Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tell-A-Tale (Part 55): Live your dreams.

The first song that came to my mind when the cordon bleu chef brought us to the Teluk Bahang Fishing Jetty (or The End Of The World) was Telepopmusik's Breathe. There's not much to do but to just enjoy the view of fishing boats and the sea, especially during sunset.

It's beautiful here.

Make it a point to see the jetty in 2010. And visit all the other places that you've always dreamed of.

From the Temple of Luxor, here's wishing everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tell-A-Tale (Part 54): Monsters...curried

It doesn't matter even if I'd checked my bearing...because I would have forgotten it by now.

But I remember those monstrous freshwater prawns...

...curried, Chinese-style, with lots of shallots and curry leaves.

And steamed bread for dipping.

Followed by an even fresher catch.

Countless prawns, a steamed red snapper and bottles of homemade sugarcane juice later, we headed home, passing the place we would have and perhaps, will explore one day.


In the past 48 hours, we were the real monsters.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sai Lam Coffee Shop And Padang Brown Hawker Centre

We’ve made some good decisions during this trip, like skipping Ipoh to make more time for Penang. With that, we were able to take a much needed rest before...

...waking up to a plate of wanton mee at Sai Lam. The first thing I noticed was the absence of dark soy sauce in the dry-tossed version. Replacement came in form of a light stew infused with sweet juice of the beef that topped the springy wanton mee. To have that much of brisket and tendon for a fraction of the price of some well-known beef institutions deserves a mention. Tenderly good too, I must say. A dash of pepper gave the subtle taste a zing.

We couldn’t help but be attracted to the luscious build of the wantons. Skills are required in ensuring that each piece of skin is filled with a generous spoonful of minced fatty pork without breaking. As we frantically took pictures of the wantons, the elderly wrapper asked if we were tourists and immediately switched to speaking in Cantonese upon knowing that we were from KL. She further explained that they try to speak a few dialects to accommodate their customers from all over the country and beyond. That's cool. Combined with the charm of an old kopitiam, Sai Lam definitely deserves that place in the Lonely Planet guide.


There were 2 opposing rows of stalls at the Padang Brown Hawker Centre. One side was practically deserted while the other was in full swing, with tables and chairs spilling beyond the shelters. I wonder if geomancy has got anything to do with it. Back at the busy row, the attraction was the popiah stall. What’s interesting was the inclusion of crab meat in the filling which obviously added some umami-ness to the popiah. It came wetter than our usual type at home and apparently, it’s a signature that gives it a good body and taste. The wait was long but was much appreciated as our stomachs were still busy digesting the copious amount of duck meat we had for breakfast.

Into the late afternoon hours, the hawker centre was still buzzing with throngs of weekend faces, all eager to indulge in some solid, local fare. This atmospheric sight alone deserves a slot in any Penang guide.

Sai Lam Coffee Shop
Corner of Chulia Street and Carnarvon Street


Padang Brown Hawker Centre
The junction of Perak Road and Anson Road

Penang, Malaysia

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kafe Ping Hooi

In every trip, I look forward to tasting what locals eat on a daily basis and collecting suggestions that they gladly provide for reference. It’s fun to observe how everyone seems to have a different opinion of the BEST version of a certain dish. I find it even more so customary in Penang. To me, Penangites are wise eaters. It’s a complete package of taste and value that they are looking for. Perhaps it’s this very reason that prices are still kept relatively low without having to compromise the quality of food. I like their humorously sour reaction too, every time I bring up names of those overrated tourist eateries in town.

A friend of ours, the cool cordon bleu chef brought us to a coffee shop that, according to him, serves the best char kway teow in town. Given his enthusiastic description, we could tell that it’s his favourite stall as well. Perhaps I’m too obsessed with the black Hokkien mee that I haven’t had the time to notice that duck eggs have now become a welcoming alternative to the usual chicken eggs in char kway teows. I liked the smoky aroma of the fried kway teow here, which also came with a more pronounced egg flavour. Yes, duck eggs do taste richer. So, what’s next? Golden yolks from free-range ducks? I can’t wait.

