Book review: Famous Street Food of Penang

Also guest blogging at Backseat Radio: Doing pilates and Keane live in Singapore @ 13 August 2009.

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“Discerning foodies invariably dismiss Penang delicacies sold outside of the island as pale imitations of the real thing. Penangites in Kuala Lumpur are usually prejudiced against the Penang hawker food available in the city – they tend to claim that the snacks or noodles are not 100% “authentic”. Even if the food vendor is a member of a Penang family that has made a name for itself with a specific regional specialty. Penangites tasting the food will still insist that it just isn’t the same.”
– p. 8-9

*Takes a deep breath* Hokkien mee, Curry mee, Loh mee, Tok tok mee, Lam mee, Jawa mee, Mee goreng, Nasi kandar, Char kuey teow, Char kuey kak, Lorbak, Oh chien, Or kuih, Chai kuih, Ban chang kuih, Chee cheong fun, Ais kacang, Bubur kacang, Rojak!

Phew, what a mouthful!

And what a mouthful indeed, when you venture up north of Malaysia to Penang for their endless variety of hawkers food.

For a Penangite, some time in your life while growing up, you are bound to hear tidings of who sells the best what in which street. Although you may not have been there and try it yourself, you know they are there, firing up their stoves in the wee hours of the morning to serve a long line of customers for the day.

For people born and bred elsewhere, it may be a little hard unless you engage with a local Penangite and trust him/her to bring you to the best vendors around the island.

However, if you do not have any friends or relatives hailing from Penang, why not pick up a copy of Famous Street Food of Penang: a Guide & Cook Book compiled by The Star Publications.

Inside, it has everything you need to know about filling the tummy in the Pearl of the Orient. From catchy stories of the vendors themselves, whom most of them took over their parents or grandparents business and are still doing the works for at least a decade, to concise locations of their stalls on the island, to even recipes on how you can cook up your own char kuey teow and ban chang kuih!

The Star Publications is one of the more sought after newspapers available in Malaysia, so you can definitely trust them to be straightforward with their writing, while at the same time, engaging.

I like it that they are clear and concise about the history of Penang in the introduction, unlike a certain book I reviewed a while that seemed to go on and on and on.

As the saying goes, everyone has a story to tell, and the hardy people of The Star managed to dig deep and get the story. This shows that they are not merely collecting information from all over and slapping them into a compilation; they really do go out there and get things done.

As I was going through this book, I thought to myself, if I were to come up with a collection of stories or a coffee table book, it would be something along the line that The Star is walking on. The kind of stories that are not displayed out to the public for everyone to read. The kind that you need to grab a hold of the storytellers, sit them down for a cuppa (and perhaps buy them the cuppa), and probe them to tell you everything as if you were their confidante.

The recipe at the back of each story/dish is also something fun for the readers. With precise steps of how to prepare every dish mentioned in the book, who knows, you could be the next Hokkien Mee vendor stealing the scene in Sarawak or in the heart of KL!

Also, it is quite a good book to bring along with you if you are staying overseas, and will not be returning home for a long while. Having the recipes to whip up a meal of nasi kandar in your very own kitchen over in Melbourne or England is enough to satisfy your craving for the time being. Hey, beggars cannot be choosers; anything is better than nothing.

Alas, there is only so much you can include in a book. Where is the duck-lapped Kuey chiap, or the gooey substance sprinkled with finely grinded peanuts – Muar chee, or the pork-crazed Bak kut teh, or the colourful array of Kow chan kuih?

But seeing that The Star has covered most of the hawkers food already, I guess it is OK to let them off the hook for this one. After all, they succeeded in making me miss the food back home. (Why, yes, I am quite the family’s daughter, missing food over my family; but believe you me, most of us Penangites are like that, heh)

However, whether all Penangites would agree that all the vendors mentioned in the book is the best, is another matter. Some may argue that the Kayu nasi kandar is not the best but the Line Clear nasi kandar across the Penang Road; while others may prefer the charcoal cooked Curry Mee available in the Air Itam street market (featured in the front cover of the book) tops the gas cooked one at Lorong Seratus Tahun.

Each to his own, really. The only way to settle your score is to head on up to Penang and go on a big binge out yourself.

Now, who’s with me on a foodie road trip to Penang?

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One Response to “Book review: Famous Street Food of Penang”

  1. whiskandwok Says:

    Hi there,
    Do you know where I can order this book through? I am from Australia and have looked online but am having difficulty finding it!
    Cheers
    Shell

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