Malay street food : Cendol (coconut milk and ice pudding)

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After grazing our way through some other areas of Malaysia we made our way up to Georgetown, Penang (or Pinang), lauded as the food capital of Asia, street food mecca, whatever. We had high hopes. 

Penang is world famous for having a cultural melting pot of Indian, Chinese and Malay population who all contributed to the culinary landscape.
Penang did not disappoint, in fact it was probably better than expected – One thing; if you’re planning on eating like it’s your last week alive don’t visit during the lunar new year festivities.

I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth, I’ll always choose savoury over sweet and sugar laden deserts and sweets like toffee or fudge are generally the last thing I want to eat.

One afternoon I found myself eating a mountain of cendol…

Penang cendol

Penang cendol

 

Cendol, (pronounced shen-dul) is a sugarific Malay desert consisting of shaved ice, coconut milk, gula Melaka – a type of sugar syrup, originating from Melaka, kidney beans and little green worms which are actually pandan flavoured rice noodles. The noodles are also called cendol.

To my great surprise, I actually quite enjoyed it –  it was a delicious cooling pick-me-up on a hot afternoon, the gula Melaka was rich and flavourful and not the cheap sugary taste I expected. The coconut milk was refreshing, the kidney beans were strangely my favourite part and the noodles made a necessary textural change. Even when it all started to melt and looked like soup with an identity crisis it was still delicious!

Penang cendol

Penang cendol

Penang road, near to the KOMTAR is home to not only the famous and busy Penang Road Famous Teochew Cendol but also rival stalls, too!

Although Penang is famous for the cendol, it is also well known in Melaka. Jonker 88 is a favourite..

If you’re keen to branch out on the sweet deserts, Ais (ice) Kacang is also based on shaved ice and sugar, with the additions of condensed milk and lumps of jelly.  Another sweet local speciality of melaka is tai bak a Peranankan desert of coloured noodles in pandan syrup.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Border jumping Thailand to Cambodia : Ban Packard to Psar Phrum / Chanthaburi to Battambang

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We decided that we were going to head back into Cambodia, but did not want to go through the Poipet border, as the last time (coming into Thailand) it was a ridiculous, long, badly organised experience taking hours, to stamp out, walk a hundred metres, and stamp in again.

As we wanted to go to Battambang anyway, we decided to take the one of the quieter, southern border crossings – Ban Packard to Psar Phrum which, I discovered online has very little relevant info. Some sites suggest it’s the adventurous route, but actually it was really, very easy.

To get there, we broke it up over two days. We jumped in a minivan from Bangkok’s Victory Monument (Anusawari Chai, if you need to tell a taxi driver) to Chanthaburi, which cost two hundred baht per person, and around three hours.

Here’s a top tip, if you want to get to Chanthaburi as soon as possible, make sure you show a map to the booking people, because apparently it sounds a lot like Katchanburi when we say it. Katchanburi looks like a nice place, but it’s two hours in the wrong direction when you’re trying to get to Cambodia.

Chanthaburi is a provincial capital city, It seems like there could be a few nice things to discover and explore with a bicycle. There is also a night market, with a whole heap of eating options, but most of them are take-away only very few street vendors have tables and chairs. We did however found a cheap, awesome street style restaurant next to the 7/11 near the hotel – Delicious.  
Unfortunately our Thai visas were running out and had a date set to meet friends in Vietnam. Not this time, Chanthaburi.

Chanthaburi map

We stayed at the river view hotel, which had a very helpful lady working in the morning and directed us to the bus pick up just across the bridge – Less than 100m away. It was quite lucky for us that we had seen this hotel in a guide book and just decided to try it out. It was adequate and cheap, but ideally located to get ourselves (and our packs) to the border bus in the relentless heat.

Smallest 'double' bed ever...

Smallest ‘double’ bed ever…

As far as we could work out in the broken English conversation the bus pick-up only runs once a day. There is another company which is somewhere near (around a couple of corners) the KP Grand Hotel which is directly opposite the 7/11 on the map. They apparently run three buses a day, at 0930, 1030 & 1130.

A few posts I had read online suggested all kinds of issues with getting to the border, or across the border or even away from the border at the other side, but it went without a hitch, for us.

