Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gotham: A bit of New York on Oxford Street

Oxford Street was a Saturday night go-to place in my younger days – a street filled with clubs before Kings Cross hit my radar. Drinks, dancefloors and perhaps some late night coffees were the go, while food was rarely a consideration (Mortal Sin cheesecake and Hungry Jacks aside).

The bar at Gotham, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
But with age comes earlier bedtimes, less stamina for all-night dancing, and way less capacity (and desire) to drink and particularly shoot drinks.

And it’s as if someone knew this and opened up Gotham on Oxford Street late last year – a sophisticated and stylish bar (circa 1950s New York, apparently) with an admirable, restaurant-level menu of food to go with the imbibing of alcoholic beverages, and seating arrangements of almost any desire.

Seats inside Gotham
The luxe, worldly interior is a welcoming haven of dark hues, with long tables and bar seating at the front supplemented with plush armchairs and huge square booths further within.

There’s a fireplace that appears to be a warmth placebo, as well as an extended upstairs level that seems perfect for a Saturday night party.

Upper East Side cocktail
A nickname for New York, as well as a commonly-known superhero city reference, the Gotham theme runs throughout the cocktail menu designed by Dane Reid (ex Jimmy Liks).

My choice of the Upper East Side is served short; a mix of muddled fresh pink grapefruit shaken with Cointreau, gin and a dash of Campari. Its sweet and slightly bitter profile, along with the cute pinkness of the drink, manages to erase thoughts of the freezing outside conditions.

The Big Apple cocktail
The taller Big Apple cocktail features fresh Granny Smith apples and some slightly artificial tasting green apple flavouring, shaken with mint leaves, gin and white grapefruit juice. It’s not as impressive as the Upper East Side, nor as sweet.

Glass of white wine
There's also a classic cocktail menu and a decent-sized wine list (Wine Men of Gotham shiraz is very, very good), but I was keen to try out the share plates on the menu as they appear a lot more creative and substantial than your average bar menu. No nuts or wedges here – we’re talking stuffed and fried green olives, zucchini flowers and pissaladiere.

With a proper kitchen and recently appointed "lead culinary consultant" Laif Etournaud (previously from Onde, Bistro Moncur and Berowra Waters Inn), these are some serious shared eats.

There’s also a choice of five main meals plus sides for those hungrier souls; although I really gravitate towards the idea of lots of share plates when drinking.

Duck liver parfait with cornichons and sourdough
I’ve decided I prefer parfaits to pates for their smoothness and lower likelihood to start me thinking about animal organs.

This textbook quenelle of duck liver parfait was supremely rich and creamy with a detectable liver-liness; gorgeously luxurious slathered onto the thin, toasted slices of sourdough bread. The cornichons and pickled onions add tart relief from too much richness, which isn’t altogether a bad thing in this case.

Pan fried olive and parmesan sandwich
As a carbs and cheese lover, I had my heart set on the rather ingenious sandwich on the menu. What looked like two slices of pan-fried sourdough bread were indeed two pan-fried sourdough sandwiches, crammed full of melty parmesan cheese and olives that I didn’t see as I scoffed the thin sandwich.

I’m all for cheese toasties at the worst of times, so this pimped up version was easily my favourite dish of the night. The crunchy bread contrasted superbly with the chewy parmesan cheese; the olives provided the flavour hit while the chopped parsley atop delivered some necessary freshness.

Crisp chicken wings with lime mayonnaise
The highly recommended chicken wings were definitely on my want list, and arrived as a basket of mid-wings with a zingy, citrusy mayonnaise dipping sauce. Not so much crisp as really not, the wings were nevertheless juicy and fell apart easily, with a delightful but subtle spice marinade making the skin the best part.

However, a subsequent visit to Gotham found their chicken wings closer to crisp with an impactful salt and pepper seasoning on the burnished skin of juicy, juicy mid-wings. I also noted the fun comic sheets beneath lining the basket - look out for Batman here!

