In the last 3 posts, I wrote about restaurants that I have tried. But, Penang is famous for hawker style food. The tourists (mostly mainland Malaysians and Singaporeans) flock to the island for the hawker food. That is the number one attraction and probably followed closely by the heritage and culture of the island.
After 3 days of arrival in Penang, I got to have a real “kopitiam” food. My sister wanted a ride to her office in Pulau Tikus – a wealthy suburb with a wet market and several kopitiams, cafes and services (banks, clinics, corner shops). It is a self contained service township, and near to Gurney Drive with million dollar high rise condominiums. Traffic in the area is always busy and getting busier.
It was almost lunch time when we got there. My partner and I decided to lunch at The New Cathy Kopitiam. It was busy, but we managed to get a table. The turnover is generally very fast eating in a kopitiam. Eat and leave. No long and big chit chat. Make way for other customers standing and waiting for a table. Also, it is too hot to be sitting inside or outside after “makan” (eat). Very few kopitiam is air-conditioned.
At New Cathay, there is at least 15 different hawker stalls selling different type of food – chicken rice (typically offers roast chicken, roast duck, roast pork, barbeque pork), wantan mee, curry mee, heh mee (prawn mee), poh piah, char hor fun, and others. This one even has a stall selling homemade “kuih” (asian savoury cake) and curry puffs. In a more traditional kopitiam, there is usually only one or the most three stalls – these type of old kopitiams are mostly found in old part of George Town (UNESCO world heritage listed).
Eating at a kopitiam, the first thing to do is to find a table. Be quick and grab the table as soon as you see the other customer/s got up. My eyes were like a hawk – very sharp and on the lookout for someone to just about to lift their arse from the seat. The seats in a kopitiam are basic, either made of plastic, wood or metal stool. I saw a middle age couple just about to get up from their seats. I quickly wiggled myself, like a swift and slippery snake round every tables around me within 5 seconds to grab the table! Then I asked my partner to go first to order what he wanted, only what he wanted to eat.
It took my partner less than 2 minutes to decide. During that time, the waiter asked, “Lim Har Mit?” (drink what?). Once you are seated at a table, the waiter or waitress will come to your table and take your drink order. Don’t expect silver service, and don’t expect handsome FOH young staff. Traditionally, a kopitiam is owned by a husband and wife team or family passed down generations. A kopitiam FOH staff are highly efficient and all they do is drinks and wipe the tables. I ordered a Penang white coffee for my partner, and a barley cold drink. Penang coffee is very black and strong and the kopitiam usually use carnation milk if you ask for white coffee.
My partner sat down. My turn. I got up and walked around each of the stall to see what I want to eat. I ordered a chicken rice with roasted chicken drumstick. Took me 1 minute. Got back to our table and sat down. Within 3 minutes, almost all the food arrived. My partner’s order arrived first. I was surprised he ordered 3 types – poh piah, curry puffs and wantan mee.
First to arrive was two chicken curry puffs. They were large because he didn’t asked for small. I am trying to remember the price. I think it was MYR$1.50 (AUD$0.50). We could only share one, and took the other one back for an afternoon tea snack. The curry puff filling was good – chunky pieces of chicken meat and potatoes.
Next to arrive within less than a minute was my partner’s wantan mee – egg noodles with fried wontan and char-siew (barbeque pork). This wantan mee was very good. Cost MYR$3.50 (AUD$1.20). I was really surprised that my partner ordered so much. First he said he doesn’t want to eat at a kopitiam. Then he went nuts by ordering 3 things!
My chicken rice arrived next. I was not that pleased with the chicken rice. I have tasted better one at other kopitiam. The roasted chicken drumstick was a bit overcooked and on the tough side. Not tender and a bit dry. The rice was overcooked and too moist. I must have got a wrong chicken rice stall, as I was told there is a good chicken rice stall in Pulau Tikus. There are other kopitiams in the area also selling chicken rice. Cost MYR$3.50 (AUD$1.20).
The last one was Poh Piah, which is Penang style (a nyonya dish). My partner said it tasted different. I told him that it was probably not the best he had tasted and it had been a while since had poh piah. The first time he tried it was at my mum’s place. My mum makes the best poh piah, and is a tradition for her to make them during Chinese New Year. I told my partner that if he wanted to eat poh piah, the best one is in Padang Brown in Perak Road. This one cost MYR$3.00 (AUD$1.00).
After lunch at New Cathay kopitiam, I suggested we go to the Botanical Garden. I have not been there for almost 3 decades. When I was a young boy, my father will take the family to the garden every weekend, early in the morning for some walking exercise. The garden is in a natural surrounding, in lush green forest and rolling hills. It is organic, except there has been new addition at the front with man-made water lily ponds. The garden has a natural waterfall cascading down the hillside into small streams cutting through the middle section of the garden. The garden has a lot of wild monkeys – they are notorious of stealing food or chasing visitors! So beware – if you are walking in the garden, do not feed them or even be seen having some kind of food in your hands.
We didn’t stay long as it was hot and humid in the afternoon. I would probably do this again, but has to be early in the morning when it is cool, or late in the evening.
As we walked passed the main entrance, I saw this monkey holding and shaking a bottle. I got a bit closer. It was drinking whatever that was left in the bottle! I got a bit closer to take a photo. Wrong move! Too close. He dropped the bottle, hissed at me exposing his vicious fangs and chased me. I was shocked and terrified. But, funny at the same time, and had a good laugh. So, beware if you are at the Botanical Garden.
If you don’t believe me, on our way out walking towards our car, we walked passed an ice cream vendor on a tricycle cart, selling peanut icecreams in cone, cups or sandwich roll. There were 2 young tourists – each just bought and holding an ice cream sandwich. The next thing I heard was a loud yell of “Oh My God! Oh My God!” I looked at the young man. He had his ice cream sandwich partially snatched by a monkey from his hand. The monkey jumped at him with great precision and snatched half of his ice cream sandwich! LOL! He was very shocked and could not believed it, and kept saying, “That scared the Shit of me…,” and again “Oh My God!”. It was so, so funny. Nasty monkey!