A friend of mine recently went to Penang for a holiday. When I asked how his trip was, he only had one word for it – eat. Eating is almost like a religion in this island state of Malaysia. Penang is famous for its local cuisine, probably second only to my beloved hometown Ipoh. The best of Penang food can be sampled along the famous Gurney Drive, which was the inspiration for this chain of restaurants now bring the flavour of Penang to Singapore.
What food comes to mind when you think of Penang food? Top of the list for worth foodies would be spicy Penang laksa, refreshing rojak, greasy char kuey teow (fried rice noodle) and fragrant prawn noodles. I was at Changi Airport recently with my Singapore hosts and buddies (hi Terence & Dora!) and we went to sample some of this famous Gurney food right at Terminal 3.
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Who would have thought? All these while, I thought the only decent Malaysian food available in Hong Kong can be sampled only at Sabah Malaysian Restaurant. But within a week, a friend recommended me to go Good Satay at Tsim Sha Tsui (which I must try soon!), and yet another brought me to Ipoh Malaysian Restaurant.
A restaurant named after my hometown – how could I possibly missed this?! I must have passed by the shop along Johnston Road plenty of time, yet I have never realised the existence of this shop. Let it be a lesson to all; have a bright, outstanding signage promoting your shop, or Ipohites like me will never notice it!
I was there one Sunday afternoon; the place wasn’t crowded, save for a large table of youngsters whom I suspect must have been Malaysians. It’s the language lah, you can’t miss it. So we ordered three of the many available set lunch options.
Bak Kut Teh
I loved bak kut teh, but to my dismay the soup is way too watery for my liking. The herbal soup is supposed to be rich in taste and heavy with herbs. Two stale, miserable-looking yao ja guai didn’t really help matter. But I had to commend the pork ribs; well choosen, cooked to tender perfection and deceivingly easy to bite off the bones. If only the soup could do it justice…
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On retrospect, probably it isn’t the wisest to head down to Sabah Malaysian Cuisine for dinner right after a grueling workout at the gym. Afterall, your body is at its most “absorbent” (to nutrients, that is) within two hours after workout. I even had a dose of protein shake.
But a promise is a promise is a promise. Plus, I have had a great experience at its other branch at Jaffe Road. This new outlet at Sheung Wan intrigued me. Would the quality hold the same? So we settled down, loosen our belts, and ordered.
Now, this was a work of genius. Incredibly fragrant sambal (a type of spicy sauce made from a variety of chilli peppers) cooked with a healthy dosage of onions and chillies and God knows what else, mixed with hard-boiled eggs cut in halves. At first bite it was incredibly spicy, so much so that my eyes watered, but as the rich flavour took over I chewed it slowly, relishing the magical herbs cooked within. It can be too much for the uninitiated, so I recommend you to eat slowly if you are a sambal virgin. Of course, we would need a specialty carbs dish to go with sambal, so we looked at the Indian options available, and our eyes fall on…
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Comfort food. The term itself made me all fuzzy with contentment. For me, comfort food is something that you can always rely on when you don’t want to decide on what to eat. Even if it is far from perfect, it is familiar and bring a sense of nostalgia… of something close to home.
One of my favorite comfort food spot is Malaymama at Mercer Street in Sheung Wan. Over many visits I have almost tried its entire menu. And since I am a Malaysian, I could authoritatively recommend what is good at this ma-and-pop joint.
Of highest recommendation is this yong tau foo dish. Basically it is a combination of bean curd, silky tofu, stuffed egg plants and the like, swimming in a bowl of soup.
If you are like me and prefer your noodles not to be soggy from the soup, ask it to be separated, i.e. “lo meen”, like this.
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