As I recall the dishes we had that afternoon, I realize that a few were duck-related, including the kway teow tng with duck stock and duck meat slices. The meat came from the same duck used in flavouring the stock and was tenderly good in its own juice. The dressing of fresh garlic oil was a nice touch. There must be a practical reason why duck meat is mostly used in herbal soups. Perhaps it has got to do with the prolonged simmering and their tougher meat. So, to be able to taste a clear stock of duck essence here was a refreshing change. When I first heard of a duck stock, I was expecting a thick coverage of oil but was pleasantly surprised that it was visually not any different from our usual pork/chicken tng.

Ask me of the most memorable dish and I’d say it’s the lor bak – the deep-fried stingray, to be exact. Stingrays are known to be fleshy, soft and flaky. When deep-fried, the encrusting batter provides a crispy contrast to the soft meat. A fun plethora of textures in every bite.

Ping Hooi to me, serves not the typical Penang food that I’d learnt in the past. The out-of-towner me liked both the food and old charm here. I wonder if the locals will agree.

Char Kway Teow With Duck Egg

Lor Bak

Duck Slices

Kway Teow Tng With Duck Meat

Kafe Ping Hooi
At the junction of Lebuh Carnavon and Lebuh Melayu
Penang, Malaysia

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng And Pork Satay

The rows of houses along the lane are beautiful; colonial architecture with mostly bright shades of paint. At 11 am, the unspoiled tranquility seemed impossible, given the close proximity to the busy Jalan Burma. The atmosphere was a perfect contrast to the colourful plate of Bangkok Lane mee goreng served at the nearby Seng Lee Café. I really enjoyed the Muslim-Indian style of mee goreng here. What makes it different from our usual supper version is the kuah (gravy). The generous pour made it moister (just the way I like it) and more flavourful. I can’t help but to think that they used the same kuah from the mee rebus for this. From what I had, there should be some crushed peanuts, potatoes and some dried spices in the tomato sauce based gravy. Sweet and tad sour, it was one delicious dish. You know it’s true when you can still define deliciousness after 2 rounds of solid breakfast. A squeeze of lime made it even more appetizing. And there's the topping of marinated dried cuttlefish. From the chewy yet soft texture to the sweet and savoury marinade, it's the quintessential component in perfecting both the mee goreng and mee rebus.

We were actually in this part of town for the pork satay that operates from a mobile stall not far away from Seng Kee. Perhaps it was more of an instinct than interest that led us here, like how we must try that particular pork burger in Thailand. Indeed, turmeric gilded grilled pork is a sight to behold but without sufficient seasoning, it can never taste as good as it looks. But of course, the skills of a pair of experienced hands ensured that the meat be well-cooked. I didn't get the sauce that was powdery and bland or the margarine laced bread. It was very kind of the proprietors to cross the lane to send the satay over from their stall though.

The mee goreng here is certainly a delightful change from the boring versions I had back home. In fact, is there ever an exciting one to begin with? Enlighten me, please.

Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng @ Seng Lee Café
270, Jalan Burma
10350 Georgetown,
Pulau Pinang, Malaysia.

The pork satay stall can be found along the rows of houses.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kedai Kopi Swee Kong

It’s perhaps here that I found some really inspiring moments during the trip. From the photo above, I guess some of us must have thought that I’m going to tell a story in relation to strength in unity. It’s more intricate than that, of course.