Sugar cured ocean trout with horseradish cream and grilled sourdough
The generous serve of sugar-cured ocean trout was very tempting to the eye. Splodges of dill-spiked horseradish cream upped the flavour ante although it seemed to lack the taste of horseradish.

The ocean trout, cut to a good thickness, was pert and bouncing with fresh flavours, served with more bread and watercress sprigs.

We continued the sharing theme with one main between two of us: the choice a toss-up between the Kinkawooka mussels and the Angus sirloin. It went the latter, although the entire mains menu sounded pretty appetising.

Grilled Angus sirloin (150-day grain fed) with fries and beurre marchand
Our requested medium-rare was more on the rare side of things, but easily and quickly rectified by the kitchen. However, the beurre marchand sauce was a complete revelation: a shallot and red wine reduction that’s then mixed into butter with lemon juice and parsley, and served a little like Café de Paris butter – but so much better.

With a slight tartness and rich, caramelly flavours from the reduction, it reminded me a little of the retro Diane sauce, but nothing nearly so heavy. It even made a great dip for the french fries.

We had our chewing work cut out in some parts of the long-ish sirloin steak, but the tender, perfectly medium-rare sections made it completely worthwhile.

Warm Madeleine with sauternes, home-made quince paste and double cream
The beauty of shared meals is a higher chance of there being space in my belly for dessert; a shared one, that is. Madeleines sounded a lighter treat than brownies, though they arrived with a quenelle of double cream.

The hot, crisp-surfaced madeleines were simply perfect: deep brown shell shapes of an eggy cake, crumbing delightfully and served with an unexpected quince paste – the match surprisingly appropriate given the paste’s subdued tartness.

Although fairly quiet on an early weeknight, in all I found Gotham quite appealing and adding a little bit of classy eating and drinking to the popular street. It may not exactly be a slice of New York, but Friday happy hour cocktails and the welcoming furniture will see me back. Oh, and the parmesan and olive toastie – of course.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Gotham with thanks to Folke.

Gotham on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 25, 2011

A mountain of sake at Izakaya Fujiyama

Giving Surry Hills' Crown Street a very good run for its money is what one might call Surry Hills west, between Central Station and Crown Street where a mass of restaurants have opened recently. The latest is Izakaya Fuijiyama, featuring no bookings Japanese eats, lots of sake and Japanese beers.

Sake on display at Izakaya Fuijiyama, Waterloo Street, Surry Hills
Alongside the new El Capo and fairly new Orto Trading Co., and one street up from Muum Maam, Cotton Duck and Vini, (and not to forget District Dining closer to Central Station), this part of Surry Hills is turning seriously food-centric despite pubs on every corner.

Sake - served at room temperature
From a full menu page of sake, listed from mildest to strongest, I randomly pick something middling in strength and price (prices go up to $20 or so for some 90ml pours). This one (name forgotten) turns out to be quite mild with a floral hint.

We're informed that the sake here are only served at room temperature, and that warmed sake was usually something reserved for lower grades of the rice wine where the heat masks the inferior flavours.

Umeshu - plum wine
There are also a few options for plum wine, or umeshu - most of which I've never seen before. And with prices starting at $9.50 for a 90ml glass, it's no surprise that this is far superior to the almost sickly sweet umeshu I'm accustomed to having in your average, casual Japanese eatery.

Instead, this has a clarity of flavour without the overpowering saccharine hit, and also lacks that sometimes preserved flavour that's apparent in cheaper umeshu.

Yellowtail tataki
Traditionally, in a Japanese meal one would eat the cold courses first, including sushi and sashimi, followed by the hot dishes and rice. Dashing in from last week's torrential rain, I couldn't quite stick to that tradition, except for a daily special of yellowtail tataki.

More commonly seen in its beef form, this tataki features thick-ish, raw slivers of yellowtail - a pink-fleshed fish with quite a soft texture - tossed with shallots and fresh, ground ginger on a string bed of daikon strips. Served with soy sauce, the combination of seasonings took on a Cantonese flavour; albeit light and fresh with natural sweetness of the fish.

