Saturday, 3 January 2015

Mini Hawkers Affair Chulia Mansion Georgetown Penang Malaysia

I love food and travelling. Discovering new things to nibble and gorge on is my kind of fun. Him Indoors is of like mind. So we decided that the best place to get away from the chill of the English Winter would be somewhere warm with good food. We agreed on Penang, in Malaysia, widely regarded as the country's food capital.

However, when we arrived we found ourselves bewildered by the sheer choice available to us! There are a great many restaurants, which we had every intention of visiting, but first we wanted to dig into the internationally famous street food.

Practically every street corner in Georgetown has a stall serving up something tasty looking, from snacks, sweets to light meals. There are small individual stalls everywhere, and occasionally a few set up together in a small shop providing a rotating service all day long, with different food provided for breakfast, lunch and dinner. How were we going to work out which way was up?

Our hosts at our home-from-home in Georgetown, the newly opened Chulia Mansion hotel on Chulia Road (Lebuh Chulia) had a novel way of solving this problem for us and for their other guests. Frankie and Fred (the CEO and Business Manager) decided to bring the street food inside! For their Christmas celebrations, they held a 4 day "Mini Hawkers Affair" festival, with what they informed us were the street food icons and classics of Penang.

Char Koay Toew
We kicked off with what is the most popular street food dish; rice ribbon noodles of medium width (tagliatelle pasta width), which are pre-cooked and then rapidly stir fried with beansprouts, spring onions, prawns and dark soy sauce. The wok is heated to scary hot before the stir frying even begins. 
Somehow the cook was so skilled that the eggs and prawns are just cooked and everything is piping hot. The skill is in keeping everything moving in the super-hot wok. 
Optional extras can include Chinese sausage, finely chopped pak choi or carrot, thin slices of pork and cockles.

Asam Laksa or Penang Laksa
Nothing like the orange, fiery Singapore Laksa, this is a sour and tangy tamarind affair. 
The soup is made of a seafood broth, tamarind paste, prawns and fish. This may not sound appetising in writing, but if you get the chance to try this dish, I hope you will hold your scepticism at bay. This is a noodle soup dish full of bold, fresh flavour. 

The noodles are a mix of fine rice vermicelli and 'yellow' (wheat) noodles. Served with spring onions and halved boiled eggs,

A fruit salad with a difference! Cucumber, pineapple, pear, apple are smothered in a dark, gloopy, tamarind sauce sweetened with natural palm sugar to give a sweet dressing with a very slight sour tang. 
The fruits (and sometimes vegetables) selected are chosen to provide different textures. Some crunchy, some soft. It's a sweet and savoury combination which felt unfamiliar, but went down a treat.

Different from its more famous Thai counterpart, this strongly marinaded grilled chicken skewer is not served with peanut sauce. 

The strong spiciness of the marinade rendered it completely unnecessary. Him Indoors and I kept coming back for more of these as they came off the grill.

A vegetarian dish made of layers of tofu, cooked potato, crispy crunchy fried crackers, slices of onion and julienned cucumber. 
The sauce depends on who makes it. Apparently these recipes are trade secrets and are disclosed to no-one. No self-respecting Pasembur hawker wants their 'secret sauce' being ripped off elsewhere!

Belachan chicken
It appears that nearly every culture has its own take on 'fried chicken'! Belachan chicken is marinaded in fermented shrimp paste, lightly battered and then fried in a medium depth of oil in a hot, hot wok. The shrimp paste marinade brings depth of flavour to the chicken meat, particularly the wings. 
Super tasty, finger food, these tasty little nibbles are dangerously addictive. I had to have some the very next day...  and I will confess to hunting them down elsewhere on my travels around Penang! I may have succumbed to the addiction!

Our experience gave us a new awareness of what we were looking out for, and a familiarity with the flavours of Penang street food and names of the most popular dishes. We and the other guests thoroughly enjoyed a festive celebration which was full of colour and life, yet a world away from roast turkey and Brussels sprouts!

Him Indoors and I stayed at Chulia Mansion as full price paying guests. I have not received any payment or incentive for this post.

Chulia Mansion
413 Chulia Street
10200 Georgetown

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