Inspiring moment number one came when Boolicious brought to our table THE last bowl of the infamous Hokkien Mee (prawn mee) from a stall in Swee Kong. At the point of our arrival (I believe it was only around 9 am), the lady boss had already started informing customers that they had run out of prawn stock for the day. Needless to say, we were disappointed. Judging from the size of the cleared aluminium pots (I think they can easily fit 3/4 of my body) that were, in a few hours earlier, filled with boiling, delicious prawn stock, it doesn’t take a statistician to figure out how good the business must have been. Or how delicious it is. To be honest, I’ve never heard of this coffee shop nor this prawn mee stall. And that made it even more disappointing to not be able to have a taste of it. But Boo changed all that. She managed to persuade the lady boss to give us the last, less than a full portion of the prawn mee. The whole conversation took a good few minutes. And mind you, none of us could speak proper Hokkien (or Mandarin). It must be her sincerity that touched the boss. We, the lucky ones, watched Boo worked her magic while slurping wanton mee from another stall. She even stayed on to take some shots of the stall. Perseverance, my friends, is one virtue to be practised for life. Rewards include a bowl of Hokkien mee bursting with savouriness of prawns. In fact, I would prefer to call them shrimps instead. Not that it’s a bad thing. The key here is freshness, not the size of the prawns. The plush stock convinced us that they don’t dilute, even to the last bowl. Pair that with aromatic fried shallots, crunchy beansprouts and mildly hot chilli paste - a winner.

The wanton mee is worth a mention too, as it was very different from what we have back in KL. Instead of sweet dark soy sauce, it was poured with gravy of smooth, light starch and eggs. If it was stir-fried with the noodles, I would have mistaken that for our usual Cantonese noodles. The springy texture of the wanton mee plus a good amount of pickled green chillies made it even more enjoyable.

Joining the Hokkien mee folks, the famous sweet apom stall was also enjoying an early closing and had started clearing up when we finally found a table in the crowded coffee shop. We returned the next morning, not much earlier than the day before, to take away some before heading to another breakfast hotspot. We were grateful that they still had some to offer and more so for being ahead of the next customer who ordered 50 pieces of apom! What’s so great about 50 pieces? The waiting time can get really long because cooking involves a few steps. Preparation of a single piece takes up a few minutes – the charcoal-fueled claypots are firstly poured with a thin layer of batter, swirled, let sit to cook, the solidified batter flipped and covered for a good minute or so to complete the process. And there were only 2 guys manning the pots. In this age, the amount of labour and time put in to the make that tiny piece of apom have surely opposed all the modern principles of entrepreneurship. In other words, not cost effective. That brings me to inspiring moment number two. To operate around those hot stoves, refilling the charcoal to maintain a constant supply of heat and maneuvering those heavy pots must have meant more than dollars and cents to these friendly guys. I believe it's pride and passion that keep every piece of apom identically golden brown and none burnt. Respect.

The car was parked near the police station on the opposite side of the road while a few of us went to buy the apoms. As we were getting back to the car, I hurriedly sampled one because I was told that apoms are best eaten while they are still hot. And that I was mostly hungry. I found an unexplained sense of joy as I took a bite of the light, crispy skin and rich coconut taste of the soft inner. This is how enlightening must be like, I kid you not. Growing up in a multi-ethnic village, I'm used to having apom, be it sweet or salty, for breakfast. But none could match the perfect texture and taste of the apom here. The generous amount of coconut milk and eggs used brought about sublimity while sugar was wisely minimized as to not empower the overall taste. In the 50 over steps leading to the car, I believe I had at least 3 pieces.

So, perseverance and passion make life tastier. Some snacks for thought there.

Kedai Kopi Swee Kong
Junction where Moulmein Close meets Burma Road
Pulau Tikus, Penang

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tell-A-Tale (Part 53): 48

...and we crossed the Penang Bridge.

We must have chee cheong fun before checking into the hotel.

17 July 2009, 10:47 pm
Pulau Tikus Night Market, Jalan Pasar


Shower us lard.

18 July 2009, 01:56 am
Pork-filled Hokkien Mee - Green House Hawker Centre, Burma Road


Ohhh, look at the queue. We have to join in.

18 July 2009, 08:59 am
Ban Chang Kueh - Near Kafe Sin Hup Aun, Lorong Pasar (Pulau Tikus)


This looks good. BUY.