Satsuma age - housemade fish cake (two serves)
I'm generally a fan a fish cakes and these golden square halves were no exception. Light and a tad floury in a good way, they had peeled edamame beans to be found inside their golden skins. Dipped into a vinegary sauce, they were comforting and definitely a good drinking snack.

Kenji Fried Chicken
Named after chef and owner Kenji Maenaka (ex Porteño, Bodega, Forty One Restaurant, Four in Hand, among others), the KFC is a more substantially sized dish of karage chicken.

Battered hunks of succulent chicken were served with lemon and a creamy mayonnaise, and showed no indication whatsoever that the chef hadn't cooked Japanese food professionally for eight years.

Japanese fried potato
Looking a lot like Italian arancini or indeed, turtle eggs; these perfectly round balls of creamily starchy taro were firm but velvety in the way that only taro is. It lacked the spice flavours as advertised on the menu (and potato?), but went rather nicely with wasabi and soy sauce.

Grilled mackerel with grated daikon
The grilled mackerel was served with flaked pieces along with grated and seasoned daikon - the flavours, including sesame oil, were subtle, clean and quite special. This felt like a healthy, salad-type dish, but also went very well with the sake.

Next sake
Thoroughly warmed following our first round of mostly hot dishes, it was time for another (also unknown name) sake further down the list in strength. This definitely hit the palate harder with that almost-savoury flavour typical of rice wine coming to the fore.

Potato salad
Somehow, we'd managed to turn traditional eating style back to front by following up with a number of cold dishes. Traditional Japanese mashed potato sounded intriguing, and scattered with onions and paper thin pickled cucumber slices, it certainly was.

The tartness of the pickles was just the thing to complement the creamy, mashed and chunky bits of potato in this carb-olicious salad.

Miso tofu
We see the delightfully firm tofu being sliced and then dressed in a white miso sauce. The latter is more sweet than salty, but provided an unexpected depth to the clean, earthy flavours of the cold tofu.

Kingfish nuta with fried tortilla
The most playful dish of the night had to be the kingfish nuta (though I have no idea what 'nuta' is). Served a bit like a ceviche with deep fried tortilla triangles, this was so flavour-packed I was using the tortilla chips to get every last bit of sauce out of the bowl.

Marinated with lots of lime and miso for creaminess, this fine dice of kingfish topped with shallots simply blew me away with its gigantic flavours - sweet, salty, creamy and a little spicy. Eaten cracker style on the crisp, golden tortilla chips, this is one hell of a Japanese nachos.

Grilled mackerel with teriyaki sauce
Despite the fabulousness of the nuta, it was outdone (just) by the daily special of grilled mackerel. Having seen it cook on the grill and go out to another table, we quickly added the fish special to our order - thankfully, in hindsight, as it was my favourite dish of the night by far.

Three thick slices of the most gorgeous-looking, raw, skin-on mackerel (purchased that morning at the Sydney Fish Markets, Maenaka tells us, like all his fish) were skewered and placed directly onto an open yakitori-like grill. It's turned from time to time, as well as dunked into a large pot of house-made teriyaki sauce and returned to the grill.

Chef Maenaka leans over to tell us that no-one else in the world would have his teriyaki sauce, since he dunks his fish and beef into it; the juices from both contributing to the flavours of the sauce, which is boiled out every day like a master stock.

It's pretty special and it shows with the appetisingly caramelised surface of the fresh-off-the-grill mackerel. Dunked and turned on the grill many a time, the firm flesh of the fish, along with the deeply sweet teriyaki sauce, make this dish simply divine, while the thin slices of pickled daikon cut through the rich sauce in just the right way.

Chocolate ice cream with bourbon
Watching desserts leave the kitchen seems to magically make way in my stuffed belly for dessert too. Something small to share, we went with the house-made chocolate ice cream with a sauce of orange and bourbon.

