Saturday, October 20, 2012

Penang Food Trails - Five Years on

My extended family decided to make a group visit to Penang - to meet up with relatives there, and of course to fill up on gorgeous hawker food!  Since the last time I went down was some five years ago, thought it was high time for me to join in.  Indeed, there have been changes in Penang since my last visit.  New shopping malls (First Avenue), nice new pavements down Penang Road, that sort of thing.  But thankfully, the variety and quality of the street food is as memorable as ever.

The good thing about meeting up with Penang natives is that they always know where the best food is and can take you there. I had a really good time during my last visit to Penang but most of the eateries were near or off Penang Road, with one trip down to Guerney Drive (see my previous post).  This time round, we really were able to explore more parts of the island...  Read on for the yummy details:

1.  New Lane coffee shop, off MacAlister Street

Batu Maung Satay
- no peanut sauce required
Our first stop, after we got out of the hotel.  We had a real feast, with traditional favourites like Penang Kway Teow, Poh Piah, Dumpling soup etc. And more familiar dishes, but with a twist only seen in Penang - like Batu Maung Satay (the meat has been really steeped in a tangy marinade and beautifully grillled so that it retains the moisture  and flavour inside) and Char Kuay Kak (Chai Tow Kuay with prawns and squid).  I also had a nourishing bowlful  of itek mee sua - duck meat in a herbal soup and mee sua.  For the first time, I also had a ambola or kedongdong drink with a little sim boay floating in it.  The sharp sour flavour really complemented the savoury food well. 

2. Lorong Kucing coffee shop

Sinful goodness - Roti Babi
My cousin, after her last family trip to Penang, came back raving about the Roti Babi here.  For the uninitiated, Roti Babi is indeed a mouthful of sinful (cholesterol and fat-laden) goodness.  But heck, it's once every few years!  Take two thick pieces of bread, stuff the minced pork filling in between, cover in breadcrumbs and deep fry.  Since we had about 10 people, we ordered something like 5 plates of the roti babi and much more besides, including appom telor, curry mee, more char kway teow and poh piah, wan tan mee etc etc.  We probably over-ordered and over-ate.  But again, who is counting the calories! 

3. Batu Lancang Hawker Centre

We made another stop at Batu Lancang Hawker centre, near my aunties' home.  Here, the dish to try is the pasembur,  an Indian rojak prepared Chinese-style.  Confusing?  It's just Asian fusion food.  Crispy crackers, potatoes, fritters, tau kwa and cucumber, topped with a sauce made of sweet potato and strips of cuttle fish. This large hawker centre is also apparently where another cousin's favourite Penang Kway Teow is (he eats three plates at one sitting).  And yes, I did have a plateful of this tasty dish.  Whilst it's not durian season, we also bought a few trays' worth from the nearby market.

4. Malay Street Coffee Shop 

Mee Sua Kor
This coffee shop, at the corner of Malay Street and Carnavaron Road has a whole range of yummy goodies. For the first time, I tried mee sua kor, mee sua in a thick gravy with strips of crab meat and other meats.  I'd never heard of it before but I really hope to be able to find its like in Singapore.  It was here also that I had my first serving of prawn mee soup on this trip - somehow, a good prawn mee is harder to find than the ubiquitous Penang Kway Teow.  Lots of Oommph.  My Penang uncle said that there was a better prawn mee down the street.  But I really was not complaining.  We slurped it down in double-quick time. Another great dish to try here is the Ngor Hiang/Lor Bak - succulent, flavourful meats.

5.  Penang Road (again)

Keng Pin's Ngor Hiang 
Well, back to Penang Road.  Old favourites such as the Penang Laksa and chendol at Lebuh Keng Kwee, and the Ngor Hiang and prawn fritters (my personal fave) at Keng Pin coffee shop up the street were still there.  My family savoured a pig organ soup in Ho Ping coffee shop too.  It's not for nothing that our hotel was on this street!

