Street Food Heaven – Penang, Malaysia

georgetown
Shophouses in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Buddhist ceremony in Georgetown

Penang, Malaysia had been on our bucket list since before we even knew what country it was in (😳embarrassing)!  One sleepy afternoon years ago, we were watching Anthony Bourdain on “Parts Unknown” stuff his face at Line Clear in Georgetown and decided then and there that any trip to Asia would have to include Penang.  After all, it was street food heaven right? We had five nights planned!  We decided to stay at the Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel because everyone on the backpacker trail was talking about it.  The price was kind of high at 40 Ringgit for a dorm bed but included was free breakfast, all-day coffee and water, and two strong drinks at the bar.  The bar area closes at 11 after the nightly beer pong tournament then everyone goes on a pub crawl down the street to Love Lane where you can continue the party as late as your heart desires.

most popular new hostel in malaysia
Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel
Tipsy Tiger Hostel Party
The Bar At Tipsy Tiger
love lane party street
Love Lane – Party Street Penang

The Tispy Tiger was a good time but after two nights of craziness we were ready for something more chill.  Our second accommodation, The Frame Guesthouse, a very zen/minimalist place with cedar ceilings and antique stairways.  We really liked our private room here and stayed for three nights enjoying the AC and waterfall showers.

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The Frame lobby — a minimalist hostel in an old framemaker’s shop

The highlight of Penang for us was the street food.  Every corner had different stuff and you could really experience the fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines.  We tried to eat as much as possible, always opting for fourth and sometimes fifth meal.  It was a hard life.  Most of the food vendors have a few tables where you can sit and eat, and most require you to buy a bevarage- beer, soda or fresh-squeezed juice- if you use the table.  It really was a street food heaven.  Here are our favorites!

street food heaven
Laksa noodles- get in my belly
street food heaven
Pohpiah – like a large spring roll stuffed with tofu, veggies, and chili sauce!
street food heaven
Biggest Indian Meal Ever!
street food heaven
Obama Vegetarian Spring Rolls from Red Garden Food Paradise
street food heaven
Fermented pork belly noodles
street food heaven
Cendol – Icy Bean Dessert
street food heaven
More laksa bowls, yum!
penang food
Banana Leaf Indian
vegan food malaysia
In a healthy turn of events, we got vegan food from Wholey Wonder.  Yum!  The unicorn “cheesecake” is naturally-colored from the different superfruits in the layers.  So awesome!

One of the best places to eat is the famous Red Garden Food Paradise.  They usually have some singers and dancers in the center stage and around the edges there are so many different food vendors selling dishes from all over the world.  It has a very classic feel with red plastic chairs and happy families sharing tables stacked with food.  It’s always busy and opens at 6pm nightly.

red garden food stalls
Red Garden

My favorite late night spot was the 24-hour joint Line Clear.  Always a line and barely a menu, they kind of yell “What do you want?” when you get to the front then they slop it on a plate with rice and you get a scoop of sauce from each of the curries.  The food they sell is called nasi kandar, which pretty much means “country rice.”  It’s simple and everything you ever wanted after having a few beers on Love Lane.  Street Food Heaven indeed!

line clear nasi kandar
Line Clean 24hr Nasi Kandar.  Surprisingly they even had some vegetarian options for Carrie!

24 hour nasi kandar

Georgetown is unique in Asia because it largely avoided the bombings of World War II and the following wars.  Only a few bombs were dropped there so the old architecture has remained, giving the city a whole lot of character.   The only negative is the lack of sidewalks; you basically just walk along the side of the road and hope you don’t get clobbered by a drunk, texting motorbiker.  There was a lot of unique street art, most memorable of which were the cartoon wire sculptures depicting life in Penang throughout the years.

Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

As in the rest of Malaysia, the mishmash of cultures and religious blends peacefully and beautifully in Penang.  So, I’ll leave you with a sunset over the downtown mosque and Hindu temple.

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Masjid Kapitan Keling Mosque in Georgetown

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple in Georgetown
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

 

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Mangia Italia!

I’ve never been super into Italian food.  Maybe it’s because I’ve never really found the good stuff!  We CHOWED down in Italy!  Italian food is based on simple, fresh ingredients and exquisite craftsmanship.  Every restaurant worth its salt makes their own pasta and menus change seasonally.  Thank God we walked so much to stave off too much weight gain.

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Breakfast every day was cappuccino and “cornettos”, which are Italian croissants filled with Nutella!!!  Yummers!

Italia

Italia

The antipasto was also amazing!  Here’s some bruschetta and prosciutto with melon before lunch!

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“Suppli” are basically breaded deep-fried risotto balls.  I want to eat these every day for the rest of my life!

