A Malaysian Lipsmacker

by Ant Stone on November 9, 2010

in Malaysia

I had planned to write a long, juicy, drawn-out post about the delicious food in Malaysia, and in particular, the food in George Town, Penang. Then I suffered acute Mini Syndrome*.

*Mini Syndrome is a curious affliction which happens when one drives a Mini. As a former Mini owner, I could only see Mini’s, when I was actually driving one. The same oddity has happened while riding motorbikes, driving lorries, and driving anything in the Australian Outback.

Symptoms include moronic waving, awkward eye contact, exaggerated smiles and the right to act as a complete and utter goof.

Returning to my original point; as soon as I sat down to write a post on Malaysian food, I realised the topic had already been covered. And more importantly, it had been covered by people who really know the subject well; rather than — like me — someone who had just sat down, and eaten.

“Look, no guidebook!”

Having left New Zealand in somewhat of a hurry, I was gloriously ill-informed about travel in Malaysia. I opted for the rebellious, “Look, no guidebook!” approach.

It’s in vogue, don’t you know?

I like to tell people it’s because I’m something of a groovy travel hipster. Truth is, I’d just paid £90 for three weeks’ worth of travel insurance, so I figured that paying another £15 to keep me out of trouble seemed an utter waste of time and money.

Nevertheless, I made the right decision.

Penang, Malaysia

Prior to my arrival in George Town — the World Heritage capital of Pulau Penang (pulau is Bahasa Malay for island) — I’d done a quick recce of numerous travel blogs and filled my notebook with some morsels of information to guide me in my hour of need.

I left my humble lodgings for a long walk and as planned, it culminated in the charming Kedai Kopi Sin Hwa* (Sin Hwa Coffee Shop) which I’d enthusiastically scribbled down during my research.

As was normal for me in Malaysia, I smiled at the chef (in the smaller cafés, the chef is usually found cooking at the front of the café, not least so that you can discern the house special) and ordered my food before taking a seat at the back of the open-fronted eatery.

There were ten tables covered in period world maps, and six weary ceiling fans tirelessly punching their blades through the air, delivering alternate wafts of pollution from the main road and spiced air from the wok.

Char Koay Teow in Penang

I’d ordered char koay teow, which is to Malaysians what a fry up is to we English. In a nutshell, it’s a little bit of everything: flat noodles, chives and bean sprouts, cockles, prawns and egg (optional), all fried together in a hot oil, soy and chilli paste. But somehow, it’s more than that.

A beautiful old lady took my drinks order via a comical series of kindly exchanges, and I settled back and watched a handful of lonesome diners elegantly flick noodles into their mouths.

Char Koay Teow in Penang

The char koay teow (above) was so good, I ordered the bihun goreng (below) with the same trimmings, and a delicious home made lo hong ko (bottom; I can only guess it’s a drink made from honey, or perhaps a fruit) on ice.

Fried Bihun Goreng

Home Made Lo Hong Ko

I was replete. Never had I been happier, than to just sit back and watch the world go by.

The Power of Food

A steady stream of locals schlepped along the road. Occasionally one would wander in and take a seat. It seemed an unspoken rule that they were having the char koay teow, and it seemed mandatory that it would be a trade of few words and solemn faces.

My own expression, was one of boyish contemplation. People began to look at me and smile. I suddenly became paranoid. Continuously wiping my chin for fear of a stray noodle, or slither of chive. I wondered why I had been suddenly revealed from my dark corder at the rear of the coffee shop.

And then it dawned on me.

Having cheerfully consumed the char koay teow, and bihun goreng I was in the throes of Mini Syndrome. Suddenly, I was engaged in awkward eye contact with a gaggle of lunchtime diners, and I strained out a series of exaggerated smiles to appease my paranoia.

***


Here’s a small selection of the many wonderful travel blogs which regularly cover the life and times, and excellent food throughout Malaysia, and beyond:

For more great travel blogs, swipe your cursor through the forests of my T-Bag Travel Blog Directory.


*Kedai Kopi Sin Hwa is located at approximately 328 Jalan Burma (Burma Road), George Town, Penang.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine November 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I completely support the no guidebook approach! Glad to see it’s worked out well for you. The food looks incredible!

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Ant Stone November 9, 2010 at 2:28 pm

The food in Malaysia is delicious. Sometimes, it pays to be in the know, but mostly you can’t go wrong. I tend to use a guidebook if I’m in a large country, and staying a while; India, China, Australia.

But if the country is relatively small, and popular, like Malaysia, then the travel aspect practically takes care of itself.

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ciki/agentcikay November 9, 2010 at 2:31 pm

thanks for pimping us! i must say the CKT looks AWESOME! :D

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Ant Stone November 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Scoff some next time you’re in Penang, you will not be disappointed. Any idea what the Lo Hong Ko is?

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My Kafkaesque life November 9, 2010 at 5:33 pm

I used to live in Penang and it’s truly a food paradise for me. So far only Taiwan tops Malaysia, when it comes to food. Thanks for sharing, brought back fond memories to me.

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Ant Stone November 9, 2010 at 6:05 pm

I can see the appeal of living in Penang. I found it a really easy place to lose a day, and find a friendly face. The food is indubitably its most famous draw card, but many people don’t realise it’s also a beautiful and bustly place.