We checked out the bus stop before breakfast – the man there spoke no English at all, but had a little card that said ‘0940 – 150B’ so we came back then. The minivan arrived about 1010 and we had an entertaining one (ish) hour journey to the border with a bunch of octogenarian Thai’s headed to the Casino in Pailin. The journey was punctuated with beautiful scenery and the occasional squawking -between naps – from our Saga holidaymaking companions. We made up their conversations for our own amusement, it mostly involved a new handbag that was excitedly passed around a lot and how one of the ladies, who was huffing and puffing all journey was “too old for this shit”. Much fun was had by all.

We got out at the gate, walked through the Thai side, stamped out; across the very short dividing area and into Cambodia in less than five minutes. Apart from a couple of Cambodian girls, we were the only people at either passport control and sailed through. The Cambodian officials were very nice and polite with no mention of a bribe or ‘special charge’ at any point. They even wished us a nice holiday.

At this point we’re thinking, ‘this is where it’s gonna get hectic’, because there’s two confused looking white guys with backpacks and over half a dozen taxi drivers all waiting to separate us from our dollars.

The first guy who was very eager to speak with us, took the piss and quoted 1200B ($37USD) to get to Battambang (around 100KM) in a private taxi, or 400B each in a shared taxi. We read online you could pick up transport in Pailin so he quoted 300B for both of us, but said there wasn’t a bus station there. We weren’t sure if he was lying or not (websites only seem to talk about a taxi stand?) but we went with our instincts settled on another guy who offered $8USD each to go straight to Battambang central market.  We ended up sharing part of the journey with five; yes five other people in his Toyota Camry but it was all quiet enjoyable really.

We left Chanchaburi at 1015 and were eating lunch in Battambang at 1400 – A very enjoyable four hour run.

Why did we take this route?

Because the border is the closest to Battambang
Because we had no interest in spending all afternoon queuing at Poipet.
Because we had even less interest in giving the Poipet transport mafia any of our money. if you’re not aware there’s countless stories on blogs and forums about how you are taken to a ‘free transport centre’ in Poipet where you are forced to pay massively inflated prices to travel onward – it’s in the middle of nowhere and the police are in on it too.
Because travel is all about fun – We have such better memories of the times we ended up doing things the untouristy way than the ‘VIP AC bus from X to X’.

 

Costs

Minivan from Bangkok to Chanthaburi : 200B per person
Tuk-tuk from Chanthaburi bus station to the River View Hotel : 60B (two people)
Minibus from Chanthaburi to Ban Pakard/Pong Nam Ron border : 150B per person
Visa charges : $20USD per person
‘Taxi’ from Psar Phrum to Battambang : $8USD per person

River View Hotel : 290B for a double with fan/TV & attached bathroom. The TV didn’t work and it was the smallest double bed ever, but it was OK. They also had a shared bathroom option for 190B.

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Malay street food : Hokkien mee (Penang prawn noodle soup)

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After grazing our way through some other areas of Malaysia we made our way up to Georgetown, Penang (or Pinang), lauded as the food capital of Asia, street food mecca, whatever. We had high hopes. 

Penang is world famous for having a cultural melting pot of Indian, Chinese and Malay population who all contributed to the culinary landscape.
Penang did not disappoint, in fact it was probably better than expected – One thing; if you’re planning on eating like it’s your last week alive don’t visit during the lunar new year festivities.

Hokkien mee simply translates as Hokkien (as in, the place of origin – Fujian province of China) and mee, meaning noodle. To anglicise, you could call it a prawn noodle soup, but that’s an injustice because it’s so much more.

It’s a pretty complex dish and a well-known Penang hawker speciality – The use of the name, or variations apparently exist in KL & Singapore, but the end product is a type of stir fry, and does not bear similarities to Penang Hokkien mee.

It is no exaggeration to say that this is probably not only the best Penang hawker food we ate, but probably the best meal I had in all of Malaysia. I know, it’s a big claim – provided you get it from a decent hawker stall.

Heaven in a bowl

Heaven in a bowl

The base is a rich, slightly spiced fishy prawn broth which is naturally slightly sweet due to the shellfish. The prawny soup is turned a deep red with the addition of chilli sambal.

The standard additions to the Hokkien mee soup are a mix of noodles, part yellow egg noodles and part skinny rice vermicelli noodle, along with some boiled prawn and egg and a little pork meat.
The end product is a divine creation – sweet hints from the broth, chilli & garlic spices from the sambal floating around in the stock, mixed with the flavours of pork meat and egg is like a party in your mouth with every sweat encouraging mouthful better than the last.