Not being a drinker of the latter booze, I left most the sauce in favour of unadulterated chocolate ice cream - silky smooth, luxuriously creamy and one of the best I've had in ages. There were also some chopped shortbread biscuits nesting at the bottom, reducing the richness as well as the slippery, sliding ice cream factor.

Washed down with a pot of Japanese green tea, we watched the rain continue to belt down and wash the roads, footpaths and pretty much anything/one not under cover. Completely stuffed and just warmed from the sake, I concluded that next time would have a much better attempt at conquering the Fujiyama mountain of sake on offer. Along with tasty eats, izakaya-style, of course.

Izakaya Fujiyama on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just a little: Red Chilli Hot Pot Restaurant

Winter is synonymous with hot pot, otherwise known as steamboat, for me. The weather is cold – why not have a boiling pot of stock in front of you? Popular in Asian cultures from Chinese steamboat, Japanese shabu shabu or even Korean jigae stews, this was to be my first experience of Sichuan styled hot pot.

Hot pot with half chicken and pork bone broth and half spicy broth at
Red Chilli Hot Pot Restaurant, Glebe Point Road, Glebe
One of two Sichuan restaurants on the main strip in Glebe, Red Chilli Hot Pot Restaurant is styled in over-the-top ‘oriental’ fashion with carved wood panels, lashings of red and gold, lacquer folding screens, and glass-topped tables around every nook and cranny with a hole and burner built into the centre.

The air in the restaurant is warm with steam and seemingly chilli too, as my ticklish nose would attest to. A menu displays images of non-hot pot items while the hot pot ordering sheet looks more like a spreadsheet than a menu.

Tsing Tao beers
We order up on the only Chinese beer on the menu, and set to work on the spreadsheet. First is the stock selection, and we choose the split spicy and not-spicy broth option.

On the spicy options, there are four chilli levels to choose from (one in the know guided us towards the lowest level, ‘little’) and also four numbing levels. Having never experienced the infamous numbing characteristics of Sicuan cuisine, we ramped this up to a medium level. I could already see that this was going to be fun.

Sliced lamb for the hot pot
After picking some basic hot pot items – sliced beef and lamb, fish balls, fish tofu, enoki mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, dumplings, noodles – we sent the order sheet around the table of ten and watched the order build. Dipping sauces were also ordered: the house special proving popular, as well as raw egg, fresh coriander, and ginger and shallot.

It wasn’t long before two halved steaming pots of stock arrived, one half creamy white and the other scarily red with dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns floating about. As they hit the boil, dishes of raw food - which were conveniently stored nearby on little tiered wooden stands - got the dunk.

Frozen dumplings and cuttlefish balls (bottom)
The creamy yolk centres of the tiny quail’s eggs made them a hit with everyone, while I was actively fishing for my favourite fish tofu cubes. The house special sauce had fresh chillies in it, and so added a big kick to the already spicy items coming from the red side of the hot pot.

Fish roe-filled fish balls – frozen
The must-try hot pot item was the pointy-topped fish balls that were filled with fish roe. Not so special in their frozen state, when cooked and steaming hot, a careful bite would reveal creamy orange fish eggs; not too different from a chicken egg with its bright yolk centre.

Fish roe-filled fish balls – cooked centre

Warning: possibly disturbing images below.

Some crazy eaters, luckily down the other end of the table and unable to contaminate my hot pot, had ordered ‘pork brain’ as well as pig’s blood jelly.

Both were gruesome in their raw states and not much better cooked, according to one sampler (the brain apparently was very mushy after cooking from its frozen state).

Pork brain - frozen and uncooked

Pork brain - cooked

Steamed sweet corn bread
One of the more unusual non-hot pot menu items were the nubs of steamed corn bread. Their grainy texture reminded me of polenta, and served sweet and warm, these hollow yellow domes were an interesting contrast to the heat and boiled food from the hot pot.

