"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Given that, with my naturally exquisite sense of timing, I arrived in Penang the day before Chinese New Year where every shop, restaurant and hawker stall owned by that section of the community was about to close for two days, I still managed to have a great time on an island which proved an agreeable place to chill out after the chaos of KL

There is a lot to see with temples featuring the obligatory large statues of Buddha, Penang Hill, the first hill Station in the British Empire, with its breathtaking views and there are the beaches including Batu Ferengi where the road is dotted with hotels offering rooms for the same amount I paid for the flights for the whole part of this trip.

Above all, of course, there is the food.

Penang is known to Malaysians as “Hawker Heaven” because of the bewildering variety of street food on offer. Fortunately, on my first and last nights, they were in full effect before and after New Year and I got to eat my way around the night markets trying local specialities such as Char Koay Teow, Lobak and Assam Laksa while men in dragon outfits made children burst into tears. Not me, I deny that completely.

First, however, I had to go for a sling. The most famous hotel in Penang is The Eastern & Oriental which is the sister hotel to the more famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Like its sibling, it too has a version of The Sling and, unlike my last visit to The Long Bar where it was pre made and siphoned from a pump into my glass, here it was mixed fresh and served to me as I sank into the deep armchairs of The Farquhar Bar.

All very enjoyable and I could at least pretend I was staying there rather than at some £10 a night fleapit down the road where bed bugs took a reciprocal bite from me for every chomp of food I devoured on the streets.

When Chinese New Year hit, all was certainly not lost, I turned to the Malay and Indian stalls which remained resolutely open in the face of their countrymen’s celebrations.

I rapidly became addicted to Roti Canai for the breakfast of champions. Two roti, hot and flaky straight from the griddle with a spoonful or two of thin dahl fills you up a treat and sets you back about 20p if you go upscale.

Nasi Kandar is another treat with large mounds of rice being topped with everything from savoury curries of mutton, beef or fish heads, fried fish and seafood and a selection from any number of different roti including ones with egg, butter and sugar or pungent garlic.

The food from the stalls is fresh and cooked to order and, a huge bonus on a trip like this where I am spending my own dime, dirt cheap.

After three nights, I had done about all there was to do in Penang (well, for me anyway not being inclined to watch elephants paint or play with snakes) so I headed by to KL and my date in the kitchens of Chef Ismail.

More of that later, but I am certainly glad I made a side trip to “Hawker Heaven” I am also pretty certain to be craving those roti in the mornings when I am on the rest of the trip.

The last picture is just a rather fun addition to the "foreigners are funny? Discuss" collection


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