Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Eating My Way Through Penang

This post is dedicated to my friend Micah who told me to stop posting pictures of me in exotic places and to start posting pictures of food because "your face looks the same in each photo, but delicious exotic food...that's revolutionary."

Coming from Cameron Highlands with cool air and remote nature was a big change from arriving in Georgetown on Penang Island where suddenly it was boiling hot outside and city building everywhere, though not the nightmarish concrete jungle of Kuala Lumpur. I had excellent luck arriving in Penang since there was a free hop on bus that took me from the jetty to the hostel I would be volunteering at for the next 3 weeks, my luck ended there. I arrived at the hostel when the heat was at its peak, my bladder was full, my phone was at 5% and nobody was there so I ended up locked out for 2+ hours. Eventually people staying at the hostel arrived and let me in and that is how I met Asha, Valerio and reunited with my friend Sergei who I'd met in Cameron Highlands. Asha said to me "so you're running the hostel?" and I corrected her that I was volunteering, not running anything! She replied by saying she'd been there weeks and nobody worked there other than the owner who was never ever around so I would in fact be running the place. It ended up being pretty true, in the last two weeks I've probaby seen him twice for less than 30 minutes total and the only instruction I've received so far is being given the masterkey. Luckily the work is beyond laid back and it's a small hostel so I've been getting to know everyone who checks in, and I'm free to leave for food or sightseeing whenever I want.

Clockwise: Char koay kak, Murtabak, Mee goreng, PB&Banana mang chang kui

The next day Felix from Germany checked in because some people from Cameron Highlands told him to come there, then the next day those two people, Marike and Charlie checked in too so for my first week there it was like a big Cameron Highland reunion with amazing people. We'd spend the days going to the national park, trekking to Monkey Beach and eating at the nearby night market while waiting for the bus back, going to Penang Hill where the hike uphill (it's always uphill) was nearly 3 hours, celebrating Marike's birthday by smearing cake all over her lovely face, seeing the Snake Temple, touring the street art of Georgetown, and visiting the Kek Lok Si Temple. In the evenings we'd usually head to Antara Bangsa, this slightly sketchy seeming but absolutely wonderful Chinese establishment where you can find cheap beer for take away or to drink in the alley with others. I'm extremely proud to say that I found it my first night there. A can of beer at the 7/11 is around 10rm (3.30CAD) however at this magical place it was 10rm for 3 beers so it's safe to say that I've been there multiple times and introduced multiple people to the place as well.

Now for the most important part of Penang!
Nearly all the sightseeing I've done in two weeks was done in my first 3 days, since then all I've done in Penang is eat. And eat. And eat. Penang is basically the food capital of Malaysia and I am constantly surrounded by cheap and delicious street food stalls and small restaurants where I can, and have, been gorging on Malaysian/Chinese/Indian food non-stop. My food obsession has gotten so bad that I googled and read so many food blogs about the Penang food that my offline map is nothing but restaurant and street stall locations sometimes with as little information as "Char Koay Kak stall in front of school, look for green t-shirt, may run out by 8pm". I'd wake up and start thinking of my next meal and while eating lunch I'd be wondering where to eat for dinner. This became such a recurring thing that the other friends staying at the hostel would jokingly (and some slightly seriously) say they were on the Christelle food tour of Penang. My favourite foods so far have been Char Koay Teow, Char Koay Kak, Wan Tan Mee, Roti, Nasi Lemak....okay basically everything except Rojak and Chee Cheong Fun! 
Clockwise: ???, Chinese mixed rice, Duck rice, Cendol

My Rules for Finding Food
1) If there are only westerners eating there, run
2) If the place seems to be crammed with locals/Chinese, force your way in a find a spot even if its with strangers because it is delicious 100% of the time
3) If people are waiting at a tiny street stall for a half hour for a plate of noodles, it is worth it. Get your ass in line. Especially if the service is horrendous and people are still queuing up
4) Eat everything
Clockwise: Wan Tan Mee, Egg&Cheese Mang Chang Kui, Char Koay Kak, Nasi Kandar

Clockwise: Pasembur, Thosai, Chee Cheong Fun, Moocakes

Lesson learned: I repeat - eat everything.

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