Tag Archives: Nicholas Pillai in Penang

The Four Foodies – Taking on the Pearl of the Orient – Day 2

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Day 2 began rather early because we were suppose to go for breakfast at the famous Nasi Lemak Stall at Paya Terubong.  It was a misty rainy morning a wonderful day to stay indoors and do nothing but the four of us fought fatigue and went in search of this Best Nasi Lemak.  Traffic was almost nil… it being Hari Raya Haji as well as no one in their right mind would be out so early so we reached our destination in record time.

 

So I got it wrong.  It is Paya Terubong Nasi Lemak at Ayer Itam.  It is a stall outside the Sin Teong Nam Café.  We got parking just next to the shop so it was not a problem.  It was not easy to get photos of the stall because of the rain.  There are many variations and dishes to choose from and it is sold in different sets.

 

From a distance I saw fish, quite large prawns, various chicken dishes and a few others dishes which I couldn’t make out because it was covered to protect it from the rain.

 

The stall operates from 4.30 am to 10 am and often finishes by 7 am.   Hence the reason we were rather early.

 

So we ordered basic which came with fish.  I half though it was the fried ikan selar but of course it was not.

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We ordered four plates.  I believe Foodie Boy 3 had chicken but I cannot seem to find the photos.

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Coffee was ordered, my second cup of Kopi Kaw Kaw.

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Ok taste testing time.  Don’t get your hopes up if you go there.  The rice was wet and had no coconut flavor at all.  Maybe that’s the way they make Nasi Lemak over there we didn’t check.  Now the sambal which is the second most important dish in any nasi lemak… well let’s just say it was nothing much at all.  This was the verdict by all four of us.  It is not often that we agree, but that was it.

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We ordered our first plate of Char Koay Teow.  It came.  Now I’ve not had this in decades and it was a time I probably didn’t like it because I don’t remember how it tasted.  The usual good size prawns and sliced lup cheong was evident.  First taste, wok hei was a tad bit strong.  I’ve never tasted it this strong before.  It was nice, but to me a tiny bit burnt but bearable.  It still had a nice flavor.

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Then we ordered Loh Pak Koh.  Now this was nice. It was  perfectly cooked with the bean sprouts still crunchy.  The ‘carrot cake’ tasted nice. It was nice and soft and not hard like what I usually eat when I’m at home.  Now this was unexpected, we didn’t plan to order this and just because Foodie Boy 1 walked around and saw it and so we ordered it.  Now this I could have had two plates.

 

Next stop.. Penang Hill or Bukit Bendera.  Now this place I haven’t been since I was a small boy.  I remember the solid open window trains that took a while to get up and moved so slowly that you could pluck the leaves as you passed by. Well not any more.

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The sight up there was captivating.  So different from before, maybe the skyline of Penang has changed so much that.  Just look at the photos.  The lush greenery amidst the mist was most enchanting.

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Also what was free last time now cost money so if you are there to try out stuff be prepared to pay.  Still it was a nice walk especially after it rained.  I didn’t join the rest because I had a bad ankle so I sat down in one of the cafes drinking hot chocolate and looking at people.

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They even have someone to fry Char Koay Teow there and I noticed three girls ordered one plate and in the end had three plates.  I was quite tempted but I knew the rest would be carrying on on their foodie tour so I practiced some self control.

While I was sitting there, and almost running out of battery, I took this most captivating photo… to me anyhow.

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By the time we came down, it was hot!  Real Hot!

Next destination.. Ayer Itam Market Assam Laksa.

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This was where I had a taste of waiting for food.  Pissed off faces around you, people rushing to finish their meal, you jumping onto tables full of remnants from the last customer. These were all no no’s for me, but in Penang it was normal.  I couldn’t take it, so I moseyed around while the others waited and chanced upon this luscious Hum Ching Peng.  Oh my gosh. So I bought some for the rest.

I’m not a fan of Red Bean, in fact I never ever buy it, so I took a chance here, and the red bean was just right, it was not a big gluggy lump like you get in most places, this was wet and almost molten.  A true joy.

Never have I eaten such silky soft Hum Ching Peng.  I make the damn thing for heavens sakes and it is not that soft.    The other thoroughly loved it accept for Foodie Girl who went off at us for eating piping hot foods and all… well we didn’t keep any for her.

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By the time I got the Hum Ching Peng, we had a table.  Funny though because the table was not cleaned, a few groups came around us to book the table thinking the remains were ours.  We ordered and waited. In the meantime Foodie Boy 1 went around somewhere and came back with Lorbak and Fried Spring Rolls.