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Matt November 10, 2010 at 1:24 am

Sounds and looks delicious. Hands down the highlight of my trip to SE Asia thus far has been the food; my best memories up until now have been wandering the streets of BKK, finding a food stall cooking up some unamed to me yet delicious smelling food, and asking for ‘one please.’

I’m a big LP Guide Book fan — I really enjoy getting a background and overview on the countries, regions, or towns I’m traveling too. Like you though, I’m going at Thailand (and Bali) solo. I’d be lying if I said I didnt miss it immensely, but with the help of Twitter, an occasional browse of WikiTravel (great free resource), and of course many of the blogs in the T-Bag directory, I’m getting on okay.

The only point I really *wish* I would have had the book was when looking for guesthouses in Bali. LP has done the dirty work and scoped out the best of the best – and when there are literally dozens in some towns ranging fowl to exceptional (all within the same aprox. price range), it’s great to have that dirty work done and sorted.

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Ant Stone November 10, 2010 at 11:19 am

“One more, please!” The food is a treat in Asia, I can’t remember one country where I was disappointed. Perhaps Nepal, where I was constantly swelled with daal bhat.

I agree with the LP (other guide books are available) point of view. It can help you get straight to the point. If you haven’t got one for Thailand etc. I dare say you’ve borrowed one off other travellers, if only for cursory glance?

I didn’t have one for Bali either, but I knew quite a lot of people there before I arrived because I was already travelling through Indo’ etc. If you’re ever back in Ubud, I liked the Wayan Family Guesthouse on Hanuman Street. Great value, and friendly.

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Arturo September 12, 2014 at 11:35 am

Oh sorry, to add to my comment above.. I think due to one of my deeeltd comments, to clarify more..This is indeed longan, but called mata kuching by locals due to the similarity to the real local variety.. In KL, u can see many Malay street vendors selling air mata kucing, which is actually dried longan infusion. The chinese dried longans :) So, u see, the local name for longans is mata kuching, altho from pomiculture point of view, mata kuching is longan, but longan is not mata kuching.A tiger is a cat, but a cat is not a tiger.Grrr… I’m being so long winded, but I just get long winded when issues like this come by, just like bayam and spinach issue. Or taro with yam.

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Hishgee February 22, 2015 at 4:30 am

Hi hdoong –Thanks for your mesasge and do let’s keep in touch even though we’re no longer in the same country. :) Hi Swifty –I’m busy, busy, busy over here in Hong Kong. But don’t worry, have managed to have some fun here already too. Also, yes, I really would like to highly recommend it as a place to visit. :) Hi Alejna –Thanks for thinking of me. Hope you enjoy reading my latest blog entry that I just finished writing and putting up! :) Hi leo86 –Got a new entry up. As for photos: Sorry, but you’ll have to wait a bit more for those. Have been too busy running around to actually pause and take photos! A bit sad, really, since there actually have been quite a few days since I arrived where clear blue skies actually can be seen over here in Hong Kong! :) Hi anonymous –Thanks and yeah, I too hope that it turns out to be even better than I imagine! ;bHi Kit –Yeah, Hong Kong is really hectic, etc. Something else worth mentioning is that Hong Kong is the kind of place where one is very much inclined to spend time outside of, rather than in, one’s abode. So for many reasons, I have to admit that the blog won’t be as regularly updated while I’m in Hong Kong as it was when I was in Penang. Nonetheless, hope that there’ll be enough updates to make people want to keep on visiting and re-visiting… :)

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Brooke vs. the World November 10, 2010 at 2:46 am

Malaysia in May! I’ can’t wait to eat eat eat while there ;) Your post is making me hungry.

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Ant Stone November 10, 2010 at 11:13 am

You’ll love it, Brooke. CKT is just the tip of the iceberg with regards Malaysian food.

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Zablon Mukuba November 10, 2010 at 5:40 pm

the food was so good that you got a bout of “Mini Syndrome” i should try that food out

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Ant Stone November 11, 2010 at 1:23 pm

You should, Zablon. In my opinion, Malaysian cuisine is some of the world’s best.

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Monica September 12, 2014 at 5:14 am

Hi lechua,Yes it is. Everything are aatlculy from the TripAdvisor’s TripWow template. Mine is just the photos and descriptions. TripAdvisor just launched the version 2 of TripWow Slideshow tool, which has more interesting templates and sounds.. check it out at their website

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Matt | YearAroundTheWorld November 11, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Those noodles look fantastic, and filling.

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nateniale January 2, 2011 at 9:33 am

Hi! Just stumbled upon your blog and I love the way you write. Glad to see that you made your way to Penang and loving the Char Koay Teow. Hope you’re trying all the other amazing food that Penang has to offer! Yes, you guessed it. I’m a Penangite and proud of it! =)

The drink that you had is pronounced as “luo han guo” in Mandarin. It’s a form of fruit. It taste good and it’s supposed to be good for you. Apparently the scientific name is Siraitia grosvenorii (or so wikipedia tells me – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siraitia_grosvenorii).

Hope to hear more about your travel in Penang, and love that secret shot!

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Ant Stone January 2, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Thank you for such a wonderfully warm comment, Nateniale. I had a wonderful time in Penang, and I’m sure it’s somewhere I’ll return to over the years. Terima kasih.

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Bluegreen Kirk March 11, 2011 at 5:08 pm

The food looks incredible Ant! Was it spicy at all and Im glad you got over your mini syndrome.

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