Sweet potato noodles – uncooked
In the end, as the last standing tried to scoop up the last strands of sweet potato noodles, most of us were defeated and clutching stomachs, water glasses, aloe vera drink, tissues or more Tsing Tao beers.

The pain was not nearly so bad as I’d expected (though I’m glad we didn’t go for ‘mild’ chilli) and we were still ably standing to go for drinks, darts and a few games of table tennis at new, nearby Bar 99 to finish the night off – just for a little.

Table tennis table upstairs at Bar 99, 99 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

Red Chilli Hot Pot Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bar 99 on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 18, 2011

The rose of The Strand: La Rosa Bar and Pizza

There are shopping centres and then there are shopping centres. From its beginnings in the late 1800s, the Strand Arcade, running from Pitt Street through to George Street, has seen its fair share of Sydney lifestyle.

Take the basement, for example, which has been the site of clubs in the 1900s, which I can only imagine smilingly - today it's a thriving JB Hi-Fi store. As long as I've shopped, exclusive designer stores have lined the historic arcade, and now it seems food is getting its time in The Strand spotlight.

Inside the dining area at La Rosa Bar and Pizza, Level 2, The Strand Arcade,
Pitt Street, Sydney
Sibling to The Strand's existing one-hatted Pendolino restaurant at the George Street end of level 2, La Rosa Bar and Pizza is the less serious but equally stylish of the two at the Pitt Street end.

Facing off against the established and highly acclaimed pasta menu of Pendolino, the more relaxed pizza, baked pasta and aperitivo menu makes lots of sense; not to mention the attraction of drinks and nibbles in such gorgeous surrounds.

I can already envisage me with a glass of wine and perhaps bruschetta, sitting at the long, herb pot-lined bar table of sorts, in front of a large communal table, looking out to the retail shops.

Inside La Rosa Bar and Pizza
Inside the restaurant, there's a variety of seating options: the light filled windows looking out to Pitt Street mall; a darker section on the other side of the cross motif panel with a banquette against the wall; an area that resembles a private dining table; and various bar seats and low tables designed for drinks.

The first impression is that there's a lot going on, especially at peak city lunch time. The staff seem a liitle harried though understandingly given their recent opening. It's a little dark where we are (but not Pendolino, 'oh, is it night time?' kind of dark), and we easily slip into lunch drinking mode.

An unpronounceable Italian sangiovese shiraz is our pick from the wines by the glass, which are far outweighed by the mostly Italian bottle wines. It is an Italian wine bar after all, and with house made salumi, picking a starter to share was easy.

Salumi misti di casa - Mixed house-made cured salami
The generous, long, wooden board sits a little awkwardly between our two round tables, and intially arrived without knowledgeable explanation. Another waitress returns to tell us we have a wild boar sausage, two types of pork salami, a wagyu beef salami and pancetta.

Now, I know how much I adore nduja, so I leave that as my last tasting. The little, whole, unsliced sausage at the top is the Salsicce Mignon di Cinghiale - a fatty, chewy but oddly floral-tasting sausage of 100% wild boar and black pepper.

The smaller but thicker cut pork salami is, I think, the Salsicce Montenuovo Calabrese - salty and sweet with capsicum flavours; while the thinly slice pork one is apparently fennel (though light on that flavour). The wagyu beef salami is actually mixed with pork as well (which explains the rather similar taste) and is flavoured with fennel seeds and garlic.

The Pancetta del Rinascimento has that fatty chewiness that's sometimes hard to swallow, but a nice, mellow taste. The olives are decent, and the small bowl of pickled vegetables even better, with the tart and crunchy cauliflower, carrot and onion cutting through the richness of the cured meats nicely.

And the nduja - I'll be going back for that alone. It sounds a bit strange when you say spreadable salami or pork spread, but that's essentially what it is - and very, very good at that. Bursting with capsicum redness and a chilli kick, the paste is luxuriously smooth with a well-rounded richness; and just beautiful spread liberally on the crostini.