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The Fried Spring Rolls were for dipping into the Assam Laksa soup.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Lorbak.  The smell and the taste reminded me of the Penang I once knew.  It was reminiscent of an era where my parents ordered everything and we ate it and if we enjoyed it more was ordered.

 

Now we were still waiting for our Laksa.  We signaled and ordered again.  We carried on sampling the rest of the food and still no food.  Those hanging around us probably thought we got a place and bought other stuff, so this time Foodie Girl walked up and ordered again.  Finally it came.

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Four bowls of over flowing soup with bits of food hanging off the bowl,  soup spilling on the table was like a normal occurrence.  You just sit and eat and get lost.

 

Now after stirring the soup to mix up all the condiments which I must say consisted of a lot of cucumber, there was hardly any fragrance of Hei Koh or of fish and most importantly the aroma of sourness before you even taste the soup.  There was nothing!  It was flat and tasted more of cucumber than anything else.  There was no tang of the tamarind.  Even the torch ginger did not give it that kick.

 

The spring roll was just as flat, and dipping it into the Assam Laksa soup didn’t yield much excitement to us all.

 

We were all quite disappointed.  I am sure this is because of the vast crowd that day that this happened.  I couldn’t believe the hype and the waiting and then flat Assam Laksa.  I believe this stall easily prepares about 800 bowls a day.

 

Funnily enough, my family had it a week later and said it was fine.  It was sour enough with all the niceties.  So we were just unlucky.  But to me, the cooks should taste what they are dishing out!  No excuse.

Because it was the long weekend, there were thousands of tourists in Penang, we were one of them.

Next Stop was the Temple of the Goddess Kwan Yin.  No photos, I was just tired of the heat and walking around so I sulked in a corner.   Foodies Boys bought another lot of Hum Ching Peng… what bliss!

After almost an hour we came down, might I say thank God we drove up because someone suggested we walk up, and I would have been an annoyed sod to deal with.

By now the heat was getting to me, fatigue as well from the previous days lack of sleep.  We were now heading to Balik Pulau to visit various places like someone’s school, and just going through little back lanes of these places, we realized there were a lot of villages that still exists on that always busy island.

Then we happened to be walking around Jalan Sungai Air Putih and suddenly we noticed an Assam Laksa Stall which was on one of the blogs called Kim Laksa.  Just like that it was in front of us.

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So we ordered Assam Laksa’s all round.  We didn’t have to linger around tables, as a group was already leaving.  Assam Laksa came in  a flash and this had that fragrance that I was used to.

First mouthful, and it was better than Ayer Itam, but it still lacked that tang.  The difference here is that you could taste all the ingredients.  Ok, PJ still tastes better we all agreed.

Then off we drove around to look for Durians.

We turned into a lot of nooks and crannies and suddenly we were going up a steep hill and right in front of us was Ghee Hup Nutmeg Factory.  Without batting an eyelid oncoming traffic, Foodie Boy 1 shot across the road and went down a steep hill.  Trust me it was nothing much of a place, but when you taste their nutmeg, you will realize that what you’ve been missing all this time.

 

The owner is a very passionate man and will entertain any questions pertaining to his factory.  I didn’t have my phone now because the battery was dying like no tomorrow, damn thing always does that.  But the place has liniments and ointments, balms and nut meg pods, and even plants and sliced nutmeg I have never tasted before.

The nutmeg was succulent and wet unlike the drying ones we eat that gives a funny coating to ones tongue. This was really good.  I have photos of some of the products because my parents were there a week later.  I couldn’t get photos of the preserved nutmeg because everyone ate it rather quickly.

Then we went on searching for Durian which proved futile because it was almost off season and what was available was just too expensive and silly to purchase.

Then we chanced upon a fruit place which I believe was the Tropical Fruit Farm.  It was a steep hill to drive up to, but I can tell you it was truly worth it.  It was filled with flora and fauna I’ve never seen before as well as fruits like the Giant Passion Fruit.  The photos speak for it self.  I am told it is a homestay of sorts for those who want to get away from the city and it is well known for its fruit buffets which was not on when we got there.  It was getting late as well, so there was no activities going on.

 

We came down and drove till we reached one of the beaches.  While the rest walked around, I took photos of a rather nice sunset.  I watched all the people and their antics, I even rescued a Lily Bulb of some sort and brought it back home and it seems to be growing quite well.

Then we proceeded to Dinner.  Dinner was at Long Beach, a Glutton Square with lots of food and beer ladies pushing the sale of beer.

So we ordered, starting with Fried Spring Rolls.  Now I must say that these Spring Rolls came piping hot and was very nice.  I would go as far as to say one of the best Spring Rolls I have ever had.  It had different vegetables like carrots, spring onions and cabbage with meat of some sort.  We actually enjoyed it the most. It was crunchy and it was thoroughly enjoyable.  This would be one of the highlights of this food tour I should say.  I cannot remember the stall name, but you won’t miss it for sure.

