Gluttony in Penang

Published in Livejournal 01/25/2020

If I’ve learned a little gluttony in my sixties, it was in Georgetown. The Malaysian island of Penang is called a culinary paradise. Indian, Chinese, Malay, Thai, Arabic and God knows what other cuisines, as well as endless variations and mixtures of the best of them. It’s incredibly tasty and varied. Before that, we came here for a couple of days to renew our visa, but once we were forced to spend more than a month there, we had a blast, but didn’t try even a tenth of everything.

1. Nasi Kandar,

translated as “rice from the rocker”. Because they were carried around the streets in baskets. The principle of Indian thali or rice on a banana leaf: a pile of rice, topped with several sauces, plus in separate small plates (5-8 pieces) – a little bit of a variety of dishes: vegetables, meat, seafood. You just poke your finger at them in the window – “I want this, this and this.” If it’s not scary, of course, because it’s not always clear what it is there.
This “nasikandarnya” Deen’s Maju Nasi Kandar on the Gurudwara street (there really is a Sikh Gurudwara, about which separately) is large and very popular among the locals, there was a queue all the way down the street. True, it moves very quickly: a couple of sellers (the cooks are always men!) quickly pour into plates from the trays.
The last two shots are from another establishment, a quieter one, on the popular tourist street Chulia. But there you can clearly see the limitless selection of rice additives.


2. Chinese.

A very old and poor house on one of the central streets of Georgetown. Typical layout: first floor – a hall with shabby walls and several cheap tables – a “food room”. The second floor is residential, a wooden staircase leads there; apparently, it looks no richer than the first. A half-blind old man with powerful, muscular arms spends the entire evening frying a traditional local dish in a frying pan – a mixture of several types of noodles, seafood (squid, shrimp), vegetables, and an egg can be broken into it upon request. Very unusual, especially the somewhat watery, jelly-like consistency. But I thought it was very tasty, I went several times. True, I can hardly describe the taste: there are simply no names for such tastes in the Russian language.
The place is popular, in the evening the flow of locals does not dry up, you have to wait a long time for an order – the old man cooks alone, the elderly woman only takes orders and payment, a younger man (son?) at a separate counter in the back of the room prepares tea with milk and coffee. Family business.
Costs 5 ringit (a dollar with a couple of cents). Typical prices in a cafe “for locals”. In “tourist” places the price of the dish is 8-15 ringit. This is already too much for the locals. And here, as in many Asian countries, it is customary to eat not at home, but on the street.


Next door is another cafe that serves nasi lemak. Brother and sister. The woman speaks excellent English, and in general is lively and intelligent, she has traveled to a bunch of countries. He criticizes the “heritage” status of the city, received thanks to UNESCO. He says that as a result, prices for houses, rent and maintenance have increased significantly; houses are being bought by Singaporeans and turned into tourist attractions, driving up prices even more. And we feed the locals, but working at such prices is no longer profitable, and people cannot spend more on food. We keep prices down as best we can. The city, he says, is turning into a tourist simulation of itself. It turns out that being called “heritage”, it loses its real “heritage” and authenticity, which lies in a special established way of life.
But while the old man with muscular arms is still setting up his hellish kitchen every evening and frying, frying, frying…
Address: “Char Hor Fun”. Corner of Pantai and Melayu street, George Town, Penh

3. Nasi lemak is strictly local. Nasi lemak – rice boiled in coconut milk plus the obligatory shrimp paste, tiny dried anchovies and fried nuts, sauce. Optional – fish and egg (maybe chicken, and a lot of other things). In this version, on rice there is caviar (yellow, not ours, salmon, but other fish), okra (green pods), fried squid and octopus, egg. The main thing in such dishes is the original range of tastes. For me – luxurious.


4. Restaurant of Baba Nenya cuisine (a specific local culture, a mixture of Chinese and Malay, arose when visiting Chinese merchants began to marry local Malay girls). A very show-off restaurant, but we decided to take a chance and it turned out incredibly delicious! “Otak-otak” is the most delicate fish pie, almost a soufflé. Eggplants in a flavorful (but not spicy) red sauce. And dessert – all sorts of different things in soy milk. It doesn’t look like China, or India, or Thailand—it’s very specific and sophisticated.

5. Of course, India. It’s not for nothing that the Indian quarter is called “Little India”; everything here – the temples, the way of life, clothing and food are completely authentic. Cuisine from different regions, with a Muslim bias.