Malaysian Bacon

by Ant Stone on October 21, 2010

in Malaysia

What’s this? Pork? Bacon? From pig? Oink, oink, grrrunt grunt. Curly tail, a bit fat, snuffle snuffle? Bit of a stumpy waddle?

A quick-fire combination of my porcine charades and foolish mutterings drew me from George Town’s back streets, into the aromatic heat of my hesitant new friend’s kitchen.

I could wring out a story of a friendship formed from too few words and rendered with smiles and laughter, but I value my readership too much to string you along with drivel.

Bacon.That was the basis of this tasty conversation.

I say bacon, but it is best described as rolled pork. It was a surprising encounter with numerous large discs of pinkish-brown meat, obviously left to dry in the midday sun, which made me pause for a while. I switched on my travel blogger radar, and instantly thought, “My readers will bloody love this!”

I took a few shots, then followed a middle-aged man into a darkened room where he introduced me to a handful of staff. (I say introduced me, it was more like he stood me in the middle of the room so that I — an uncontrollably sweaty and alarmingly pale backpacker — became impossibly hard to ignore.)

Mmmm, Bacon

The room was lit by a shaft of bright sunlight, which wove together the smoke of the griddle and the steam rising from a pot of boiling broth. An elderly lady silently flicked a blade through a mound of green vegetables, while a skinny yet firm man systematically flipped over strips of the pork.

You could have been mistaken for thinking a National Geographic crew were having a nap in the back room, having installed one of the more iconic images of Asia here in Penang’s cheerful capital.

The man at the griddle thrust forth a sizzling strip of the meat, and I obligingly grabbed it, folded it in half and slipped it into my mouth. My tongue became instantly drizzled in hot oil.

I’ll pause here for a second, so you can really enjoy this moment. Imagine every bacon-flavoured morsel you’ve ever come across, both at home and abroad. Imagine that small packet of Frazzles, or a sprinkling of bacon bits on your salad. Perhaps — like me — you once mistakenly ate barbecued pigs’ penis, or you’re a common connoisseur of gammon slabs.

The point is, that strip of pork I devoured was boastful. It bragged about its baconess. Not only did it ooze delicious bacon flavours, but it smelled how I imagine a Sunday morning inferno at a bacon factory would.

If you were to observe this impromptu tasting session — perhaps as the proverbial ‘fly on the wall’ — you wouldn’t have been mistaken for thinking I was far from impressed. After swallowing, I entered into the most pathetic reaction you could possibly align with this taste sensation.

I raised both eyebrows, and let out an obligatory “Mmmm…” followed by a weak smile. It wasn’t instinctive. It was rooted in the early stages of our Fifteen-Minute Friendship. I knew we couldn’t understand each other, and that we were in the No Man’s Land between our two cultures.

If I had exclaimed, “Fucking hell! That bacon is unbelievable, mate, I could kiss you…” and then, without thinking, enveloped this man in an over-friendly hug, I dare say he would raise his eyebrows and smile half-heartedly.

So I beat him to it.

In the course of all this unrequited excitement, I wrongly assumed that everywhere in George Town was an eatery. This was a perfectly acceptable assumption, given that everyone around me at this present time was either chopping, or cooking.

I tried in vain to communicate that I wanted to sit down and eat some fresh vegetables with a side plate of the chef’s finest bacon, but it quickly transpired that this was a ground-level operation, and probably supplying some troupe of local restaurateurs.

I began to ask if I could buy some to take away, but quickly resigned myself to the compensation of licking the inside of my mouth, as I followed the friendly Chinese Malaysian back out into the street like a sulking schoolboy.

I never saw this pork for sale anywhere in George Town, but if you’re ever passing through and see those unmistakable circles of rolled pork, be sure to pause a while, then find the nearest kitchen.

I came across this wonderful gentlemen and his crew in the hutongs (I call them hutongs, but they’re simply the narrow network of streets which connect George Town’s tight community) behind Lebuh Cintra and Lebuh Kimberly. I respected his request for no photography inside the kitchen — this seemed to appease his staff’s shyness, rather than any crimes against bacon.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Robyn October 21, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Lovely post. That’s ‘waxed meat’ there, particularly popular at Chinese New Year (often steamed over rice). In George Town, there are one or two shop on Pintal Tali near Kimberley that specialize in it.

Ant Stone October 21, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Thanks for clarifying that Robyn, it was a delicious find.

If you’re interested in South East Asian food, in particularly Malaysian then I highly recommend visiting Robyn’s blog, EatingAsia. You can find it by clicking her name above.

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