Thursday, August 14, 2008

Penang Day 1

Everybody told us to go to Balik Pulau for durians, because that's where they are grown. We hired a taxt for RM25/US$8 per hour "for 3 hours and above" and RM30/hr if under 3 hours. When we finally finished the tour, it was 3 1/2 hours later and the driver suddenly became a lawyer. He insisted on RM30 per hour because that was his rate for 3 hours "and part thereof". Not exactly those words but you know what he meant. This is still a much better deal than the hotel's tour of RM50/US$15.60 per person for 4 hours which does not allow any stop in the durian area because they use a bus and I suppose foreign tourists may object to durian stops.

Gurney Dr, where our hotel was, is on the north-eastern part of Penang island. Our tour was an anti-clockwise ride around the island. Beginning from Gurney Drive, we go past the famed Feringghi coast and the tired-looking resort hotels. I wanted to visit the fishing village but the cab driver missed it; I didn't bother to insist. From there it was down the west coast of the island, climbing up a hill slope where Penang's reservoir is (one of the highlights in the hotel's tour, can you believe it). On the left were the valleys where very matured durian trees grow, some of them still with fruits on their branches late in the season.

Durians on trees, Balik Pulau Penang.

Once in a while there were durian stalls but the taxi driver said those were targetted at tourists. so we didn't stop. Big mistake. Besides durians, we also wanted to eat Balik Pulau's assam laksa, which somebody told me was the best. We got to the old market where the assam laksa stall was supposed to be, but the market was boarded up with blue zinc sheets. The corner shop closest to the market had 'assam laksa' and 'curry laksa' signs but I wasn't sure. The driver said we should check out the new market. Big mistake again.

On the way to the new market, we passed some durian stalls. No red prawns durians, so we settled for packaged durian which the guy said was excellent, at RM7 a box. I should've known by now that you get what you pay for (ugwupf--haha). These tasted good at first bite, then they started to taste like good sweet potatoes. Still, in KK, these would've passed for high grade durians.


The new market was hardly occupied, and it was here I made the mistake of going into the toilet. Somebody missed the hole in the squat toilet; memories of my old alma mater, St Francis Convent, and all its toilet horrors, came to my mind and I got sick.

There were hardly anybody walking around in Balik Pulau. Ming described the place as looking like "Tuaran", a cowboy town 25 Km north of KK. (Yesterday, my pastor's mom, who lives in Penang and was the reason I brought my mom to Penang--but she had to come to KK for some matter--told me that Balik Pulau's assam laksa is the best. Based on her descriptions, the stall is the one I saw next to the old market. Regret that I was so near yet so far is a terrible feeling.)

Driver said the best assam laksa is to be had at Air Itam. Now many people swear by this stall, supposed to be the origin of assam laksa. On our previous trip 7 years ago, we made the journey to Air Itam (in the middle of the island if I'm not wrong) and found the famous stall. We sat on the five-foot way next to the stinky drain. Our orders came quickly but the bowls had caked fish flakes on the rim and outside. How can the fish flakes dry so quickly? Did they even wash the bowls because business was brisk, and queues for tables were long? Most of all, the assam laksa didn't impress us. It tasted like those we ate on Gurney Dr, which though good were not blue-ribbon worthy. So on this trip, I crossed Air Itam laksa off my list (although now I wish I had tried it again. Who knows, I might like it now.)

I asked the driver to take us to Pulau Tikus instead because my friend Su emphatically insisted that the best assam laksa is there. We get there, and the driver stopped at a corner shop. They had everything but assam laksa. Just at the moment when we gave up and decided to leave, Su called from KK. Her directions were "It's right across form the Police Station!" Sure enough on our right was the Balai Polis Balik Pulau. She was sure it wasn't a corner shop. I spied a coffeeshop, the 3rd one I think, and went forward and sure enough, there was this tiny inconspicuous stall run by a young couple:


Assam laksa, RM2.80 regular, RM3.60 large.

