You've got to try this green thing.”
Dan's stepfather describes an icy drink with green noodles “like worms” in it. Later, before we leave, Dan's mom prides herself on her Penang-derived cuisine repertoire.
A few days later, on the plane, Dan waits for the bathroom and falls into conversation about Penang with a flight attendant. He comes back to our seats with a Malaysian Immigration arrivals card covered with suggestions of what to eat while we're there.
At a hostel we ask for a room but pick up a map dedicated to finding eateries in Penang.
This is Malaysia's Food City.
For years people have been telling us how good the eating is in Penang, but, after tasting the curries and stir-fries of Kuala Lumpur we had wondered--could it get better?
Well, it can.
Our first meal in multi-ethnic Penang consisted of something we'd had umpteen times. Dim sum, the southern Chinese snacking meal-- a breakfast or brunch of small dishes, for example dumplings or filled buns.
When we lived in our first home in China, Foshan, we went out for dim sum several times a month. But the cha siu bao (barbecued pork buns), pai guat (steamed pork ribs) and hai gao (shrimp dumplings with transparent dough) were all better or at least on par with what we'd eaten in China proper. There was an added element to the flavors of the Mainland—a certain spicy sweetness that intensified as we sipped the licorice-infused Chinese tea.
Next, we were off to try Indian food.
At the Rosa Mutiara on Chiula St. we were coerced by very friendly wait staff into sitting down for some tandoori chicken. This is something on the menu of every Indian restaurant in the world, and we'd just had it a few months ago when we passed through K.L. However, this chicken was exactly the right balance between well-done and moist and the seasoning of the cheese naan bread and the mutton curry we ordered were also perfect.
Over our next few days in Penang we continued our adventures in eating rather than sightseeing.
When we weren't at the lunch table, we took in the Penang Hill train ride (and the candy-colored Hindu temple on top), visited the still-expanding Kek Lok Si Chinese temple in nearby Air Itam, and wandered the streets of Georgetown's Chinatown and Little India. We walked by the wharf where the Chinese immigrants had worked—were Dan's maternal forefathers among them?
But what lingers in the mind are the memories of sampling Colin and Marilyn's “green noodle” dish—chendul--at Penang's most famous chendul maker, in a little side street near the KOMTAR shopping complex, sipping fresh fruit juice in a night market, and queuing for our curries at the Line Clear side alley on Penang Street. We tried Hokkian Mee and Mee Curry, Char Koay Teow and searched high and low before finding an open outlet for Hainan Chicken rice.
Just when we realized we hadn't tried it all, it was time to leave on the early morning mini-bus for our next adventure—Krabi, Thailand.
**Click here to see photos of Penang!**