Gamberi e zucchini pizza - King prawns, zucchini, tomato, mozzarella and garlic
I think since I started making my own pizzas at home, I'm more keen than ever to sample pizza when I'm out and about to compare and learn. The expectations were high and for some inexplicable reason I chose the only seafood pizza on the menu (when I normally don't like seafood on pizzas at all).

La Rosa's pizza certainly looked the part: golden, slightly bubbled up edges; nice and thin; perfectly round and gleaming with toppings. As soon as I picked up a slice though, it was apparent that the pizza was suffering from soggy centre syndrome.

So, rather inelegantly, we rolled up the pizza slices to eat, although I guess the provided cutlery would have sufficed too. The pizza was light-handed on tomato sauce and cheese, but made up for with gorgeous grilled zucchini strips and large peeled prawns which could have been made more interesting with a marinade. In all, I'm still not convinced that seafood and pizza go together.

Pomodoro e Pane Secco - Tomato, dried bread and ricotta salad
The highly recommended side salad of tomato and dried bread sounded interesting enough to sway me from my usual rocket order.

A pretty but rustic salad featured gigantic cubes of bread, dried to a near painful crunch - I imagine they would be much easier to chew (especially for delicate ladies) if they were about a quarter of the size.

Not the best tomatoes and the ricotta really sitting pretty rather than contributing to the salad meant I'll probably revert to my rocket order next time.

Lasagne di Carnevale - Neapolitan meat carnival lasagne
One of the only pasta options on the menu with meat, the lasagne arrived in a cast iron pan, oozing cheesy and tomato sauce, and served unexpectedly with a side salad. In hindsight, this made perfect sense given the richness of the lasagne and its creamy bechamel.

The silky soft pasta and the chewy, blackened cheese topping combined with the sweet tomato sauce with minced meat (can't recall exacty what, but presumably a blend) was cheesy carb heaven - happiness in a cast iron pan. We only diverted to the salad out of guilt.

Another glass of sangiovese shiraz later, the restaurant had emptied of its corporate clientele, with mostly shoppers and tourists left to fill up the rather spacious restaurant. Had we more time, I imagine a dessert would have gone nicely with our meal, with the likes of tiramisu, ricotta cake and zeppola - a traditional potato and cinnamon doughnut - on offer.

While not necessarily between two thorns, La Rosa Bar and Pizza is surrounded by style and elegance. It might be a tough sell to get some of The Strand's usual customers to consume cured meats and carbs but I , for one, am looking forward to aperitivo time here.

La Rosa Bar and Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Asia tripping - part XII: Penang, Malaysia then home

This is the twelfth and final of several brief posts of my recent trip to Asia: photos, food and a few thoughts.

The roti man in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Staying in Georgetown, Penang was an odd choice in hindsight. There didn't seem to be a lot to do other than seek refuge in air conditioned shopping centres - although that did allow me ample time to stock up on Malaysian supermarket snacks.

It also gave us time to seek out roti at every opportunity. One late morning, our roti request was met with a short wait for the roti guy, who had ducked out. Being such an art form, there was no-one else there who could make roti, so we snacked as we waited.

Ayam goreng - deep fried chicken
Ever had fried chicken for breakfast? I have, now. From the nasi kandar section of the shop, the golden-hued surface of the chicken maryland was just as crunchy as it looked.

It reminded me of why thigh fillets are often preferred in Asia over breast fillets - juicy, tender and full of flavour. We cleaned this maryland down to the bone.

Roti telur bawang
Roti man came back and was pretty amused with our late breakfasting and cameras, especially those pointed at him and his creations. His flattening of balls of dough and stretching them till they were thinner than paper was just mesmerising, but so easy and quick for him too.

The egg and onion roti is folded into a rectangle and then dipped into curry sauce, also from the nasi kandar bain maries.

