(Makan = Eat in Malay)
It was a rare opportunity. My hubby had a business trip to Penang and I decided to accompany him for a short holiday and to visit my friend, Teh, who had returned to her hometown in Sungai Petani in the state of Kedah after working in Singapore for twenty years.
Kedah is the national rice producing state in Malaysia. It occupies the northern tip of Malaysia and borders Thailand. Teh lives in Sungai Petani (= River Farmers), a small town slightly more than an hour’s drive from Penang International Airport. Thus, you don’t find many international travelers in this part of the country.
As we drove along, lush green padi fields backed by mountainous silhouette created a picturesque postcard scene, marred only by the haze from Sumatra.
“How nice to jog along these country paths,” I commented.
“Only if you want to be raped, robbed or killed.” retorted my host, and so, we didn’t stop to take any photographs.
It’s the same response I get when I am in KL. No one walks or exercises outdoor anymore for fears ranging from petty crimes to hard-core murders. Singaporeans take for granted our crime-free city that my Malaysian hosts have to keep reminding me to be mindful of my belongings.
Instead of tucking in the famous fares of Penang’s street food like what was expected of me when friends heard I was flying to Penang, I sampled Kedah food instead. Teh took me to some unique makan places in Sungai Petani.
First stop was lunch at a Chinese Restaurant, Sim Piao Siang Restoran. The specialty here is the Laksa Fish – fish that is cooked in assam laksa gravy and accompanied by laksa noodles, garnished by mint leaves. So instead of the noodles being the main, like how it is served in Penang, here, the noodles is the side and the fish becomes the main.
You can select any fish you want and we took the waitress’s recommendation.
Next is the Bamboo Prawns.
I think the novelty here is the way the prawns are served, in bamboo. The prawns are cooked in a satay peanut sauce.
A local stir-fried sweet potato leaves with sambal completed our meal which cost about RM50. You hear me chirping away when I realised the price. (Cheap cheap!)
Next, it’s off to sample Teh’s teenage haunts. As a secondary school student, she would meet up with her friends at the eating area next to the river, just behind the bus terminal. I was full but then, who considers cuttlefish kangkong a meal right?
The owner, Tua Pui (Fatty) is the second generation owner of this stall and they are famous for cuttlefish kangkong (water spinach) in sweet sauce and peanut. I was more impressed by the drink peanut crush, a drink made by crashing ice and peanut together.
It was surprisingly refreshing and delicious. It tasted milky with the powdery taste of roasted peanuts. The Milo powder at the top was more for deco than anything.
As we were in the city centre, which reminded me of Chinatown, we visited the local famous confectionery as my mother had requested me to buy the famous Penang Beh Teh Saw (water chestnut biscuits). Teh poohed poohed away the suggestion. “Why buy factory made biscuits when you can have freshly hand-baked ones?”
This shop is famous for its wide variety of tau-sah pia (bean-paste biscuits) and beh teh saw.
For dinner, she took me to try local Bak Kut Teh (Pork rib soup). Although Bak Kut Teh can be found in Singapore and most parts of Malaysia, they differ in taste depending on where you eat. In Singapore, the soup is often peppery. In Klang, the soup has a strong herbal taste. Here, the soup is less herbal and more soya based.
The soup was still bubbling in the claypot when it was served. Inside, the ribs was accompanied by stomach, meat balls, tofu and chye sim. Unlike in Singapore where we dip with red cut chilies, here the accompaniment is raw minced garlic and green chili padi. Like in Singapore, soup is refillable and fried dough fritters are also served. Teh told me their famous here is the lala (clams) which they did not have that evening.
We met Teh’s mother after dinner and she suggested durians for dessert. I would have loved to but after the full day binge, I couldn’t eat another bite.
I have heard of tours catering to just eating which is common in Asia with our wide variety of food. In Macau and Phuket, our hosts also took us around to sample their local delights. I think it’s a great way to tour the place – through your stomach!