Monday, April 16, 2012

A Foodie's Pilgrimage up north

 So what happens when you have a serious craving for 'original' Malaysian hawker food? You pack your stuff, grab your passport and hit the trail. Time for a road trip up north on the awesome NSE of course! Eat till you drop!!

After spending a brief sojourn in my lovely 'hometown' KL, we continued driving on a very sunny weekday all the way up past Perak, into Kedah and then finally Penang!

Entering Penang from the mainland (whether by the ferry or on the bridge) is always a thrill, as the beautiful island glitters in the bright sun beckoning all food lovers near and far. Aaaah, the beloved Pearl of the Orient. Does it still lives up to my memories of various food-trips to this city?

Amazingly, it does. Coming from places with utilitarian hawker food, Penang is a breath of fresh, cheap,cheap,cheap fresh air. Did I mention cheap? Ok, I shan't spoil market here as I know inflation hits hard everywhere but the price is kept at an ok pace despite the great ingredients used.

Now back to the food....

Penang great food No 1: Cnn Kway Chap.
We named this after the broadcasting network as apparently, news about this fabled dish has been reported on international news multiple times. We were very skeptical & reluctant as we feel 'innards and internal organs' are things we remove on daily basis in the theatre, not something to be munched on...

However, we were very pleasantly surprised at the wonderful balance of flavour. The fine nuance of spices in the meaty broth mixed with smooth kway chap ties with the next dish as the no 1 hawker food found in this trip. Even the 'organs' became elevated to some sort of creative delicacy akin to those found in top 'celebrity restaurants at MBS'. At 1/100th of the price.

The shop doesn't even have a name as the uncle cook from his stall which has a motorbike attached. All I know is that it is near Kimberley Street. I am sure the locals will point you to it if you ask.

Penang great food no 1: Char Koay Teow.

Now I was told : Once upon a time, there was a great food war brewing in Penang. The legend was that 2 brilliant CKT artisans set up shop within close vicinity to each other..there was indeed great rivalry for CKT greatness. Eventually, one of them lost the war and the person moved out. Presently, the stalls are situated quite apart from each other.

Due to some unknown reasons, we found this goggle-auntie CKT at Lorong Selamat before we could visit her other great competitor Ah Leng CKT and we were instantly hooked. YY reached culinary paradise. I was smitted again as I remembered that I tried the food from this stall a few years ago. It still taste the same..equally wonderful with large fresh crunchy prawns and that 'wok hei' that is thoroughly missing in all SG street food. The most interesting selling point of this stall must be the stylish old auntie with communist red beret and curt manners. Service is minimal but food is awesome. We are still hooked. Food-dreams are made of this...

Penang great food no 3: Nyonya food.

Due to the tie for no 1, this wonderful gourmet wonder was bumped to number 3. I think it's slightly unfair because the whole meal was graded (as compared to the single stand-alone dish previously)....I couldn't decide between all the dish served at this Nyonya place at Quayside by Seri Tanjung Pinang. IMHO, 2 dish: Fish Belanda with fried fish that was fresh and crunchy and jiu hu char - a shredded cuttlefish dish that was unforgettable. This place was humming with happy diners on a Sunday night as we stuff ourselves crazy....

Penang great food no 4: Various Western restaurant throughout the island

Now, Penangites are really blessed. Not only there are wonderfully balmy & clean beach that they can escape to easily on weekends (even Langkawi is just a stone's throw away)...the range of international cuisine is of very high standard at much cheaper prices than the other 2 'Strait's Settlements' as well!

One of my perennial favourite is this place called David Brown's at Strawberry Hill atop Penang Hill. Part of the allure goes to the breath-taking scenery and well-manicured garden. Next and most importantly, I have to give credit to the food served too. The trout was very good - fresh, well-cooked, savoury and simply scrumptious. As we dined al fresco, birds and butterflies drifted past us on this lazy, hot Saturday afternoon made bearable on top of the 2000ft high Penang Hill. Not too bad eh?

To be continued.....