We ate Hokkien mee at a few places, one was absolutely awful and bore no similiarity to any others I’ve seen since; In Red garden food court, which had drag queens singing Abba – best avoided on all fronts. A pretty decent one at a hawker stall on Lebuh Kimberley, which has a whole heap of options for eating in the early evening (It’s also close to the famous chendol street). Lastly the best meal we ate in all of Malaysia was recommended to us, as we would have never found it on our own at Greenhouse Food Court – a half hour walk out of central Georgetown up Jalan Burma. It’s absolutely worth the effort.
The additional pork hunks were like sweetcure bacon sticks, with the prawns and the broth and just enough spice to get the lips tingling – heaven in a bowl.

Just look at those pork sticks!

Just look at those pork sticks!

Expect to pay from five to eight ringgits per bowl, depending on your choice of fixings.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malay street food : Koay teow th’ng (Fishball noodle soup)

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After grazing our way through some other areas of Malaysia we made our way up to Georgetown, Penang (or Pinang), lauded as the food capital of Asia, street food mecca, whatever. We had high hopes. 

Penang is world famous for having a cultural melting pot of Indian, Chinese and Malay population who all contributed to the culinary landscape.
Penang did not disappoint, in fact it was probably better than expected – One thing; if you’re planning on eating like it’s your last week alive don’t visit during the lunar new year festivities.

Koay teow soup is yet another example of chinese food history being eaten on a daily basis on the streets of Penang in hawker stalls and kopitiams.

Many hawker stalls open early and koay  teow soup is a popular breakfast in Penang, although it’s popularity is increasing and vendors sell it in the afternoons and evenings, too.

 Koay teow, or fishball noodle soup and a perfect way to start the day in Penang.

Clear fresh soup broth is added to blanched rice noodles, with fishballs, sliced pork meat, chopped spring onions (scallions, salad onions, whatever) coriander, crispy fried garlic and sometimes beansprouts.

The quality of the vendor will depend on the ingredients, often hawkers will also sell similar noodle soup dishes such as wantan mee which use the same core ingredients. There are several kopitiams and hawkers in Penang whose popularity is gauged on the quality of their home made fishballs – which should be full of flavour and soft to the touch and bite. Some of the more popular vendors make their fishballs by hand using eel, often a skill and recipe going back generations.

For backpackers staying around the Love Lane and Lebuh Chulia area I can recommend a nice husband and wife hawker team on the corner of Lebuh’s Carnavon & Chulia who knocks out Koay Teow th’ng & Wantan mee next to a another hawker who serves pork noodle delights such as char hor fun all for a handful of ringgits (less than one pound) per serve. Cheap and tasty breakfast options.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malay street food : Mee sotong / mee goreng Mamak (spicy Mamak squid noodles)

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After grazing our way through some other areas of Malaysia we made our way up to Georgetown, Penang (or Pinang), lauded as the food capital of Asia, street food mecca, whatever. We had high hopes. 

Penang is world famous for having a cultural melting pot of Indian, Chinese and Malay population who all contributed to the culinary landscape.
Penang did not disappoint, in fact it was probably better than expected – One thing; if you’re planning on eating like it’s your last week alive don’t visit during the lunar new year festivities.

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Mee sotong is one of those things where you’re happy to discover it, by accident. I mean, we had only a handful of days planned in Penang (although, we stayed for over a week) and I had a list as long as my arm of hawker dishes I wanted to seek out and try. For some reason, I didn’t include mee sotong and only ended up trying it when one of my ‘first choices’ were closed for Chinese New Year celebrations.

Mee sotong it seems, it more of a mamak dish, and the Indians and Malays are happy to keep pumping out deliciousness whilst the chinese community close up their shops and enjoy the celebrations.

It’s a real simple, firey one pot dish of mamak style mee goreng, flashed fried with the addition of wet, sweet, super spicy squid, or sotong. The sambal sauce turns the whole dish a deep red colour and a little bit of crunch from a type of fritter and some crispy onions  gives it a nice textural variety. If you’re afraid of chilli, stay away from this one.

Deep red, spicy mee sotong

Deep red, spicy mee sotong

The Malay blogging community seem to be real fans of Hameeds near to Fort Cornwallis, which is worth a visit itself. We visited Sri Weld foodcourt on Lebuh Pantai which houses around twenty or more hawker stalls – everything we tried was, like (almost) everything in Penang excellent.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malay street food : Curry laksa (curried chicken noodle soup)

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Laksa, the soup of the gods.