Roti pisang
For a change from my regular roti canai order, I ventured into uneplored sweet roti land with the banana version, or roti pisang. The same dough is filled with sliced banana and a sprinkle of white sugar.

There's a slight salty-sweet play that's very appetising, as well as a soft-chewy contrast between the somewhat cooked banana and grilled dough.

The beach at Batu Ferringhi, Penang
The plan for this day was to spend it by the beach (or indeed, hotel pool) of Batu Ferringhi, Penang's most well known beach. While it has little on Sydney beaches, there are a bunch of waterside activities for the sporty-inclined and it's kind of nice to be by the water on a typically hot Penang day.

And despite our only activity being floating about the lagoon-styled pool and climbing out to reclining sunchairs, we somehow managed an appetite for lunch.

Bain marie offerings for nasi campur in the street centre, Batu Ferringhi, Penang
There are a few roadside options for dining, including the fresh fruit stall which we hit up for dessert. But set up in the middle of the road, we noticed a bit of lunch crowd starting to build by the plastic chairs and tables, and a long, food-filled bain marie.

It's nasi campur we're informed by the lovely chef lady, set up self-serve style whereby you're given a plate of rice and you choose an array meat and vegetable dishes, and are charged per selection.

The takeaway version is similar, except the plate is reverse-wrapped with a plastic bag which is then filled, flipped and tied up to go.

My nasi campur plate
I found it impossible to not try a bit of most the options, though I steered clear of the ones that the lady noted as quite hot (as a Malaysian 'quite hot' is not my cowardly 'quite hot' and I was already sweating enough).

With almost 10 meat and vegetable options on my pile of rice totalling about 10 ringgit (just over AUD3), it wasn't the cheapest meal by local standards, but more than fine by Sydney standards.

The other side of my nasi campur plate
Standouts from memory were the deep red, spicy chicken wing; the deep fried ayam goreng chicken drumstick; some kind of meat curry that also had chunks of fresh pineapple; some kind of spicy stewed eggplant and the square of spicy sauce-coved tofu.

It was a relief to have the non-spicy okra there, but food-related sweating soon outdid the weather-related sweating.

The lovely nasi campur lady
We squandered away the afternoon, although beachside in a rather tropical part of Malaysia can hardly be called a waste. We were looking forward to the expectedly touristy night markets that clog up one side of the footpath of the main road.

While I bought little other than a taro ice cream from a Wall's vendor, the oppressive heat and humidity (even after sundown) plus the swarming bargain-hunting crowds was intense for a (these days) lightweight shopper.

Most amusing was probably the clandestine actions of some stallholders yet blatant selling of fake branded goods at other stalls.

Crowds at Long Beach food court at Batu Ferringhi, Penang
I think we hit Long Beach food court at peak dinner time, as it was heaving and not short on Aussie accents either. And there's nothing like a day of doing not much to work up an appetite.

Pineapple juice
We start off with some necessary refreshments before food and beers; the rather large fresh juices doing the job well.

Lime juice drink
The lime drink is sour enough to fresh lime juice, but with a liberal dose of sugar mixed through as well.

Manning the satay grill
Sweating it out as I was doing nothing, I really felt for the satay guy who had to stand in front of hot coals all night long. I felt for him so much that I was simply compelled to order both chicken and beef satay, as well as a small plate of lontong compressed rice cakes.

Chicken and beef satay with lontong (background)
Both sets of petite meat sticks feature charred black parts, but the sweetness of the chicken is really something above the slight chewiness of the beef.

The spice heat of satay sauce the sticks are served with is somewhat tempered by the cucumber and rice cakes, although personally I find the latter to be generally bland and stodgy.

Chicken char kway teo
The carb fix for the night is the rather-famous-in-this-part-of-town char kway teo; rice noodles wok-fried with chicken, fish cake, egg, shallots and bean sprouts.

The 'breath of the wok' (smokey aroma from a hot wok) is clearly apparent while the bold salty and sweet flavours of the sauce are joyously scoffed.

