Friday, June 22, 2012

Eating in Georgetown

Georgetown is, without a doubt, my favorite city in the world. We spent nearly seven weeks there, off and on, between trips to Thailand, the F1 race, and the Malaysian highlands.  I will try to summarize how we spent our time to fill in the last month's gap.  

As you all know by now, love to eat. We ate. A lot. We developed a list of our favorite dining spots and rotated through them, adding new establishments and dishes all the time. Since the main three ethnic groups in Malaysia are Chinese (70% of the population of Penang), Malay, and Indian, we know our way around the Chinese, Malay, and Indian menus in the city. 

Wonton mee
We have our favorite hawker stalls for a variety of mee (noodle) dishes.  It is interesting how many types of noodles there are, and that each kind is perfectly suited to a specific dish.  My favorite would have to be the wide, soft rice noodles, particularly when they are fried in a wok to give them a slightly charred-around-the-edges flavor and texture with beansprouts and just about anything else.  Colin is a fan of the eggy, wheat noodles, particularly when a whole block of them is fried until crunchy and served with a pile of stir-fried vegetables and meat heaped on top.  Our very favorite noodle dish is probably wonton mee.  It's a simple dish of thin, soft wheat noodles served in soy and mushroom based sauce, with char sieu (bbq pork), steamed greens, crisp-fried pork fat, pickled chilies, and soft wontons. The only kind of noodle dish neither of us enjoyed was chee chong fun, which is a sheet of rice noodle that is steamed, rolled tight, and cut into sections, and served with globs of hoisin, chili sauce, and some sesame seeds. It's not that they taste bad, they're just kind of unexciting compared to everything else.  

The best coffee man in Georgetown
We found out that the Chinese kopi (coffee) shops are infinitely better than anywhere else for a good, strong jolt of caffeine. Each morning I walked to the corner to get coffee to takeaway, and as soon as the man who takes orders saw me, he yelled my order back to the coffee guy, without even asking what I wanted. As you stroll the streets of Chinatown, you smell the roasting coffee bean aroma wafting in the air throughout the day.  The beans are delivered to the coffee shops daily, so it is always fresh, and many of the individual shops have their own 'special' roast.  

Nasi kandar at Line Clear
One style of meal particular to Malaysia is nasi kandar, which is rice with other stuff, from beef rendang, to curried squids, to okra.  To order, you walk up to the counter, on which is an array of meats, egg dishes, and vegetables.  The server puts a pile of rice in the middle of your plate and you tell him what else you want.  For the very best flavor, once your plate is loaded, the man will dip into each of the different pots of meat and fish curries and spoon some of the gravy over the top of everything.  There are nasi kandar restaurants on virtually every street in Penang, but the very best is called Line Clear.  It occupies an alley between two buildings and has been there, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for something like 70 years.  I hope it never shuts down!

Sultan, hard at work on rotis
Virtually every morning, I would walk to Yasmeen for roti canai.  Roti just means bread.  It is a flat bread, made from flour, water, salt, and ghee.  The people who make them are masters, flattening balls of dough with the meat of their palms and then flipping the dough in the air until it is paper thin.  The dough is then folded several times and placed on a hot griddle with more ghee and cooked until golden and crispy.  You can get them with bananas, eggs, onion, even sardines folded into the middle before they're cooked, but the best is a fresh plain one, served with a bowl of dhal (spicy lentil stew).  My buddies, Mohammad and Sultan at Yasmeen made the best ones we found.  Colin and I miss them terribly...

Tea cart on Lebuh Cintra
No matter where you go, at any time of the day or night, you will always find something delicious to eat or drink.  Hawker stands set up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, everywhere.  If you happen to be walking down the street in the evening and feel the need for a cup of herbal tea and a pancake, it can be had.  If you want an ear of roasted corn, a preserved egg, and some grilled squid skewers, that's yours, too.  You name it, you can probably find it.  It is virtually impossible to go hungry in Georgetown.

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