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The Prawn Mee arrived.  The soup wasn’t so tasty and it lacked ingredients.  Even the boiled egg didn’t look very pretty.  The soup lacked sweetness and prawn flavor.  The Chilly Sauce only covered the flavors with spiciness. Prawns must have been expensive that day as well, there was hardly any!

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The must order dish when in Penang, Or Chien.  I have to say the Oysters were fresh and plump.  It was also quite plentiful judging from the size of the plate.  One gripe.. it was not crispy and tended to be oily because of that.  It was such a waste to have nice oysters served with flat, soggy eggs and rice flour mix.  If it was fried a tad bit longer, it would have been a stand out as well.  I also think the crowd that night made things a bit busy for good cooking to take place.  I still prefer the one in PJ cooked by this girl I call Bloody Mary at Paramount.

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The Char Koay Teow, started with one in the morning and ended with one at night.  Verdict.. the Wok Hei was once again wokked too much that it almost tasted burnt.  And Fish Cake for heaven’s sake!  How can you do this???

 

Everyone is so taken about the prawns and all but what if I do not want prawns or any meat in my Char Koay Teow? How would it taste then?  Because that is how I usually like mine, just with egg and undercooked bean sprouts and chives and maybe with extra cockles.  can this be done in Penang?

The Lorbak and the Squid came from the same stall.  Foodie Boy one was forced to buy it, or as he said he was really hard selling the squid.  I believe this would have tasted better if they had a different sauce, something with a bit of lime in it instead of the same chilly sauce that came with the lorbak which was a bit dry and one bit was a tiny bit off.  I deem the squid a Dish of Nothingness.

Once again, it was quite disappointing save the Spring Rolls and perhaps the Or Chien.  So much for bloggers saying all the places we went would be good.  Let’s hope Day Three will be more of an adventure.

We were all sweaty and bothered, I was anyhow, so we went back to the apartment.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The Four Foodies – Taking on the Pearl of the Orient – Day 1

This much anticipated trip took place on Merdeka Day.  The four of us set off at around 5.30 am, anticipating we might reach there in the early afternoon, seeing that it was quite early and all.  Well that all changed the moment we reached the Sungai Buloh and realized maybe a thousand more people had the same thought and left the same time as us.

The traffic was still moving and as time went on it just got slower and slower and so the girl on waze suggested we take a detour which we did at Slim River.   Now truth be told I have not been to Penang in decades.  All these places I passed through with my parents when I was a wee kid and while I remember some things, Wow!!! Slim River had buildings everywhere.  All I remember of Slim River was a little bridge.  I didn’t even remember if we stopped by at Slim River but I’m told by mum that it has nice Pao.  Well… everything was closed as it was still not even 7 am yet.  So we drove by with food on our minds till we passed through Tanjung Malim and still shops were not opened.

I was rather enchanted to see some of the old Malay houses amidst modernity, and there was even morning mist.  We Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya people see this in our area and it’s Haze.

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We were looking forward to reach Ipoh for a good dim sum breakfast but voice on Waze told us other wise.  So we decided on Bidor.  I remember Bidor as a place when my parents would stop and we’d buy biscuits like Chicken Biscuit, Shat Kek Mah, this Peang and that Peang, Pomeloes and all the knick knacks my parents grew up on.

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Then we went to the famous Pun Chun which sells Herbal Duck with Wonton Noodles.  It was around 9am or so and the place was chockers.  People were standing around waiting for tables with dirty looks on their face, something I really hate but since the others didn’t mind I had to play along and then I chanced on a table outside.  So we ordered.  Foodie Girl said I could not have the duck because I had a swollen ankle, with rolling eyes I agreed on some normal wonton noodles.

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No more old style porcelin cups.

The wait for the food was just as long.  Also I’d like to note that I had my first ever Kopi Kaw Kaw or really strong coffee.  I didn’t think it was all that.  It was not so flavorsome as I thought it would be.  The others said the same. 

While waiting we ordered Woo Kok which is Yam Puffs with Char Siew Filling.  Now these were really nice, it was piping hot and made up for the waiting. It was very crispy on the outside because it was just fried.  We also ordered fish balls and these were nice springy fish balls. I could have had a few more plates of these.  I don’t usually like fish balls but these were pure and nice.

Food arrived.  Everyone had a bowl of soup with a piece of duck hanging out of the bowl and won ton noodles and I was got mine a few minutes later.