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Cured meats, bread with gorgonzola truffle spread, tapenades, and veggies at the Mercate Centrale in Firenze.  Definitely go there for the amazing local food choices!

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The most epic meat and cheese board in the world from La Prosciutteria in Roma.

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Pasta made from scratch is SO MUCH BETTER than dried boxed pasta.  The pasta was really thick and rich!  I tried spinach-ricotta ravioli with garlic sage cream, spaghetti a la pesto, and many more!

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Last but not least, dessert!  Authentic tiramisu is not very sweet with a very strong coffee flavor.  This one was pistachio flavored, hence the green color.

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Gelato was also a daily occurrence.  This one was from Perche No! in Firenze, which I had dreamed of visiting since hearing so much about how good it was from a high school history teacher.  He’s now retired and I half expected to run into him there!  I can’t wait to go back to Italia with Zach someday and try all the goodies again!  Until then, I’m on the hunt for suppli in California!

On Eating Animals

Five months ago I was a strict vegetarian.  Five minutes ago I ate two hot dogs.  From a can.  “What happened to me?” I find myself wondering, as you may be also.  Well, South America happened.  Here’s where I try to explain, not because I feel guilty, ‘cause I don’t really, but because some might find it interesting.

I have called myself a vegetarian for almost six years now, since my sophomore year of college.  This is not my first lapse in my no-meat years, but it is my biggest.  All of my exception-making has, however, involved travel and different cultures.

In 2007 when I went to Kenya I don’t think I ever had to actually eat a piece of meat, although I was served many dishes from which I carefully picked around the meat chunks and then hid them under other food so no one would notice.  Most of the time, though, my group cooked our own meals and thankfully, the others were fine with cooking vegetarian.

When I went back to East Africa (Tanzania) in 2009 as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was expecting to have to eat some meat in social settings.  That prediction proved correct on my first night at my training home stay when my host family welcomed me, their honored guest, with a slaughtered chicken.  The un-affordability of meat there, plus a clever white lie once I moved to my own village (“I’m allergic to meat!”) kept the times I had to eat chicken to only a few, and it was only ever chicken.  Rice and beans were available at every cafe and I mostly cooked for myself anyway.

I was kind of expecting the same deal down here.  To meat in order not to offend my hosts but avoid it in other situations.  That proved more difficult than I expected.  Meat is much more affordable in South America, evidently, because it is everywhere.  In our first WWOOF adventure, I got over my qualms about red meat fast as bony, fatty chunks of beef accompanied many of the meals generously provided by our hosts.  The bigger problem, though, is that very few restaurants offer cheap vegetarian options.  The “almuerzo”, or “set lunch” is our savior down here, and it’s usually a cheap (under $2) two-course lunch restaurants offer which includes zero-few choices.  Usually the only choice is between chicken or beef.  You pay significantly more at these places for vegetarian meals, and even then, you usually have the choice of some kind of eggs or some other kind of eggs.  Where are where are the rice and beans so abundant in Africa?  The truth is, down here, if you want a vegetarian diet with nutrition and variety, you have to go to expensive gringo restaurants.  We honestly just can’t afford it.

So I eat meat now.  At first I would give Zach my meat and eat his side dishes, but that’s not balanced for either of us.  I got so tired of eggs, eggs, eggs that I gradually found myself saying “Oh, what the heck…” more and more often and digging into animal flesh.

How do I feel about this?  I don’t feel evil or good or destructive.  I feel it’s a necessary compromise I’m making for this trip.  A lot of the reasons I’m vegetarian aren’t reasons down here, and I’m thankful that most of what I eat was raised and killed locally and and hopefully somewhat more humanely than how it would have been in our U.S. factory farms.  I also am kind of glad for this chance to satisfy my curiosity, which had been growing.  Six years is a long time and I was prettyy young when I made the commitment.  I recently had a lot of long-time vegetarian friends start eating meat again for various reasons, and some of them told me “Oh, I have so much more energy now!” and stuff like that.  So with them in mind I was kind of interested in seeing if I would feel differently.  And guess what?  Nope, I don’t.  I will fully admit that I do still enjoy the taste of chicken, especially fried in that deliciously-unhealthy way.  But eating meat again doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been missing out.  It doesn’t make me feel healthier.  I feel like it’s necessary right now, mostly for our budget, and that it’ll be easy to give up all over again back in the U.S.

In fact, Zach and I talk all the time about how we miss cooking our own meals and when I look at cooking blogs I still bookmark new vegetarian recipes to try once we’re home.  I still feel that meat-eating the way most people in the U.S. do it is wrong.  So am I lying if I still call myself vegetarian?  I’m off the wagon for now but I can’t wait to jump back on.