to cool.
Talk about not waiting for food to cool. Josh loses patience with thermodynamics and gets his palate owned by the oyster omelette. Serves him right.
I can’t quite put my finger on it but although we have the same type of food in Singapore, the taste of the counterpart food in Penang just tastes lighter, more flavourful, in the correct portion and gives you that “just can’t get enough of it” feeling. Am I biased? Can’t be. I read in a Penang cook book I borrowed from NLB that each plate of food is cooked individually in the wok so that it gets the right amount of heat. It must be such subtle practice that adds up. Read this interview on Asiaone with Chef Loh Hong Chye (of Copthorne King’s Hotel), a Penang-born PR in Singapore.
On the Penang dish that he missed, he said:
“I miss the or luak (oyster omelette) from home. The kind sold here is dry and crispy but the Penang version is softer and more moist. The or luak in Penang also has Thai fish sauce added to it, which lends it a stronger flavor.”
I couldn’t help but detect a Thai influence in Penang cuisine. Most of the sauces and soups have a sweet-sour flavour; tamarind features strongly in dishes like the Penang Assam Laksa of course (assam is the malay epithet for tamarind). See this review of the Penang Heritage Book in the Kuali.com.
Josh is 9 but eats like a pig. His favorite is anything with noodles. Here he is vacillating from noodle to noodle. Left – Hokkien mee and Right – Penang Assam Laksa.
Chicken Satay – can anything be more balanced in flavour? I can’t remember how the chicken tasted like but the sauce was wicked. Having been accustomed to the rich peanut sauce dip in Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised by this sauce – light, sweet and sour. An explosion of flavours. With family it is okay to double dip, or quadruple dip.
One with the satay or Steve Jobs would say groking the satay.
Okay, so bangers and mash doesn’t really belong to Penang but hey, they even do this well at the Hawker centre.
We were by the famous Gurney Drive hawker centre one of the days but didn’t get a chance to try out the Pasembur, or Indian rojak. Well, next time then!
Well this youtube video is hilarious, the dancing stall owner selling the Pasembur. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9I1qyjEXKA