I’ve previously written about asam laksa and how depending on where you are in Malaysia, the word ‘laksa’ means different things – in Kuala Lumpur, for example just asking for laksa will get you a curry soup, but if you asked for the same in Pinang, you would get an asam laksa.

Curry laksa is characterised by its thick, rich, spicy curry soup broth. The soup is created by mixing worm-like laksa noodles, beansprouts (known as taugeh, in Malaysia) with the unctuous, coconut milk heavy chicken curry which will have been bubbling away and developing flavour for many hours before you sit down for lunch. The curry base showcases chicken on the bone and blood cockles; a rich shellfish which actually contains haemoglobin and has a strong taste. They are quite different from the pickled cockles available from European fishmongers.

Penangs version, curry mee will usually have a thinner vermicelli type noodle called bee hoon, or rice vermicelli.

For some reason, I never took pictures of Curry laksa, so thanks to Mylifestory & LWYang via creative commons licensing. 

Additionally, boiled egg, prawn and bean curd or tofu puffs are added with one last chilli kick added  – a spoonful of fresh sambal is thrown in for good measure.

Curry laksa is the sort of big, bold dinner that includes huge flavours of Malaysia and also the sort of hearty concoction you wished you could get hold of on a cold winters afternoon back in Europe. It’s soup and curry all in one!

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malay street food : Asam laksa (Spicy Penang style sour fish noodle soup)

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After grazing our way through some other areas of Malaysia we made our way up to Georgetown, Penang (or Pinang), lauded as the food capital of Asia, street food mecca, whatever. We had high hopes. 

Penang is world famous for having a cultural melting pot of Indian, Chinese and Malay population who all contributed to the culinary landscape.
Penang did not disappoint, in fact it was probably better than expected – One thing; if you’re planning on eating like it’s your last week alive don’t visit during the lunar new year festivities.

 

Laksa is one of the dishes that comes to mind when I think of Malaysian food. Nasi lemak is considered the national dish, and it’s one of my favourites too, but Laksa always has you coming back for more.

Laksa is the word for a malay noodle soup dish, but it depends on where you are as to what you receive if you just asked for ‘laksa’. In Kuala Lumpur, for example, a request for laksa would get you a curry laksa – a deep rich curry soup with curried chicken on the bone, prawns and cockles. If you were to ask for a laksa in Penang however you would be eating asam laksa, one of many hawker dishes originating in Penang and a dish that bears little resemblance to curry laksa.
Just to confuse things further, a curry laksa in Penang is referred to as a curry mee, although it may be less soupy and have a thinner ‘beehoon’ noodle.

There’s quite a few kinds of laksa, usually with slight differences in taste or flavour and varying from state to state. Johor & Sarawak have their own laksa. Nonya laksa is another variation, from Peranakan culture and easily found in Melaka.  Other versions can be found in Indonesia and Singapore, too.

Asam laksa, a staple Georgetown hawker food and something everybody should try at least once.

Asam laksa - sour, fishy, spicy diliciousness

Asam laksa – sour, fishy, spicy diliciousness

The word asam, literally means tamarind and can also be spelled  as assam – A fruit with a sharp, sour flavour which is a main ingredient in making the soup base. It’s also used in Indian cooking to give chutney the sour, pickled taste.

The base is a slow cooking process involving fresh fish, usually mackerel or a something similarly strong and oily and cooking the sauce out until the fish breaks up into little flakes and the juice has a pungent, sour flavour.
The additional ingredients are seemingly odd, at least for a western palate but really work – Pungent belecan shrimp paste and aromats add depth to the broth. The noodles, fish and stock are all brought together with thinly sliced raw shallots, fresh chilli, julienne cucumber and pineapple finished with fresh mint leaves.
Fresh calamansi  – a type of small lime with orange flesh – can be added for extra tartness.

The blends of flavours are superb. The big blunt kick of chilli and the rich fishy stock with the belecan high-fiving your tastebuds with every sweaty, spicy mouthful. There is layer, upon layer of flavour to blow your mind.

Laksa is readily available all over Georgetown, and also in other cities – although, Georgetown is apparently the best – but, choose your laksa vendors carefully! I was told by a chef friend from Melaka that sometimes in order to cut corners and reduce costs some unscrupulous hawkers will use shredded tissue paper to pad out their broth, in place of the fish.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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