Thursday, January 17, 2008

Early morning spice

Penang Post #4. Apart from the books we packed for this trip, we consulted many friends and family members, Penangites and frequent visitors to the island. Among them were Robyn and Dave, whose sense of adventure, sensitive palates and a curiosity for the people behind the food (or just the people!) lead them to some amazing stories that even locals never unlock. They swooned over the Pulau Tikus kerabu beehoon in their blog posting, and strongly suggested we set the alarm clock early enough to try it, a recommendation if roughly translated into Malaysian-speak, would sound like this: “Die, die must eat."

So, here we were, blurry eyed at 7-ish, at the Hup Guan Café, abutting the Pulau Tikus market. I had gone to park the car, dropping J off with the responsibility of ordering. The storekeepers were amused that she was ordering for two (doesn’t anyone eat double portions here?), and something must have transpired between them, for when I arrived, they gave me that kind of winking, knowing grin! For a night owl like me, such cheeriness in the early morning is disconcerting (and somewhat accusatory, I might say).

Kerabu beehoon is rice vermicelli tossed with a blend of sambal belacan, dried shrimp, lime juice and chillies; and garnished with boiled large prawns, chopped shallots, kaffir lime leaves and mint, among others. Hup Guan’s version came without the large prawns and has an unassuming air about it, but it packs wallop of tastes – the herb garnishes providing a fresh counterpoint to the spicy, prawny taste that clung on to each strand of beehoon.

Like for many of Penang’s dishes, finding the balance between spiciness and sourness is at the heart of kerabu beehoon. Hup Guan’s version was just a tad too high on the heat – not evident at first, but by the end of the meal, you could feel the insides of your mouth burning. Surprisingly, J, not really a chilli queen, lapped it all up and was grinning ear to ear at the end!

It was a great wake-up call to the senses, and after a second cup of coffee, sipped leisurely as we read the day’s papers, we were set for our first full-day Penang adventure.

Hup Guan Café
46A Jalan Cantonment, Penang. From 7 am, closed Mondays.

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