Jumbo grilled prawns
 Halved grilled prawns the length of my hand were quite the surprise arrival at the table. I'm pretty sure they were the biggest ones I've ever set eyes upon.

Grilled to perfection and doused with a sweet, sour sauce, the bouncy flesh came away easily from the shell. Each crustacean was at least four mouthfuls although I didn't eat the shell nor quite large, spikey heads.

Grilled stingray - ikan pari bakar
Also from the seafood stall, we had to have the stingray - this speciman actually a few pieces from a smaller fish. I found the flesh a little soft compared to its larger cousins but tasty nonetheless, especially with its hot a sour dipping sauces.

Fried oyster omelette
I had excitedly passed a stall that advertised fried oyster omelettes and was immediately handing over the ringgit. Having heard much about this dish, I couldn't wait to try it out, however odd it may sound. Its slightly messy, home-made appearance only added to the appeal.

What we received was indeed a soft, eggy omelette featuring lots of young shallots and indeed lots of oysters, of all sizes too. It was hard to tell whether they were orginally fresh, frozen or otherwise in their cooked state, but they retained all their briney, creamy juiciness within their cloaks of egg and lived up to every expectation.

Grilled chicken marylands
Having more than once sampled the succulent reward of the grilled chicken at hawker centres, an order of a couple of marylands was a given. Again, crisp sheets of skin; juicy, tender and tasty flesh; and completely finger-licking good.

Corn kernels with margarine from Daily Fresh, Penang International Airport
After a pretty awesome two weeks worth of eating and travel, it was a little bittersweet to have our final meals in airports, though it gave me a chance to finally try things I'd been eyeing off at many arrivals and departure gates.

Having thought we had plenty of time waiting for the flight to Kuala Lumpur from Penang, we took a stool at the Daily Fresh stand, which I'd seen all over the city, and finally got the cup of corn I was craving.

With a hefty helping of margarine, salt and pepper, eating this 'healthy' snack was mouthful after mouthful of sweet corn juice goodness.

Daily Fresh waffle with strawberry jam and peanut butter
I also finally got to try the waffles at Daily Fresh, whose aroma would float to all corners of the terminal or shopping centre every time. Going with the failsafe combination of PB&J, or peanut butter with jam (jelly), this intensely sweet snack was probably the appropriate fuel for our subsequent sprint to the boarding gate.

Assam laksa from Old Town White Coffee, LCCT, Kuala Lumpur
With plenty more time to kill before boarding the plane back home to Australia, we also ventured into the Old Town White Coffee chain at the terminal in Kuala Lumpur.

Branded like, and almost as ubiquitous as, Starbucks, Old Town White Coffee is apparently very popular with the young generation for their fix of traditional Malaysian drinks and snacks.

We order one main - the assam laksa - which was rather disappointing; its broth watery with a slight sour fishiness the only flavour point.

Kaya toast from Old Town White Coffee
Somewhat better was the kaya toast, which arrived as two large, cut toasted sandwiches on brown bread. With a warm tea drink in hand, this seemed to be an appropriate goodbye to the holiday.

Kaya toast innards
Spread thinly with the brown, eggy coconut jam, the squiggle-edged sticks of butter were an interesting addition - but not something I'd do of my own choosing (I think I'd rather it spreaded beneath the kaya).

Sweet, buttery and sending me back to younger days when mum would make me toasted sandwiches, it seemed I was ready to head home.

Two weeks away in Southeast Asia. Never enough, but better than not, I guess. Vietnam was a highlight of the overall trip, simply for the massive cultural differences that I experienced and adored. Malaysia certainly delivered on its promise of fantastic eats and has given me an even greater appreciation for its diverse cuisine. Meanwhile, Hong Kong will always be a big city to admire and fear, while Macau still means casinos to me.

Now, it's a case of saving up money (and annual leave) before I can research and prepare for the next big trip. Sooner rather than later, I hope.


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