18 July 2009, 09:05 am
Adam's Chicken Curry Puff - Kafe Sin Hup Aun, Lorong Pasar (Pulau Tikus)


Uncle Guan, you and your banana apong rock!

18 July 2009, 11:45 am
Apong Guan - Jalan Burma


Hello, no spoon here. Use the shell to scrape the flesh.

18 July 2009, 04:36 pm
Pandan flavoured coconut drink from Anba Coconut Trading - Lorong Abu Siti, Georgetown


Somewhere between wooden houses...and darkness.

18 July 2009, 09:30 pm
Baked oysters with cheddar cheese, Fishing Village Restaurant - Teluk Bahang


We must have chee cheong fun before checking out of the hotel.

19 July 2009, 09:05 am
Chee Cheong Fun at Seow Fong Lye Cafe - Lebuh Macalister


How can we forget?

19 July 2009, 09:41 am
Ah Leng Char Koay Teow with duck egg and crayfish - Jalan Dato Kramat


There's more.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lung Seng (for gigantic freshwater prawns)

Back in my school days, we were taught that udang galah in Bahasa Malaysia meant lobster. I had no reason not to believe. Afterall, this was not from the teacher who told us that "leopard" was to be pronounced as leo-pard instead of lear-perd. We still make fun of her in our gatherings. Apparently, there's another meaning to udang galah - giant freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium rosenbergii). So, what is what? I don't know if there's such a thing as a freshwater lobster but one thing's for sure - it's darn delicious.

I come from a family that avoids ordering prawns in restaurants, Chinese especially, because it's exorbitantly priced. And that it's usually not as fresh as what we get at 5 am in the wet markets. Therefore, it's not surprisingly that we are not amazed by some of the famous (a.k.a. expensive) restaurants specializing in freshwater prawns in town.

This one's different. For that, I have some food blogging friends to thank. It was the only stop we made (apart from Kellie's Castle) en route to Penang, for our Nirvana Food Trip. Despite the name, it's not a vegetarian weekend excursion. In fact, I think we hardly touched any vegetable in that 48 hours of makan madness.

What we ordered were the typical cooking styles of prawns, as recommended by the restaurant. Cereal and butter prawns are all the rage for quite sometime now, but how often do we get good gorn jin (dry-fried in Cantonese) prawns these days? This is one old school dish that I've almost forgotten. Loved the aroma (mostly contributed by the amount of heat and oil applied) and like how olive oil is used for everything under the sun, the oily sauce was good enough to coat some white rice for some carbo indulgence. Of course, the sauces and ingredients can only enhance the dish that much. Ultimately, the prawns decide if it's worth the detours and slight fear of getting lost in an unchartered territory. Okay, not that serious lah, since Lyrical Lemongrass provided us with some love stories that took place in this little town along the way.

Growing up, I was told not to eat the heads of prawns. Not that it'll shrink my brains (like how eating pig brains is supposed to make me any cleverer) but because it's dirty. Here, not eating the head is a sin, I'd say. This is where the good stuff is! Addictive, smooth orange roe that will have you sucking like a hungry baby given a bottle of warm milk. The prawns were perfectly cooked too, proven by the tender and succulent flesh. I saw blocks of ice floating in the tanks where the prawns were kept. This must be another reason why the prawns tasted so fresh and alive. The dainty crabs are worth mentioning too, for that real umami taste.

We definitely came a long way in every sense but when everyone glowed at the first bite of the prawns, you know it's all worthwhile. And good omen too, of what's to come in the next 2 days.

Thanks again, Lyrical Lemongrass and Bald Eagle for organizing this wonderful trip. Masak-Masak did an excellent job in planning the makan itinerary. And Lotsofcravings, thanks for enduring my snores!

It's going to be Penang all this month, right here.

Gorn jin prawns

Butter prawns

Orgasmic roe in each prawn


Lung Seng
10, Jalan Besar
31800 Tanjung Tualang
Perak, Malaysia
Tel: (+605) 3600735

Monday, November 30, 2009

Xan Ling Cafe

Porridge with 生骨 (pork ribs)

Tenderness versus taste. This was the dichotomy that got me pondering throughout lunch when my relatives enlightened me with the definition of 生骨 that literally means "live bone" in Cantonese. The execution of 生骨 involves cooking the raw pork ribs and well-simmered stock simultaneously in a claypot, with the intention to preserve the freshness and taste of the pork. This is quite different from the typical dishes like bak kut teh and soups that we are accustomed to, where the pork becomes part of the ingredients in flavouring the stock. This usual way of cooking allows the meat to soften and fall off the bone, given the sufficient amount of heat and duration in cooking. However, the taste of the pork, in my option, will be abbreviated as the juice, together with the bone marrow, has infused into the stock or soup instead. In the case of 生骨, theoretically speaking, should give a more "porky" taste with the juice still intact, given the shorter cooking duration. The next question to ask is, if the tenderness of the meat has been compromised. Now, imagine if the complexity level is raised by applying 生骨 to dishes involving porridge or noodles. There are definitely lots of skills and brainpower involved in the preparation of 生骨 dishes and here at Xan Ling was perhaps my first taste of it.

It was a major pork lunch with ribs both floating and hidden in the enormous claypots of porridge and noodles. There were also plates of soy sauce braised dishes of pork and chicken feet that came quite sweet and packed with the easily identifiable 5-spice flavour. In the case of the claypot dishes that we had, refinement doesn't apply to the presentation nor texture. Not that we care of course because more importantly, they were flavourful; from the savoury stock (while some thought it was salty - not to me though) to the subtly sweet ribs to the assembly of all other ingredients. Their homemade noodle was to me, an improved version of pan mee with a smoother and firmer texture, yet retaining the nice, fragrant scent of flour. Our request to purchase some raw homemade noodles was turned down. That was disappointing as I had already imagined the different ways of using them - dry-tossed with dark soy sauce, drowned in peanut-chilli soup and perhaps, eaten with tonkotsu stock! By the way, they are famous for their 生骨 bak kut teh as well.

Pork dishes are good with rice. Here, we had 2 amazing and distinctive types of rice - with preserved vegetable and ginger. I've never heard of rice cooked with soy sauce and preserved vegetable before. The cook must have gotten the idea when having a simple meal comprising of the 3 ingredients. Slightly moister than usual, the rice matched the crunchy preserved vegetable and soy sauce really well. I could have ordered another bowl if not for the equally good ginger rice. It looked ordinary but the first bite will guarantee you a second...bowl! It certainly didn't smell of ginger but the taste was perfect, with the perfect amount of heat and pungency. If we were to visit again, we'll order a few extra bowls in advance because it sells out fast.

I was told that the site where the restaurant (they called it 'cafe', i wonder why) is located used to serve as a showroom for some wooden furniture business. Not surprising as the chairs and tables are mostly made of solid, heavy wood. The al fresco concept gives a refreshing and comfortable feeling but once I took a look at the 'chaotic' floor, comfort was the last thing on my mind. Like any typical dai chow, the floor was not constantly 'maintained'. I don't blame them because this is afterall, not a place for a meal with a view or a book. Reservation is advised as walk-in customers usually have to wait for quite a while. Well, at least they have some good wooden furniture to sit on while waiting.

Who would have thought that somewhere along a highway and within the vicinity of a cluster of factories lies such an interesting restaurant. Good food is certainly everywhere, my friends.

Rice cooked with preserved vegetable

Soy sauce braised pork

Homemade noodles with 生骨 (pork ribs)

Braised chicken feet

Xan Ling Cafe
11A. Lorong Arfah 3
Jalan Segambut
51200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: (+6012) 379 1549 or (+6016) 210 0826
(for the 生骨, please call in advance to order)

Interesting business hours:
Monday - Saturday: 0930 - 1500
Sunday & Public Holiday: 0800 - 1500
Tuesday: Off

Check out LIVE.LOVE.LAUGH's take on Xan Ling here.