elb's hovel of thoughts

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Penang Food - Still Worth The Journey?

As mentioned previously, I made a trip to the Pearl of The Orient a few days ago with the primary intention of sampling the food for which it is well known. After three days there, I left with mixed feelings.

Char kway teow: Argubly Penang's most well-known food export. Sampled this twice: at the hawker stalls along Gurney Drive, and at the acclaimed Sister's CKT along Jalan Burmah (if I remembered that correctly!). Dish made out of frying flat rice noodles along with: garlic, oil, chilli paste, cockles, shrimp, bean sprouts, spring onions, soy sauce. The sister's version came with an interesting twist: it came topped with some crab meat.

Gurney Drive: Typical CKT. Noodles were slightly burnt (gives some flavour), and reminded me of what I could get in hawker stalls around KL. 6/10
Sister's : Disappointment. For some reason they did not add any cockles, an essential flavour-imparting ingredient. Not much flavour at all, only saving grace were the fresh prawns, and not-so-fresh crab meat (which I've never seen before elsewhere). 4/10

Ma Zhi (also called mua che, et cetera depending on Chinese dialect and hanyi pinyin)
Sampled two: at Gurney Drive and near Kek Lok Si (some Chinese temple). Consists of some sticky flour thingy (correct me if I'm wrong) that is chopped into small bite sized pieces and rolled around in a crushed peanut-sesame mix.

Verdict: Both were excellent. The ma zhi was super smooth and was really melt-in-your-mouth. Addition of fried shallots is an ingenious Penang twist. Gurney Drive 9/10, Kek Lok Si 8/10

Penang Laksa: One of the many variants of Laksa. Had it nearby the Kek Lok Si. Cheap at RM2 for a bowl.

Verdict: Disappointment. The laksa was watered down; otherwise it would have been good. 4/10 (Sidenote: the sugar cane juice that they sell here is disappointing too)

Ice kacang: Consists of ice shavings that are flavoured by a combination of rose syrup and palm sugar, as well as various condiments such as red beans, cendol (some green flour thingajigs), sweetcorn, jelly et cetera. Had the one at Swatow Lane. Initially got confused because there were two stalls selling ice kacang there: along the roadside with makeshift tables, and in a proper side store. Went with instincts which pointed to the road, and talking with some locals confirmed that my instincts were right :)

Verdict: Wrong order. Had actually ordered the normal ice kacang with some banana, but the fella gave to us a fruit one. Nothing much, just the ice with rose syrup, some banana and a couple of other fruits. In no position to rate this simply because I think that was the first time I had ice kacang with fruits only.

Seafood: Had both dinners at Fisherman Village (also called End of the World[why, dunno]). Sampled 5 dishes, including dried chilli fried mantis prawns, garlic baked oysters, lobster thermidor, crabs with beehoon and oat fried soft shell crabs.

Verdict: mantis prawns were okay, they are chewier (i.e. not deep fried as long) as compared with those I'm accustomed to at Klang. Still not as good as Klang. 5/10.
The oysters were a bit small and were difficult to remove from their shell. The garlic was not well cooked. 6/10.
The lobster was fantastic, the cheese was fantastic, unfortunately too much cheese makes you sick. 8/10.
The crabs came with plenty of roe, unfortunately the eggs were overcooked. I didn't feel like tackling the noodles after a couple of spoonfuls. Noodles 3/10, Crabs 6/10.
The soft shell crabs were oily and when you bit into them, you could just feel the oil oozing out. Bad bad. 4/10

Nasi Kandar: Ate this twice, at Kayu Nasi Kandar along Penang Road and at Kamil Mustafa (took away on the way back), along Chulia Way.

Verdict: The nasi kunyit (6/10) and nasi biriyani (8/10) were not too bad.
The mutton curry is cooked differently from KL, the curry is more of that what one would expect of a light chicken curry 5/10.
Ayam negro (3/10 Kayu, 9/10 Kamil Mustafa) was something I had never come across before. Fried(?) chicken which is then mixed with a thick black sauce (hence negro). Kayu's version was rather bland, it tasted more like really thick dark soya sauce than anything else. KM's version was on the other hand, more flavourful and exciting.

Loh bak: Consists of a variety of deep fried food which is cut up and served in a sauce. Only had the one with the char-siew inside. Had two; one at Gurney Drive and at the store with the Sister's CKT.

Verdict: The one at Gurney Drive was disappointing. It looked bad and had the consistency one would expect more of fishballs. 2/10. The other one was superb on the other hand. 9/10

Other ratings:
Leng Chee Kang 3/10 (only came with gingko nuts and the longan fruit).
Chicken feet with mushroom 5/10
Otak-otak (steamed fish with spicy paste): 5/10
Longan drink 7/10

Conclusion: Food in KL is just as good, or if not, better than Penang. Perhaps the migration of good Penangite cooks to KL has a major role in that. And I need to diet.


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