Saturday, January 12, 2008

Gurney hai

Penang Post #2. We got a nice little room on Gurney Drive, the touristy seaside promenade that, to be fair, is still thronged by locals out for a jog, a stroll, or to get close to their loved ones on a bench under a faulty street lamp. As befitting our location and our mission to eat the best local street food on offer, the first food pit stop we made was…

Just kidding! This joint’s tagline really cracked us up: “If it swims, we have it.” Really? Some of my ex-bosses swim, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them skewered and roasted.

Okay, I should stop knocking these glitzy, touristy-trappy seafood joints. Oh wait… why should I? They are like sitting ducks (some of which swim, you know), what with their OTT signage, their picture menus and beer girls with short skirts.

Our first stop was actually not Gurney Drive but the Pulau Tikus market, where a small but impressive collection of some 15 stalls that operate only at night attract a steady and appreciative crowd of locals. We took advantage of a balmy evening to take a short, 10-minute stroll there, figuring that we were going to need all forms of physical activity, no matter how modest, to balance out our food-chase.

We headed for the stall selling duck meat koay teow thng, or flat rice noodles soup. Apart from the duck meat and fishballs, you can also add duck blood jelly, duck liver, duck giblets and pig’s small intestines – tasty stuff, all – according to Rasa Rasa Penang, for the business class version. I had decided earlier on Rule #1 for our trip: don’t complicate matters when approaching a stall; just order a dish without elaboration, mainly to see what constitutes a vendor’s standard fare.

In this instance, the tactic backfired as we got only the duck meat and fishball version, which were great in itself – the soup wonderfully flavoured without a hint of the usual shortcuts (MSG or too much salt); the koay teow silky and smooth (you’ll see this description applied again and again to the koay teow in Penang and Ipoh), and the fishballs tasty, without the artificial bounciness of additives. We just wished we had broken Rule #1 to get the complete version of the dish, but decided to adhere to Rule #2 – order only one bowl for the two of us, so we can taste more. Sigh, next time then.

While we were waiting for our noodles, I spied a young woman making apum, “a sweet pancake with an egg added, made mainly from slightly-fermented rice flour cooked over low heat in an earthern pot with a lid” (quoting Rasa again). A much older lady (her grandmother?) was sitting opposite her, keeping an eye on the till but also making sure her charge wasn’t slipping up.

I asked if I could take a picture, and the Woman in Blue ignored me. Said Grandma: “Sure, sure, can.”

Pause. Then, to the younger lady: “Taking picture, lah. Smile, smile.”

No smile. I take my picture, nonetheless.

Grandma cracks up, winking and laughing, then says conspiratorially to me: “Shy, lah.”

I smile back and walk away nonchalantly with my apum, not wanting to be mistaken for propositioning marriage over a pancake, which by the way was feather light – crispy on the edges, soft and medium rich in the centre without being cloyingly sweet.

Pulau Tikus market
On the corner of Jalan Pasar and Jalan Cantonment. Night food stalls open from 5 pm onwards.


z said...

aiyoh, i already finish dinner but after reading your blog i want to eat again.

Aromatic Beans said...

Hey, that was how we felt in Penang, moving from place to place during meal-time!!! No respite for the hung.. I mean, greedy :)