chiak beh liau !

tales from a US Travel Writer

Constantly eating Penang Lang ( chiak beh tenggg' )

The air smells of roasted ducks ('suey ark') and skewers of charcoal-grilled chicken ('suey kay' ). One stall sells herbal soup ( thang 'tung' ) , another grilled seafood ('satay , saki ' or 3 pieces ) on a stick.

Welcome to the Red Garden Food Paradise (Penang), our neighborhood Hawkers Center.

Claim one of the white plastic tables and take note of the number on the side. Then go from stall to stall, giving the cook your table number and ordering in small, medium or large portions — clams, the oyster omelette, fried rice, stuffed eggplant, chicken satay.

Sit down and put in your drink order to the guy in the red shirt in charge of cleaning off the tables. Try the lime juice spiked with a sour plum to wash away the heat. Then wait for your food to arrive. Pay when it does around RM30 to RM40 (equivalent of $10- $12 for everything, including beer.)

Malaysians seem to be constantly eating !

Miss the street food here and you miss a nightly movable feast that takes place on street corners and outdoor food courts like this one called hawker centers.

Books have been written about Penang's hawkers. Most started out as traveling pushcart vendors hawking their food from portable kitchens with stoves powered by gas canisters.

Locals seek out their favorite hawkers for the best oyster omelets or laksa, a noodle soup of fish, tamarind juice, pineapple and mint.

Red Garden is a fairly new center with a fun atmosphere, but it's geared more toward tourists in the surrounding hotels than purists.

Real foodies would probably be happier at a local spot such as New Lane Hawkers Centre — crowded and chaotic — with tasty duck meat noodle soup RM4 ($1) and wet spring rolls (also $1) stuffed with tofu and turnip.

Eating this way is an easy way to meet local people.

Our favorite place so far for this is the bright and clean Espalande Food Centre on the seafront at Fort Cornwallis in the old British colonial district.

Malay Muslim families and students from a nearby school gather here in the late afternoons for snacks and drinks.

When I asked one family if they minded if I took their picture, they invited us to sit down with them and sample their Singapore duck.

Penang has good restaurants, and it's nice to relax in the air conditioning, so sometimes we combine a meal with a street stop for tea or dessert after.

We've become regulars at Bala Murugan's drink shop in Little India where we go for RM1 (25-cent) cups of hot tea sweetened with condensed milk, and nasi lemak, triangle-shaped packets of banana leaves stuffed with rice, coconut and fish.

Searching for dessert after dinner one night along the Gurney Drive seafront, we stopped at a cafe specializing in Indian cooking, called nasi kandar, a combo of Malay and Indian cuisine.

The concept came about when nasi (rice) hawkers would balance a kandar (a pole with containers on both ends) on their shoulders and sell their wares.

Heaven ... ( is a place in Malaysia... )

Carol Pucci , Seattle Times ( USA) travel writer

condensed with illustrations
by team bsg


Anonymous said…
ya indeed! in penang it is always chiak beh liau!!

believe it or not i have not been to this red garden food paradise before. too many hawkers centres!

ya i like the esplanade food centre too but don't visit regularly since most food there are muslim/indian muslim.

of course the hawkers centre i visited most often ia at new lane since the church i goes to is just next door to it. hey when were you guys in penang? next time when you guys want to drop in to new lane's hawker centre, give me a call lah - it would be nice to meet up over penang's good food.
Yup, I agree. Malaysia is definitely heaven.
Michelle said…
hungry already.
can't take my eyes off the nasi kandar "colors"...

sibeh sien.. can see no touch. =(
wmw said…
Ahh...Penang, looking forward to our trip there!
MeiyeN said…
i missed penang food! :(
Tummythoz said…
New Lane, New Lane I miss u so .. My favs there are the Hokkien Mee and pungent hae-ko chee cheung fun.
zewt said…
sigh... i think i have to stay away from such food for now.
Rasa Malaysia said…
you were in penang?
Cat Cat said…
Great place with good food - P.E.N.A.N.G.
LianneK said…
can't think of any place better than Penang, the food heaven state.
Anonymous said…
TQ 4 invite ! we shall remember definitely !

when in London think of siew yoke sure means here is heaven...hahaha

meng kia ban ban lai kau liao

aiyo got price or not ? so enjoy eat drive walk huh

you were a bit unlucky then but no worry nex time ok !

for u we will tapau nex time by hook or by crook

haha we shall be at yr high 5 ! controversial site pretty soon !

no no we were not ! just doing sombody a favor ! but you were ah how come ah ? nobody knows also ?

cat cat
you must be very well travelled we can see !

inby itchi
wow , names sound awesome , we are coming ...we saw familiar pretty face oredi ! and TQ for coming over
Anonymous said…
Sure fat whenever I return to PG ;) 3-in-1, chinese malay indian mamak all covered.. very condensed but sweet write-up!
Rasa Malaysia said…
Yeah, very short and hectic trip and didn't have time to go to KL. Most of all, it sucked this time around because of the rain rain and more rain...geez, I was pretty much grounded at home. Never going back during end of Oct again!
Precious Pea said…
Ho jiak ho jiak. Luckily i am just back from penang, otherwise, i will be salivating like mad.
now you eat and eat lah exams no more haha

sorry bout yr rainy days ! nex time come during summer...

gor prize come bek ah ? or the tambun biscuits ? that one best lah