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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Little India, monkeys and the hunt for durian - Penang, Malaysia

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.

Kassim Mustafa

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.


Fried chicken

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.

Dosai telur

I order the dosai telur for breakfast, a thin crispy crepe cooked with a fried egg in the middle.

Roti telur

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

Squid eggs

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

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.

Flower garlands

Little India

Indian butcher

Han Jiang Teochew Ancestral Temple

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.

Dilapidated laneway

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.

Monkeys at Penang Hill, Botanic Gardens

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 pleasures pain of the Malaysian pebble path, a self-inflicted torture of walking barefoot over jutting pebbles set into cement that is supposed to stimulate pressure points in the feet. The only pressure point I found was ow!

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

Teksen Restaurant

Teksen Restaurant

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.

Soy bean milk

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.

Char kway teow RM3.50 (about AU$1.25)

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.

Nasi lemak

Fresh durian


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.

Fresh durian

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.


Trumpet shells

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!

Assam laksa

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

Chicken skin

> Read the next Malaysia 2010 post (Phuket, Thailand)

View Larger Map

12 Lebuh Chulia, 10200 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 (04) 263 4592
Open 7 days, 24 hours

Teksen Restaurant
Ground floor of No. 18 and 20
Carnavaron Street, Georgetwon, 10100 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 (12) 493 9424
Opening hours: 12pm-2.30pm and 6pm-9pm (closed Tuesdays)

Joo Hooi Cafe
475 Jalan Penang, Penang, Malaysia

Gurney Drive Food Court
Gurney Drive (Persiaran Gurney near the roundabout at Jalan Bagan Jermal), Penang, Malaysia
Open 7 days 6pm til late

> Read the next Malaysia 2010 post (Phuket, Thailand)
27 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/18/2011 01:16:00 am


  • At 1/18/2011 3:45 am, Anonymous yewenyi said…

    The Bitter melon, okra and chillies stuffed with fish paste is a surprisingly good and simple dish. I am sure that the durein stall was tied to some very sturdy looking growths of Bamboo.

  • At 1/18/2011 4:02 am, Anonymous foodie and the chef said…

    Oh the food from Little India looks incredible... I love love love durian too - great post :)

  • At 1/18/2011 5:23 am, Anonymous carol said…

    cockles is something rare to be found in australia...

  • At 1/18/2011 7:27 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Fried chicken at breakfast? And look at those tubs of fried chicken skin! *Drool*

  • At 1/18/2011 8:09 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    I am with you on the waking up to roti - what could be better!

  • At 1/18/2011 9:06 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    LOL I'd forgotten how rickety that platform was... I feared for my life as we sucked down on that bitter bitter duran!

  • At 1/18/2011 9:10 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    tell me you got the chicken skin!! and rofl roti pillow!

  • At 1/18/2011 9:24 am, Anonymous Julia said…

    I love the opening phrase of this post! If only I could have roti for breakfast every day here in Sydney I would be the happier person in the world!
    I'm just back from Malaysia and I recognized many things from this post, it was fun reading it!

  • At 1/18/2011 9:31 am, Anonymous thang@noodlies said…

    I love roti and always try to find a local version whenever we go to Asia... seems like there's one just about everywhere from Laos, Cambodia to (of course) Bangkok.

    And the dosai look really delicious too.

  • At 1/18/2011 9:58 am, Blogger shaz said…

    Another fantastic read Helen! I recognised Kassim Mustafa, yay! Penang is one of our favourite holiday destinations. Those monkeys are pretty feral, they steal stuff (even cameras!) off tourists all the time. One of my most enduring memories is of my brother and I screaming in terror and fleeing from a very aggressive monkey (we were just kids at the time).

    I LOVE gurney drive and hawker food - can't remember if I've been to the new one though. Oh I miss cockles. Thanks for making me smile this morning :)

  • At 1/18/2011 11:42 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    I'd crawl into bed with a warm pillow of roti any day! And that breakfast spread ... I'm lost for words! Wish I was there!

  • At 1/18/2011 11:56 am, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    So. Much. Food..... "Never enough" I hear you say! lol

    Well done guys with your epic feasting. That's such an interesting way to open up a durian, never seen that before! So did the squid eggs have something inside like yolk or something..

  • At 1/18/2011 12:07 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Helen, O Wise One, would it be worth buying one of the durians from Woolworths to try it? Or would the flavour be bad and lacklustre, and I'd be better off hanging out for the real (fresh) deal in the future?

    Also... I want that kangkong, teh tarik, and roti pisang. Sweets and vegies - yep! :)

  • At 1/18/2011 12:21 pm, Blogger Shanks said…

    Wow so much food and so cheap!! Were the trumpet shells worth the effort?

  • At 1/18/2011 1:29 pm, Anonymous pigflyin said…

    yummmmy! squid eggs! that's something new and sounded like a great textural element in a curry. Bitter gourd with salted duck egg what a great idea! have to try it next time I got some bitter gourd on hand.

    Too bad Aasam laksa wasn't up to standard...with all these hot and humid weather in Sydney + afternoon rain storms, we might as well be living in Penang and eating Durian :)

  • At 1/18/2011 2:51 pm, Blogger Mel said…

    Monkey's freak me out...but Roti for breakfast sure wouldn't! Great post - the photos are really amazing.

  • At 1/18/2011 4:53 pm, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Helen! I was in Penang not 2 days ago, Khoo Kongsi and all! And I'm missing roti already... Superb photos as always <3

  • At 1/18/2011 6:30 pm, Blogger Maria said…

    This post made me crave for durian ice cream!

  • At 1/18/2011 7:54 pm, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Oh Roti! Mmm could do with some right now... and I am back into old habits again reading food blogs on an empty stomach! No matter what I don't think I'll ever come to accept the pungent smell of a durian =p Wouldn't touch it with a 6 foot pole! And you've just reminded me it's been a long long time since I've had cockles! Hmm will have to get my hands on some.

  • At 1/18/2011 8:43 pm, Anonymous Cherry said…

    everything seems so tasty, from their restaurant food to their street foods. I like the spicy taste of Malaysian cuisines and their flowers are beautiful as well. Oh I wanna be in Malaysia someday!

  • At 1/18/2011 10:12 pm, Blogger onita said…

    Your food adventures look amazing !
    I have been inspired to create my own food blog recently, just to capture all the wonderful food that the world has to offer.
    Keep up the good work Helen xox*


  • At 1/19/2011 3:51 am, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    Disappointed with the recommendation I'd ready about for the twice cooked pork. The stingray more than made up for it though.

    That reminds me, I should get back to my Malaysia posts. So far behind...

  • At 1/19/2011 3:41 pm, Blogger Miss Vodka said…

    It all looks so great. Great post :)

  • At 1/19/2011 5:59 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    They SOOO should add "roti" to the pillow menus in hotels! Mmmmmm wake up with a buttery head but a tasty pillow

  • At 1/19/2011 8:39 pm, Anonymous Jackie at Phamfatale.com said…

    Yum! Durian... it smells so good to me!!! :P

  • At 1/19/2011 9:02 pm, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    I want to know more about the chicken skin!

  • At 1/22/2011 11:35 pm, Blogger thanh7580 said…

    Looking at all that delicious food is making me reminisce about my trip to Malaysia. I love that durian cracking device.

    What types of durians did you end up trying out? I love that super smelly King durian, or the RM something durian.


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