Tuesday, 22 September 2015

penang eats: some of my favourites!

Chinese fried breads for breakfast! Yeah!

For me, a trip back to Malaysia would not feel complete without a visit to Penang. My parents are originally from mainland Penang, and most of our relatives still reside there. I used to spend many childhood holidays in Penang, playing with my cousins, and I have many happy memories associated with this part of Malaysia. And, let's face it. The food. You've got to go to Penang for the food, if nothing else.

So after driving up the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia, it only makes sense that our road trip then takes a turn to the west coast. We spent about a week in Penang, and we pretty much just ate... and ate... and ate. I don't remember how many times I had asam laksa in Penang. I could eat that stuff everyday, and I think I did for that week. Good times. Amazing times.

Here's a sample of what we had the evening we arrived in Penang.

Char koay teow, smoky wok-fried flat rice noodles with bean sprouts, egg and shrimp.

Char koay teow - wok-fried flat rice noodles.

Wantan mee, thin egg noodles with petite dumplings and barbecued pork slices. You can get the "soup" version, which comes in a bowl with a generous amount of light broth. This is the "dry" version, which isn't really that dry, as you can see - you get a small amount of rich dark soy sauce broth, and it is excellent.

Wantan mee, the "dry" version.

Char hor fun, thick flat rice noodles in an egg gravy.

Char hor fun, also known as wat dan hor.

In the mornings, we like to have steamed Teochew-style vegetable dumplings for breakfast. These dumplings have a homely rotund appearance and thin, tender, translucent skins. Don't expect them to be vegetarian, though - while it is mostly vegetable, they typically also contain dried shrimp in the filling. The green ones, which we call "gu chai kueh", are the ones with chopped garlic chives...

Gu chai kueh - steamed garlic chive dumplings.

While the yellow ones, which we call "mangkuang kueh", are filled with the goodness of shredded jicama, a turnip-like root vegetable.

Mang kuang kueh - steamed jicama dumplings.

Other than fried koay teow, you can also get koay teow t'ng, in which the flat rice noodles are boiled and served in a light and savoury broth, with accompaniments such as fish balls and pork.

Koay teow t'ng - flat rice noodles in a clear broth.

As I've mentioned, I ate asam laksa as often as I could. I believe there were days when I had it for lunch AND dinner. This dish features lovely round rice noodles in a broth of tamarind and shredded Indian mackerel (we call this fish "kembung") with bits of onion, chilli, lettuce, cucumber and mint. The intriguing kick of pink torch ginger flower (bunga kantan) tops it all off with panache. According to my parents, the torch ginger flower is a bit scarce these days, and not all vendors include much of it, if any. Here, we received a very nice sprinkling. It probably helps that my parents are on friendly terms with the stall owner!

Penang assam laksa.

You can get sea coconut beverage most places in Malaysia if you know where to look (hint: night markets), and to be honest this particular one I had in Penang probably wasn't the best example of it, but it was still nice and thirst-quenching. And sea coconut is always awesome - it has a gentle flavour and a chewy, crunchy texture that I find very appealing.

Sea coconut drink.

Last but not least, dessert. Throw some green jelly noodles and red beans into a cold coconut soup sweetened with palm sugar, and you have this lovely concoction called "cendol".

Cendol dessert.

And... yeah, in case you were wondering, writing this post is making me miss Malaysian food in a big way. I might have to go back again next year!

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Tuesday, 8 September 2015

road trip lunch stop: sun kong restaurant, lenggong (homemade fish balls, fiddlehead ferns and more!)

Sun Kong Restaurant at Lenggong town in Malaysia.

Ummmmm, picking up where I left off last year in this long-overdue continuation of my Asia travel series. As some of you may know, I quit my job in Melbourne last year, moved all my belongings to Perth, travelled around Asia for several months, and eventually settled back in Perth.

There are so many things to share, and last year's travel posts were only the tip of the iceberg. We were in Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Taiwan, and I'm not even done posting about Malaysia yet! So here we continue on with our Malaysia road trip.

After leaving Kelantan, we drove to Penang, but on the way, we stopped at Sun Kong Restaurant (S-2, Kampung Baru Ayer Kala, 33420 Lenggong, Perak) for lunch.

Sun Kong is known for their homemade fish balls, so we had that as an appetizer. These handmade wolf-herring fish balls are distinctly different to the usual filler-added and MSG-laden stuff you get in sealed packets at the shops. Their gentle savoury flavour and rustic texture had me going back for seconds.

Homemade wolf-herring fishballs.

After devouring all the fish balls, we turned our attention to our rice and main dishes. First up, this vibrantly green fiddlehead fern stir-fry dish. These fiddlehead greens (also known as paku in Malaysia) are treated with a touch of garlic and other seasonings, and they straddled the perfect textural balance of firm and tender.

Stir-fried fiddlehead ferns.

Then we enjoyed slices of pig stomach and assorted vegetables in a tangy pineapple sauce. Definitely not the typical sweet-and-sour dish you see in Westernized restaurants!

Sweet and sour pig stomach with vegetables in pineapple sauce.

We have been eating a lot of fish during our time in Malaysia, and we weren't about to stop. Local wild river-caught fish is a favourite when we can get it, and when it's artfully steamed in the classic manner, the freshness really shines.

Steamed catfish (pak sou gong) with soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, coriander, spring onions.

With full bellies, we hopped back into the car and resumed driving. Later that evening, we arrive in Penang, which is basically a food haven in so many ways. But that's a subject for the next post. Stay tuned!

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