Thursday, June 30, 2011

Asia tripping - part XI: Penang, Malaysia

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

Teh ais (left) and milo ais (right) in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Flying in from the chilly Hong Kong weather to Penang was a sudden change, to say the least, in both wardrobe and eating habits. Rather than seeking out warming soups and congee, it was more a case of eating something light(-ish) so I wouldn't be impeded from diving into the hotel pool not too long after.

It was seriously warm in Georgetown, Penang with a hot humidity that hits the face as soon as one leaves their air-conditioned hotel lobby. But the rich history of the city meant whole days spent by the poolside were out of the question. Indeed, there were touristy sights to be seen.

Iced tea and Milo were cool relief after the effort of seeking out food; a mere hundred metres or so from the hotel lobby - but still a hot task.

Roti canai
Given our rather late breakfast-ing hour, it seemed the roti guy had left for the day, leaving pre-made roti canai in a warmer for anyone who may be carb-inclined outside normal meal times. Despite not being fresh off a grill, we happily tore into this with the accompanying curry dipping sauce.

Mee goreng
The mee goreng, however, came right out of the wok, steaming hot with quite a bit of sauciness in the noodles. Cooling time was even necessary for this quite large plate, with fried tofu cubes, bean sprouts and fried shallots amid the noodles.

Fresh fruit, sliced and packaged, by the street side
Right next door to breakfast was a stall of ready peeled, cut and packaged fruits of almost any tropical variety. I soon found these stalls scattered all throughout Penang - and what a fabulous way to get your five daily serves of the ripest fruits, all ready for consumption, at a staggeringly cheap price.

I had to get the lip-staining pink dragonfruit as well as some ripe, juicy sticks of pineapple. There were several bags of fruits I couldn't even identify, though the unusual rose apple popped up in many stalls.

Fort Cornwallis, Georgetown, Penang
Carb loaded, we were ready to take on Georgetown in the blaring sun, which in hindsight, explains why locals were oddly missing from the scenes.

Indeed, I don't think Fort Cornwallis - Malaysia's largest standing fort - was even open to the public (I think it was a weekend). We took a long walk around the area, in shade where we could, seeing the many sighsts and signs of Penang's colonial heritage.

City Hall, Penang

Town Hall, Penang
We also checked out a good deal of temples and the like in what the map called the 'Street of Harmony walk' - a one kilometre route where there were houses of worship from Islam, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Taoist and Conficianism.

Goddess of Mercy Temple, Georgetown, Penang

Gigantic incense sticks outside the Goddess of Mercy Temple, Georgetown, Penang
It was definitely busy at the Chinese-oriented Goddess of Mercy Temple, with as many people entering the temple as exiting, while the same went for incense sticks in their respective receptacles (there were numerous altars within the temple itself).

An elderly lady sitting near the entrance smiled at us as we entered with cameras around our necks and incense sticks and joss paper in hand, purchased for a few ringgit from a guy at the front. I think she was saying something about young people, and being obedient and respectful - something that's a bit lost on me, and Generation Y generally, sometimes, I think.

Aside from the usual offerings of fruit and cakes, I noticed many bottles of oil - some emptied into larger vessels at the altars - which I've never seen before as an offering in a temple.

Heading into Little India, Georgetown, Penang

Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, Georgetown, Penang

Han Jiang Ancestral Temple, Georgetown, Penang

Yap Kongsi and Ciji Temple, Georgetown, Penang

Khoo Kongsi, Georgetown, Penang
The grand, elaborate and rather well-marketed Khoo Kongsi clanhouse was built for the Khoo family clan in 1851 and also served as a temple in its later life. Now, it's a major tourist attraction featuring a museum and restored opera theatre that's still used on occasion.

Khoo Kongsi opera theatre, Georgetown, Penang
Indeed, it was the restoration of the opera theatre that won the site a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award. The rest of the clanhouse has obviously undergone significant restoration and conservation too, and despite its age, it stands gracefully and impressively with stunning, intricate details up close.

Khoo Kongsi, Georgetown, Penang

Khoo Kongsi, Georgetown, Penang

Khoo Kongsi, Georgetown, Penang

A side street in Georgetown, Penang

Festive decorations for sale
A long day walking through the heat of Georgetown was going to be rightfully rewarded in the best way possible - hitting the hawker stalls in the evening after a relaxing pool session. And with the amount of food we attacked, I'm sure glad the activities weren't the other way around in order.

Hawker stalls at Red Garden Food Paradise, Penang
Labelled as an international hawker centre and one of the recommended eating places in Penang, Red Garden Food Paradise (and night market) was a brief taxi ride from the hotel.

