I blame my recent getaway to Penang, over National Day holiday weekend, for the horrid weight gain that I’m suffering from these days. Then again, Penang is renowned for its affordable, accessible and delicious street food. Even though my appetite wasn’t so good during the time I was there, somehow I still managed to stuff food in my face. Somehow.
This trip to Penang was very different than the last time I went there. I didn’t get to check out any cultural stuff, so I made it a point to do that this time around – namely, stalking the famed street art scattered throughout Georgetown and visiting the heritage building aka the Penang Peranakan Museum.
Alas, traveling and eating inevitably go hand in hand always and I inhaled Oyster Omelette on two occasions because Penang hawkers were generous with oysters. Really plump sizeable ones – whoohoooo! – unlike the miserable baby ones in SG. I also found myself trekking to the legendary but far from downtown Penang Laksa (aka Assam Laksa) at Pasar Air Itam, AND on my last day I ended up eating Penang Char Kway Teow at three different vendors back to back in under two hours. What the… Haizzz! Buhbye, waistline.
The Assam Laksa lives up to the hype, despite local Penangites telling me it’s not the place they normally go to and it’s a tourist destination (insert Penangite scoff here). I enjoyed it anyway, although I probably shouldn’t have afterwards read this blurb online on how it looks, smells and tastes like rotten garbage water. DAMNITZ! I now can never look or enjoy Penang Laksa the same way again without conjuring that grotesque image in my head and imagine the taste of gutter water in my mouth.
As for the Char Kway Teow, I’d say that I don’t usually go for this nor crave it. However this stir-fried flat rice noodles with light and dark soya sauce, beansprouts, shrimp, tamarind juice, chives, lup cheong and cockles seems to be THE ubiquitous thing to eat in Penang. Penangites can wax poetry over wok hey until the cows come home and there’s even a perpetual debate both online and offline over which vendor serves up the best CKT, so I dug my chopsticks into the ones made by the supposedly strongest contenders in town:
One is “Goggle Uncle” at Low Eng Hoo Cafe who earned the nickname because he wears goggles when stirfrying his rice noodles. No not Google; no affiliation whatsoever to search engine or Silicon Valley. The protective eyewear. He didn’t wear them when I went to his stall though.
The other is “Red Hat Auntie” at Kafe Heng Hwat who yep, you guessed it, dons a red oversized artist’s beret and has established her notoriety as the meanest, snobbiest, most obnoxious street food vendor in town for once yelling at an old lady customer who questioned her (relatively) exorbitant prices. Red Hat Auntie purportedly told the old lady off by spewing in an offensive manner that “people like her” couldn’t afford her CKT. I read this on the internet so it must be true.
Man, the internet is a parking lot for such juicy embarrassing tidbits of useless (but entertaining) information. There was even a Boycott Red Hat Auntie Multiple Exclamation Marks campaign launched against her but our rice noodle tyrant is a tough cookie (and a rich one too) who continues frying up plate after plate of CKT triumphantly to hordes of customers daily, so much so that the popularity/notoriety has afforded her two swanky brand-spankin’ new condo units – according to
rumors kinda accurate reports online.
Anyhoo, both CKT ended up being a-okay for me. Nothing to really cry home about. Goggle Uncle’s version was kinda on the greasy and wet side. Way too salty for me too. Red Hat Auntie’s version was even wetter but it definitely had better flavour and more aromatic. Both used charcoal stoves.
The third and the one I enjoyed most was from Penny (Who, what? Where’s the funny nickname?) who bagged some 2012 Best Hawker CKT award or something. This version was fried over a gas stove (inserting my scoff here) but in terms of balance of ingredients, flavor and texture, it was the clear winner for me out of all three vendors – yep, winner.
In conclusion, I was sorely disappointed that all three plates from these vendors had tiny itsy-bitsy cockles and there weren’t a lot of them either. So miniscule I thought they were specks of broken up rice noodle pieces. I live for cockles! Give ’em to me plump and bursting with briny juices by the bucketload! Maybe not in season? :( Btw, all three CKT vendors are located on the same street: Lorong Selamat – in case one day some of you reading this decide you want to do the CKT triple debauchery (“triplebauchery”) like I did.
While we are still on the topic of food, I discovered two that got my panties twisted into a bunch. Wait, make that three.
1. Wild Boar Satay, off the corner of Lorong Baru. Soooo good and juicy, ate this twice during the trip. I had wild boar before and compared to pork, the meat has always been dryer and tougher. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the wild boar satay was more flavorful and juicier than the pork satay I’d also ordered at the same time.
2. Wantan Mee, somewhere on Lebuh Chulia. This popular street vendor with a small cart had a long queue of customers and yep, it’s delicious. Thanks to *ahem* (you know who you are) for making a decent recommendation; otay, you’re back in my good books again. :)
2. Teochew Chendol, off Jalan Penang. WAHHHHHHH, I can’t help but gush about this. Chanced upon this street vendor in the middle of the afternoon after sweating it out inside the Peranakan Museum earlier. Designating chendol as the perfect quick cool-me-down dessert, I joined the crazy long queue and ordered two bowls – one for my dad, another to share between my mom and I. Major regret as the chendol totally bewitched me and I should’ve gotten my own bowl. -__-
I can see why everyone, including us, were scarfing it down in the middle of the road and hardly paying attention to oncoming vehicles. The entire block – a tiny one-way street – was packed with people standing around and holding telltale small blue bowls of chendol from this stall. I’m surprised no one got hit by a car or motorcycle yet; it’s be funny to see a human-shaped chalk drawing with one hand holding a bowl and a spoon in the other outlined on the asphalt.
So that’s that for my Penang trip, folks. The next time I go there again, I’m heading straight to join the chendol queue. The ultimate chendol! The chendol on crack! Damn that chendol. I can’t stop thinking about it.
See you again next time, Penang!