This was a regular bowl. This was the first and best bowl of assam laksa we ate on our trip. Chunks of very fresh fish and fresh, smooth laksa noodles in an excellent soup (love that flavor!) that was wonderfully thick. Only thing is, the soup was slightly too sweet; I asked for kasturi limes and the guy looked surprised. Looking at the picture, I don't see any mint leaves. Pineapple was hidden. But really, the consistency of this soup is great. I cook assam laksa and my biggest problem is not the taste but the body of the soup, which is hard to thicken. Most assam laksa soups are thickened with fish flakes and onions but this soup is nearly sugar-syrupy. I'd love to hear from Penangnites if they like the laksa at Sin Hwa , which I suspect is still off the beaten path of tourists.

Char kuey teow from a stall in Sin Hwa.

It was bleh and it put Ming and I off CKT for the rest of the trip. I can eat tons of assam laksa but not greasy undelicious CKT. You can imagine that by this time my eyes and tummy were bursting. This was only 4 pm on Day 1. Ming and I were groaning but my mom was pretty happy. Her appetite was/is ferocious!


jgirlpg said...

Hi Terri,

If you ask 5 Penangnites for recommendations of where the best CKT or laksa (or any other Penang food) is, chances are, you will get 4 or 5 different answers. I myself am from Penang, and I have my own list of where the best CKT, laksa and etc are. FYI, as a "true" Penangnite, I have boycotted the Lorong Selamat CKT years ago due to the seller's attitude problem. The CKT itself wasn't such a big deal either.

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

hi jgirlpg: yes, tt's not surprising. which is ur fav place for ckt and assam laksa? i couldn't find a search widget on your site either (mine didn't work; i need an expert to help me) so i can't find your posts on assam laksa n ckt.

u know, penang being such a food heaven, it would be great if outsiders can get a list of the best places for this and tt. i'm thinking of drawing up a list for kk food myself but it'd be so time-consuming!

Anonymous said...

I like the assam laksa near the Green Lane mosque, opposite a Chinese primary school, on the way to Air Itam. We don't like the CKT in Lorong Selamat, nothing great..the CKT at Rifle Range flats are much better.

afiq said...

How my mouth watered when you describe the assam laksa.

I'm so going to that shop. (the shop should also pay you royalty for advertizing its well hidden, well treasured assam laksa.

Agnes @ rB said...

I'm really wanting both the durian and the assam laksa now!!!! :X

I'm hungry!! *checks time* - 10.58pm


Denise ^ ChickyEGG said...

IF u r not reading Ken Follett... PUT IT DOWN!!! ;o i mean, change to a new one

jgirlpg said...

My favorite CKT places are Ah Leng's at Dato' Keramat (morning, closes by 2pm) and Bee Hooi coffee shop at Pulau Tikus (dinner). I haven't go around to post about them because the pictures I took were too blurry. As for laksa, my favorite laksa stall moved out a while ago, and I'm unable to find it even till now. So, I don't have a favorite laksa place for now. The laksa at Kek Seng coffee shop (Georgetown area) is okay. I'm very picky about my food. Ha ha.

I know a few people in Penang have their own lists of the "best" places for food. I've seen those lists, and I can't say I agree with them as well.

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

anon: tq. i'll add tt to my list.other than being greasy, i found the lorong selamat ckt a bit too egg-creamy.

afiq: yes, check it out n tell me what u think. i love it when i eat at places tt aren't yet discovered or gone commercial. sometimes there is an advantage to food blogging. the durian seller gave me a free durian when i told him i'll be posting about his stall:)

agnes: u love assam laksa too??

denise: yes, now it's in my toilet so i read a couple pages each time. it'll take me 5 yrs to finish.

jgirlpg: pls pls do make up a list soon. ah leng's ckt is on many ppl's list. wish i had tried it!

Agnes @ rB said...

I like it since Form 3!!!! xD

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