We descended upon shiny, colourful sign-covered stalls in a large rectangle, enclosing hundreds of plastic tables and chairs, and diners for that matter. Each stall had its own outdoor kitchen behind the facade advertising a particular cuisine or food type.

Going about ordering at each stall is a little like supermarket shopping - one of these, two of those, one of those - which is subsequently delivered to your officially numbered table, which you have to snare before you go ahead ordering.

Green mango salad at Red Garden Food Paradise, Penang
From the Thai cuisine stall we had a green mango salad; a delightful alternative to more commonly seen green papaya salads and perhaps a little sweeter for its mango feature. Sour, sweet with just a touch of chilli heat, we scoffed this salad with ease given it was really the ideal kind of food for Penang's balmy temperatures.

Bak kut teh at Red Garden Food Paradise, Penang
Not quite so appropriate for the climate was something I'd been meaning to try for ages - Malaysia's famous bak kut teh; literally pork rib tea. Except this version had all sorts of piggy bits and not just pork ribs, served with cooled Chinese fried dough sticks, or yau tiao.

Floating about were leafy vegetables and mushrooms, but the headily strong herbal broth had to be the main feature. Subtle sweet undertones lifted the rather medicinal brew, but not quite enough for me to really enjoy it, especially in the sultry warmth of the night.

Grilled chicken at Red Garden Food Paradise, Penang
Every specimen of grilled chicken I'd spotted throughout the hawker stalls in Malaysia was ridiculously glossy and tempting every time.

Cooked over hot coals and usually with the option of the chicken maryland or wings, these mouthwatering pieces of chicken somehow, magically, remained moist and tender everytime, with a sweet and crispy armour of brown skin. Oh, to have chicken like that at home.

Ikan pari bakar (grilled stingray) at Red Garden Food Paradise, Penang
Only recently introduced to stingray, this was an exemplary rendition of the dish - this one a portion of a larger fish, grilled to perfection in banana leaf with spices and served with a tart chilli dipping sauce of sorts.

The stingray is an easy seafood to eat, with just a main central skeleton of bones and generally large bones to eat around.

Sate chicken and beef skewers at Red Garden Food Paradise, Penang
Satay sticks had become a standard order whenever we hit the hawker stalls; this time a combination of petite beef and chicken ones served with a huge dish of nutty satay sauce, and chunks of soothing cucumber and not-so-soothing raw onion.

I think I remember the beef being a little tough while the chicken was the stuff of daydreams.

Post meal carnage (and Carlsberg beer)
Post meal demolishing session, there was an extremely necessary lull as we slowly emptied the large bottles of Carlsberg beer.

The lull pretty much lasted as long as each pause between contestants of the singing competition, which was apparently the semi finals.

Singing competition at Red Garden Food Paradise, Penang
There were several singers ranging from pop to classic, in English, Malaysian and Mandarin, each singing two songs. We didn't stay for everyone's two cents though.

Takeaway ice cendol at Red Garden Food Paradise, Penang
We had also managed to order dessert to take away, knowing full well that we couldn't possibly have another mouthful there and then. But I certainly didn't expect the convenient packaging - actually my first food in a bag as such.

There were red beans swimming with the green pandan-flavoured cendol noodles at the bottom and presumably a good helping of gula melaka palm sugar syrup and an even more generous helping of shaved ice to top it all off.

The bag was a little messy back at the hotel, spooning it into the room provided mugs and tumblers, and the overall dessert not quite as good as I'd wanted, but much fun anyway.

Just a little bit more Asia tripping to come in Penang.


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

As a kid I used to be endlessly fascinated by the drinks in a bag. Last time I went to Singapore I couldn't find any! :(

Anna @ The Littlest Anchovy said...

Wow! what an amazing time you must have had. The Mee Goreng looks delicious and I love your photo of the giant incense. :)

Lil said...

The drinks in a bag look like such a novelty!

Keely aka The Richest Girl in Bondi said...

Looks like you had a wonderful time Tina! Your pic of the mee goreng has me envious (especially the 'sauciness' mention). I also love how in Asia they serve all kinds of drinks in what we would describe as beer mugs. Hmmm, I wonder if we had fresh fruit stalls set up here that we wouldn't have as big a problem with obesity in this country?

Tina said...

Hi Lorraine - Aw.. Singapore must have moved on... there were quite a few in Malaysia!

Hi Anna - Yeah, I kinda like doing the touristy thing when I'm on holidays... :S

Hi Lil - It was - desserts even more so!

Hi Keely - I miss having cheap, fresh, ripe fruit at the ready. Would be an interesting concept for here where small fruit salads go for more than $7...

Corinne @ Gourmantic said...

Lovely photos of the temples, especially the one of the incense. They took me there...


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