Here is a true thing about me. The more excited I am to eat the plate of food in front of me, the less likely I am to stop and take a picture of it.
That's just wasting time.
This rule of thumb held true during my weekend in Penang.
Foodies in the know are well aware of this city's reputation for street food. And while I love food from every corner of Malaysia, I must admit the food scene in Penang boggled my mind.
Here, with just a few photos but plenty of happy memories, are a few points of interest from my stomach's adventures in delicious Penang.
^ Everyone told me to try the rojak in Penang, but no one mentioned that it's a DIY dish. A rojak stall has a bounty of fried finger foods on display, with self-serve platters and tongs available. The diner then selects an assortment of goodies and passes the plate back to the server.
Okay, so far, so good. Here is a shot of Yuli holding the platter that I just helped her fill.
Now, behind the scenes, something amazing happens. The preselected tidbits are sliced into bite-size pieces, and returned to the plate. Then, steamed vegetables and mass quantities of spicy red sauce are ladled over the top, and with a few forks tucked gently into the heap, the groaning platter is delivered to the table.
I was blown away by the messy, complex goodness. I can't think of anything in the multicultural mash-up of American gastronomy that comes close to this concoction, except for maybe In-N-Out's animal style french fries.
^ True confession. I don't eat Kentucky Fried Chicken. I have nothing against this all-American food; its just not my jam. But in Asia, and specifically Malaysia, KFC is an honored and highly popular restaurant.
One evening, as we were driving here and there, Yuli pointed out to me this particular store, which has transformed this old colonial-era building into a fast food joint. I'm still wondering exactly what this phenomenon has to say about Penang's love affair with food, but I'm pretty sure it's an interesting statement.
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But as luck would have it, I managed to capture several shots of my favorite food experience of the weekend: Nasi kandar at Line Center.
^ As soon as we walked into the shop - or rather the canopy-covered alley that served as a shop - I knew I was in over my head. A dizzying array of meats, veggies, sauces - all served on the ever-present nasi (rice) - overwhelmed me and I quickly begged Yuli to just order for me whatever she was having.
She kindly agreed so I stood nearby and took in my surroundings.
The joint was jumping.
A steady stream of people poured in off the street, and pushed through the front of the shop, which was actually the kitchen. Huge pots of food bubbled and boiled to the right and left; sweaty men wiped their brows and stared. Okay. Interesting.
^ Next came the service area, shown above, where patrons shouted out their orders and no-nonsense middle-aged men heaped their plates accordingly. This was no place for a novice, and I gratefully kept out of the way.
^ I turned in my spot, and beyond lay the dining room. If that's what you can call a covered alley adjacent to a series of stand-alone tarps and screens to keep out the unrelenting equatorial sun. Compared to most other Asian street shops, though, Line Clear was neat and clean, and incredibly efficiently run. We found a table, and I took a good first look at my plate.
Now I'm not exactly sure what makes Nasi kandar unique in the crowded landscape of Malaysian chicken and rice dishes. But the spices on that meat and the tangy goodness of the accompanying red sauce were absolutely to die for. Certainly, the veggies and underlying nasi added satisfying texture, but the tangy zip of those spices stands out in my memory as the best meal of my weekend.
And I'm just gonna say, there is nothing like a can of icy cold Coke to wash down such a fiery feast. Pure heaven.
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My Nasi kandar was definitely the most delicious plate of food in Penang, but the most surprising gustatory experience took place elsewhere. On Sunday morning, after a hearty breakfast of good old Nasi lemak, Yuli told me that across the street stood a very popular bakery, famous for its bread known as Roti benggali.
^ Well. I was not about to leave any food stones unturned, so we headed across the street to buy a loaf. I had no idea what this exotic-sounding bread might look or taste like, but I enthusiastically prepared myself for some strange tropical twists.
Which just goes to show that when you're in the foodie paradise of Penang, Malaysia, you never know what you might find.
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I spent a weekend in Penang, Malaysia and lived to tell the tale. Read the full story here: