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Published: October 17th 2010
You know that reputation I have for a big appetite and enjoying trying every possible food I can? Well I think there's something in the rumors you know, especially if you look at the amount of food I've hunted out and wolfed down in the past few days (and more worryingly evidenced if you check out the scales while I'm standing on them)!
So this is another one of Frankwah's feasting blogs. I've just spent over a month in Malaysia and almost all of that was on a little island where, (much credit to the chefs there but...) the menu was limited and sometimes overpriced. That didn't stop me putting on 5 kilos there though and stretching my stomach lining nicely in preparation for a quick trip to Penang. Now Georgetown is marketed as one of the culinary capitals of the world so of course I wasn't going to miss that, even if it did mean leaving paradise and travelling 9 hours across the country on a refrigerated coach!
Penang was a bit of a shock to the system, to say the least. After five weeks of walking from my hut to the beach and back recognising everyone I
passed, stepping off the coach into a bustling city was a dangerous procedure. Luckily my training in Vietnam quickly came back to me and I rembered how to walk with confidence into a stream of honking and weaving buses, taxis and motorbikes without wetting myself. I spent two and a half days dragging my sweating, overfed body up and down the lanes and side streets of Georgetown in search of my next suprise street stall discovery. Along the way I'd glance up at mighty colonial buildings, gaudy chinese temples, gleaming mosques and crumbling shop houses; but mostly my attention was at eye level, looking at the signs outside canteens and on top of carts declaring their famous Penang speciality wares. At my hotel I picked up a leaflet - the Penang Food Trail - with a map and guide to the main foods to try in Georgetown and this became my bible, inspiring me to try and tick off 27 essential dishes in 56 hours. Bearing in mind I was sleep deprived and virtually penniless, nevermind the fact this is an average of one meal every 2 hours, I remained undaunted and enthusiastic about my task!
The problem is
Even more noodles
and a slightly odd fragrant almond drink
despite all my practicing and proclamations I'm an amateur at this eating thing really. For starters I took the first hotel I could find at 7 o'clock in the morning and proceeded to waste the next four precious eating hours napping. Worse still I ignored the neon lights of the 24 hour canteens and shut myself away in the land of nod for eight hours each night, rather than taking power naps between the regular feeding sessions. I then made the mistake of being tempted by foods that weren't on the list: how could I walk past a coconut pancake stall and not try one, just as an appetiser before breakfast. Next I gave in to my addictions and kept eating my favorite meals rather than trying something new every time: no matter how much I wanted to eat my way through every speciality in Penang, my day was not going to start until I'd mopped up a couple of roti canai (and preferably finished off with roti kaya). Lastly I really ballsed up and filled the precious gaps in my swollen belly with space stealing bevarages like thick, sour lassis, rich teh tarik, and comically named fizzy drinks.
I may have only managed to tick off seven of the recommended dishes from the leaflet (nasi lemak, roast duck, koay teow, wan tan mee, laksa, curry mee, roti canai and fried oyster), but I had a brilliant time taste testing and sensory exploring Georgetown and the myriad goodies on offer far beyond the scope of a sheet of paper. What's more there's still plenty more gourmet delights for me to look forward to on a return visit.
What I didn't eat in Penang I may well have already tried when I first arrived in Malaysia a month previously and headed straight for Malacca, another great place to wander around soaking up the culture and architecture and exotic foods of a few hundred years of colonalisation and immigration. Once again I walked up and down lanes and side streets - ice cream or potato torpedos (thin slices of deep fried potato on a kebab stick with curry or chilli seasoning) or dim sum in hand - gazing up at intricate tiled dragons and fierce bearded faces, the warm pink walls of a church or the crumbling incense outside a temple.
Half the time I didn't even need to leave
the hostel to get a good meal though; the owner took it on himself to force feed the poor, starving backpackers at his guesthouse every night, collecting packages of succulent BBQ chicken, anchovy rice and glistening noodles from the next door restaurant and standing over us ordering us to eat up and enjoy, free of charge.
Malacca's most memorable feature had to be it's trishaw drivers, or rather the creative masterpieces that are their vehicles. Every trishaw is bedecked with sunshine-yellow paint, tinsel and bouquets of fake flowers, but look closer and the individual touches are inspired and sometimes startling. One guy had attached a harem of Barbie dolls to his trishaw, another a plastic chicken. The first time I saw a trishaw come blaring round a corner, dance music pumping, fairy lights twinkling and wind catchers whirling with a family of Malaysians squeezed into the chair I did a double take, then I saw a whole peleton of them raving down the high street and leapt out of the way as this marvel passed me by.
After sampling all the east coast of Malaysia could throw at me in a few short days I jetted up to
Bangkok again with 24 hours to buy up every cheap item I could before I moved to Oz. At Bangkok airport I was greeted by an empty conveyor belt and spent an hour crying to an Air Asia official until he promised to try and not forget to leave my bag in Penang again but put it on a flight quick sharp to catch me before my flight to Australia the next day. Without clean clothes or toiletries I had an even greater excuse to go shopping in Bangkok, and also to comfort eat and treat myself to some pampering at the beauty salons. Losing my bag through a low cost airline proved expensive: rather than buy more shampoo I went to the hairdressers for a wash, cut and blow dry; without nail clippers I had to get a manicure and pedicure; without pyjamas I had to upgrade to a private room; and without a book to read I had to wander the streets stuffing my face with pad thai, spring rolls, mango and sticky rice, coconut cakes, BBQ chicken, thai ice tea, and my new favorite fruit shake (banana, pineapple and ginger), in the hope of inducing a food
coma. Actually, I say it was expensive, that all cost less than the standard price for just the hair cut back in the UK.
So that was my last few days in South East Asia. I have now arrived safely into the welcoming home of Jeff and his family, who are spoiling me rotten with laundry service, hot showers, and big, comforting meals of shepherds pie and baked salmon. Perfect for the distinctly British weather I've brought with me. The other night I was treated to what must be every backpacker's dream: an all you can eat buffet with dishes from all over the world. My eyes and trouser buttons nearly popped at the sight of so many foods I hadn't eaten for several months. My tastebuds spent a happy evening reacquainting themselves with olives, cheese, potatoes, scallops, salad, cheesecake, crème brulee, and chilled white wine. Needless to say I am very comfortable and content and doing my best to ignore the fact I must get my arse in gear and find a job and somewhere to live in the next few days.
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