Breakfast. If only I could wake up every morning with my head resting on a roti pillow.
After a mammoth day of feasting in Penang, we awoke determined to exercise a little more restraint with our appetites.
Wait, who am I kidding. We ate ourselves stupid. Yet again.
For breakfast we drove to Little India, a small but bustling area in the city of Georgetown, Penang.
Inside Kassim Mustafa
Kassim Mustafa is open twenty-four hours, and the metal chairs and laminate tables have a touch of the Aussie green and gold about them.
Flipping the roti dough
Regardless of the hour of the day, it's always a good time for roti. The man at the roti station flips and stretches pats of dough into whisper-thin sheets you could read a newspaper through.
Teh tarik frothed tea
We wake up with glass mugs of teh tarik, the strong brewed tea sweetened with condensed milk and frothed by pouring from one jug to another.
I order the dosai telur for breakfast, a thin crispy crepe cooked with a fried egg in the middle.
Roti telur is a flakier version, layers of soft roti wrapped around a fried egg and served with curry sauce.
Fried chicken with curry, squid eggs, vegetables and rice
We share a number of dishes between us. The fried chicken is a particular winner but the squid eggs were a surprise discovery - a dish that Minh and I had pointed at blindly in the display window when ordering our meal.
Squid eggs in the display
The squid eggs have a soft yielding mushiness about them, enclosed in a thin casing of taut skin. Apart from a mild creaminess, they don't have much flavour to them, benefiting instead from the curry sauce in which they're bathed, sweetened with slices of caramelised onion.
Roti pisang is perfect for breakfast sweet tooths, the layers of flaky roti hiding a core of sweet banana slices.
Making flower garlands
We wander the streets of Little India, still quiet at 9am, but there are rumblings of activity as the shops begin to open around us.
Han Jiang Teochew Ancestral Temple
In the middle of Chulia Street, we find the Han Jiang Teochew Ancestral Temple, completed in 1870 by a group of Teochew immigrants to Malaysia. After falling into disrepair, it was restored to its former glory in 2005 after a three-year project that involved significant research, meticulous attention to detail, and the sourcing of skilled craftsmen from China.
Khoo Kongsi Temple
Nearby, in Cannon Square, we visit Khoo Kongsi, one of the most spectacular Chinese clan temples in Malaysia. Located in the oldest part of Georgetown, Khoo Kongsi was built by the Khoo family ancestors who came arrived in Penang from South China.
Elaborate carvings and excesses of gold abound. Today the temple is used to stage Chinese operas during the seventh lunar month, or to host weddings for the lucky few. The temple was also featured in scenes from the 1999 film Anna and King starring Jodie Foster, Chow Yun Fat and Bai Ling.
Beware of the monkeys
We did do some exercise, and by that I mean we took a brief stroll around the Botanic Gardens of Penang. Later we found exercise equipment that looked like lots of fun until humidity made its presence known. Billy also introduced us to the
Much more exciting was Penang Hill, where we squealed like school girls at the sight of the wild monkeys running rampant through the trees, along the path, and sometimes towards our car.
Mother monkey with baby
We stop for lunch at Teksen Restaurant, specialising in Teowchew cuisine.
Barley drink and herbal jelly drink
Kangkong water spinach with belacan RM10 (about AU$3.60)
We relish squeaky tubes of kangkong water spinach stir-fried with fiery belacan chilli paste and plump curls of prawn.
Twice cooked pork RM12 (about AU$4.30)
Twice cooked pork is a tad too sweet in its thick black soy sauce, but the strips of roast pork come with little caps of crackling that are irresistible.
Sting ray curry RM26 (about AU$9.30)
The sting ray curry is an unexpected highlight, a deep bowl filled with tender pieces that are delicate and sweet, bathed in a thick and spicy curry.
Bitter gourd with salted duck egg RM10 (about AU$3.60)
Bitter gourd or bitter melon is the perfect palate cleanser, crunchy slivers of green with a faint bitterness that is muted by silky tendrils of salted duck egg.
Lunch? What lunch?
Less than half an hour after leaving lunch, we magically find ourselves at Joo Hooi Cafe, initially drawn by the allure of cendol from the Penang Road Famous Cendol cart. Next door, however, is a wok-tossing fiend serving up char kway teow.
Making char kway teow
We take a seat inside an old-fashioned Hong Kong-style diner, lined with narrow wooden booths and pale blue walls with peeling paint.
We've taken only a few sips of our chilled soy bean milk before our char kway teow is delivered to the table, a tumble of slippery rice noodles, prawns, omelette, garlic chives, onion and fat bean sprouts cooked to a deliciously smoky and charred crisp.
We had really hoped to find a durian farm and pile back into the car to head up relentless hills in search of one. Eventually we concede that the nearest we will get to farm fresh durian are the roadside stalls nearby.
The eager saleswoman calls us over with a smile and motions for us to take a seat on the wooden platform. I cannot tell you the trepidation I felt as I stepped onto the rickety platform erected on the side of the road. Where the hill naturally fell away to bush below, the industrious stall owner had tied together planks of wood to create a jutting ledge, creaky in parts, and supported by a tangle of thick ropes that I fervently hoped would hold our weight.
A customised durian opener in action
Splitting open the durian
We demolish the first durian in no time, plucking the ripe segments from its casing and savouring its heady floral aroma.
Between the five of us, we feast on three durians in total - not as ripe as we would've hoped as it is not peak season - but the durian monster inside me is sated, temporarily anyway.
Gurney Drive Food Court
New Gurney Drive Food Court
We end up having a late dinner at Gurney Drive Food Court. The weather is clear and fine, and we find almost all stalls open and doing a brisk trade.
Skewers on the charcoal barbecue
The hiss and sizzle of meat on barbecues, the cajoling of stall holders, and a blanket of smoke is enough to get our appetites going again.
Cooked trumpet shells
We gather an assortment of dishes from various stalls to share, a mixed bag that includes claypot chicken rice, rojak, fried fish, cockles and trumpet shells. The trumpet shells are finicky beasts, requiring skill and dexterity to remove the curled sliver of meat from inside. I have a success rate of about 50%, somehow pushing the meat into the shell with my toothpick, instead of pulling it out!
And of course I have to have assam laksa. Alas this one is disappointingly watery and bland, lacking the mackerel fishiness and strong flavours of tamarind, pineapple and mint.
On the other hand, we are surrounded by mountains of food, and all of it going for cheap. We couldn't be happier.
Bitter melon, okra and chillies stuffed with fish paste
Chicken feet skewers
Luk luk cook-your-own skewers
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1/18/2011 01:16:00 am