Let's just get right back into Georgetown, Malaysia, shall we? Part I kicked things off with some classic nasi kandar, a couple unmissable starch dishes, and drinks to wash it all down with. This time, I say we start with dessert. You know, because you can. You're an adult, damn it!
The beauty of this next spot is that it's a three-for. For whatever reason the little alley of Lebuh Keng Kwee is home to excellent versions of three George Town staples, and they're practically stacked on top of one another.
1. Cendol from Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul (yes, you can spell it either way- that's the beauty/curse of transliteration)
You can ask any passerby, stray animal, or street lamp in town and they will inevitably tell you to go here. But lucky for you they're right. This little stall churns out well made cendol and ABC at a blazing pace and they're never lax on the quality control.
Cendol is a simple dish of shaved ice topped with gula malaka syrup (a rich brown palm sugar), coconut milk, kidney beans, and soft rice noodles flavored and colored with pandan leaf. It's cooling, refreshing, fairly sweet, and lots of fun to eat.
This is actually ABC (ais batu campur). It's like a methed up cendol with extra corn, nuts, fruits, jellies, ice cream, and god knows what else.)
You can also grab a beautiful chrysanthemum tea there as well while you observe their ice shaving speed skills and do some top notch people watching . And remember, it's been scientifically proven that cendol tastes 2.8x better when eaten standing up. So hang out in the alley like the locals instead of grabbing a table.
Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul is on Lebuh Keng Kwee near the corner of Jalan Penang.
It's the one on the south side- but you'll be able to tell by the lines.
2. Asam Laksa from Joo Hui Coffee Shop
Joo Hui is the corner diner that the cendol stall sits infront of. It's a little confusing but they're entirely separate businesses. Joo Hui has two entrances, but at the one that actually opens onto Keng Kwee you'll find an awesome aunty stirring up big vats of asam laksa.
Asam laksa is a sweet, sour, and spicy fish soup. It's flavored with tamarind and a mackerel-like fish and brimming with pineapple, cucumber, onions, rice noodles and various fresh herbs.
Some versions can be objectionably fishy but Joo Hui nails the balance. It's a very approachable intro to a soup that can occasionally be challenging to western palates. And she's super adorable.
3. Rojak from Keng Kwee Rojak Stall
Rojak is a Malaysian and Indonesian obsession. Different variations abound. At its heart, rojak is a sweet and salty fruit salad almost always with a seafood component. Here we're talking specifically about Penang style rojak.
Penang style is typically a mix of some combination of cucumber, jicama, pineapple, green mango, rose apple, puffed tofu, and youtiao (fried bread chunks). Dried grilled cuttlefish is a common addition but can easily double the price and I found it to be unnecessary.
The real trick is the sauce. It's made from (always secret proportions of) sugar, lime, chili, and a molasses-like, slightly funky, prawn paste called hae ko or petis. Then the whole mess gets topped with crushed peanuts and the good times roll. It might sound weird, but trust me, it's great on a hot day.
This rojak place is actually owned by the same guy that owns the cendol stall. It's located on the same street about 50 meters further on. Both are on the right side if you're coming from Jalan Penang. It doesn't seem to have a name.
4. Most Things from Tek Sen Restaurant.
Robyn Eckhardt of Eating Asia turned us on to this Chinese Malaysian joint. I've talked before about what a great confluence of cultures Penang has, and Tak Sen is an excellent place to sample the Sino side of things.
Order what you'd like but don't miss the Home Recipe Double Roasted Pork, or pork candy as Robyn calls it.
You can go a little more Malay with the stir-fried kacang botol (wing beans) in sambal,
or sweet and sour with the tamarind prawns. Their homemade tofu dishes are also winners.
They also have a drink called the Michael Jackson that's soy milk and dark grass jelly. Top that.
The place is a little pricy for George Town standards and you're likely to have to wait but it's certainly worth the effort. And definitely check the hours. You've got a pretty narrow window of opportunity.
Tek Sen 18-20 Carnavon Street, George Town
Open: Noon-2:30p; 6p-9p
5. Roti Canai from the Roti Canai stall on Transfer Road
I fell deeply in love with roti canai during our time in Malaysia, especially with a side of teh tarik or pulled tea.
Roti canai couldn't be more simple. It was originally concocted as a way to use leftovers. Yesterday's roti would be soaked in the sauce from last night's curry after all of the meat had been eaten out of it, making a kick ass breakfast.
These days the roti is cooked fresh to order and you can get it either banjir (flooded) or on the side to keep it crisper. We tried it both ways, but I gotta say there's some special little magic that happens when you just drench the bread and let it start soaking up all the goodness in one big messy pile.
The stall is on the east side of Transfer Road between Jalan Ariffin and Jalan Sekerat, across from the mosque and just south of the Caltex station.
And lest you think George Town is a purist haven of street hawkers and small local restaurants, these McDonalds VIP drive-thru stickers are rampant. McNasi Kandar anyone?
Next, we're up up and away to Bali!