What was my total food tally?  Bear in mind that this list covers only what I personally ate/sampled (over the course of about three days), and figures in brackets refer to the stalls I went to:

Penang Kway teow (4)
Roti Babi (1)
Itek with mee sua (1)
Chendol (2)
Durian (1)
Lor bak/ngor hiang(3)
Yam/split green bean fritters (1); 
Dumpling soup (1)
Kuen kosui (1)
Mee Sua Kor (1)
Satay - Normal (1)
Satay - Batu Maung (1)
Offal Soup (1)
Porridge (offal) (1)
Zi char veggies (1)
Assam laksa (1) 
Prawn Mee (1)
Char Kuay Kak (1)
Smoked Chicken Waffle (1)
Nasi lemak (1) - at airport!

Will put up more photos on Flickr page when ready.  In the meantime, drool away...

(Update: Photos up here!)   

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Penang Peranakan Mansion - the Splendour of Days Gone By

I visited Penang two weeks ago and for the first time, visited the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.  Now, I have visited old Peranakan house museums before, but these were the traditional  courtyard houses.  Never before have I visited a true Peranakan mansion.  And I must say, it was indeed magnificent!

The Entrance Courtyard
The Penang Peranakan Mansion is the former home, it is said, of Chung Keng Kwee, a wealthy merchant or "Kapitan". Whilst not a Baba himself, he decorated his home in the lavish style of the wealthy Babas and Nonyas of the time.  Whilst the house fell at one point into disuse, it has now been restored and turned into a beautiful museum.  I don't intend to go into detail on the history of the mansion - for that, this website has quite a comprehensive write-up.  rather, I will just give some highlights of my own visit there.

We entered the mansion into a large, bright courtyard.  To the left, the main reception room; to the right, the dining room.  The grand staircase to the upper floors was right in front.  In the corners, there were a number of reception rooms, some probably for family use and others for formal receptions.  Many had family portraits staring down from the walls.  Beautiful statues, elaborate ornaments decorated the rooms - many European in origin, all the better to display the wealth of the homeowner.

The Long Table
I loved the dining area, with the long tok panjang running the length of the room.  Mirrors on the left and right walls of the dining room would allow someone sitting at the head of the table a view of the front door, and also staircase - a powerful position indeed. My aunt whispered to me that in the old days, the old Baba or Nonya would sit there to keep an eye on the family - to see if they could catch anyone doing anything funny!  On festive occasions, the table would be laden with dish after dish of yummy nonya goodies. Family members, starting with the oldest and most senior, would take turns to eat.  Whenever the food ran low, someone from the kitchen would come and top it up.  Such meals would be called "tok panjang", after the long table where the family comes together to eat.

[There is a kitchen at the back of the house,  but it was apparently closed  during the time of our visit for some function.  A pity - I like looking at old cooking implements!]

Kasut Manek tops
Around the house, there are a number of rooms housing collections of Peranakan items - beaded shoes and bags, kebayas, porcelain, jewellery and glass epergnes (there is one in the middle of the table above - it consists of a long vase, with smaller vases suspended from it, and baskets at the bottom to contain fruit.  As an aspiring kasut manek maker, I was of course very happy to see the many beaded shoes in the museum.  Despite their age, these shoes retain their vivid colours and intricate patterns.

The upper floor of the mansion is reserved for the family- their bedrooms, sewing room, etc.  Here, the decorations were simpler, and included (besides the collections) items which reflect the family's daily life.

Peranakan Wedding Bed
Of course, one of the exhibits which I paid extra attention to was the beautifully carved wedding bed, with its embroidered, brightly coloured hangings.  After all, was not family pride at stake?  Of course, it helped tremendously that I could look at this bed up close, without some perspex barrier keeping me away.  Having said that, my memory of my great-grandmother's bed was not that clear.  We had to flip through a book in the little souvenir shop downstairs to pick up the key difference -that my great-grandmother's bed had more open sides whilst this bed was more enclosed.

The glory days of the Peranakans are long over, living only in the memories of the older generations of Babas and Nonyas.  But in this glorious old mansion, with its store of antiques, we can catch a glimpse of those days gone by.

Additional photos here.


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