I thought it would be a trite messy with the duck still on the bone but the meat just fell off.  The soup alone was slightly similar to a very light bak kut teh with dried longans and kei chee for sweetness. It was truly satisfying, I drank all the soup that was left behind.

My wonton noodles arrived and the noodles were a perfect al dente.  Still chewy and springy and not flat and soft like what I usually get.  The won tons were flavorsome and not fatty and the meat was nicely flavor and not so thick in taste.

Interestingly my grandfather used to go to Pun Chun in the 50s with my dad, and my parents took us as kids and next week my niece will be eating at Pun Chun as well.  Grandpa used to be friends with the old man I’m told.  Talk about history.

Walking around Bidor gives a sense of olden times.  No doubts it is packed with buses and cars, we almost didn’t even get a park, but even if it was decades long that I stepped into Bidor I still remembered it.

Mum says you should try eating at the market across from Pun Chun,  you will not miss it with all the umbrellas.

As we walked to the car, we saw a Mak Cik selling Nasi Lemak, and Indian man selling Appam and other Indian stuff then another Indian lady making Putu, and an Indian Muslim lady frying curry puffs which were very nice I might add, and cucur.  I didn’t take photos sadly.  I wished we spent a day or two here now.

So we’re off to Ipoh now hoping for some Dim Sum for lunch.

We took the trunk roads and the traffic was crawling so everyone decided to pay a visit to Kellie’s Castle.  Everything has changed in Batu Gajah. Mum is from Batu Gajah so I knew bits of this and that.  We reached Kellie’s Castle and there were so many people around and it started getting hot so the rest plodded on while I hung around.  While I was looking at stuff I spotted this wonderful looking antique pot but the person wanted RM450 which was a bit too steep even though he claimed it belonged to his grandmother.  It would have been an excellent decorative and a real show piece.  Alas.. one can’t have everything now can we?

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It was getting hotter and hotter and a trite uncomfortable when we finally reached Ipoh.  Traffic was crawling even at the trunk roads.  So when we reached Ipoh all in anticipation for Dim Sum, alas once again, we can’t have everything now can we? … because every dim sum shop we passed was closed, and the ones that were opened were crowded so we proceeded to Kong Heng Restaurant.

I had been here a few years ago with Seok Hean and Eddie and so I knew what to order.  As usual walking along the street, the lady selling Bak Chang was still there selling her Dumplings, and as much as I wanted to buy it, as usual I didn’t buy it.. so sad when you think too much sometimes.

Once again we had to wait for our table. I guess this was the training ground of what was in store for me in Penang.  I never have to wait for tables at a restaurant.  So this was all new and bothersome to me.  Two pet hates…waiting for a table and lining up for food!

So we went in and Foodie Boy 1 was sent to do the ordering.  We ordered Chee Cheong Fun with Curry Gravy  and Stuffed Chee Cheong Fun.  Pork Satay was on the list of course along with Sar Hor Fun and the quintessential Crème Caramel and Tau Fu Fa.

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I’ve never had stuffed chee cheong fun before although mum made it once last year, and this was stuffed with Jicama Bean (Sengkuang) cooked much like you would for popiah with bits of spring onions and with just the right amount of tim cheong and chilly sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  I hate my chee cheong fun drowned in tim cheong and chilly sauce but they got it just right.  I could have easily had two plates of it.

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The Chee Cheong Fun with the Curried sauce was as always just fantastic.  The lightness of the sauce was  perfect for the chee cheong fun unlike the thick ones we get here in PJ.  As Chee Cheong Fun is a soft rice noodle, the light curry gravy complements it perfectly.  They always get it right here.  The flavor although light was evident.  It wasn’t watered down curry.

The pork satay was nice and chunky but today it seemed to lack a bit more flavor unlike when I had it the last time.  It did go well with the sauce so it wasn’t so bad in the end, but for me before I dip something in sauce, I like to taste it as it is.

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Then the crème caramel as always was just a perfect ending.  Now don’t go and bag the Crème Caramel, it may not be the best of the best but eating in these conditions, this was really good.  A sweet ending. Always!

Sar Hor Fun never came! I doubt they even missed us when we walked passed them and left.

Now we headed to Concubine Lane.  This is a lane full on food and drinks and knick knacks galore.

I was standing away from the sun while the others walked around and this sweet little Chinese Girl asked me to try the something. I was a little hesitant but I did just because she was sweet and polite.  I bought a packet after that along with mini mooncakes. It was cheap and really pretty.

The Kaya Kok was what I tasted and it was baking in the oven, so while waiting we walked across to have some soy bean and tau fu fa.  Tau Fu fa was silken but a tad bit sweet.  I would have liked to sit around but the others wanted to walk around so we left.  I went across to collect my Kaya Kok but I had to wait as it was still not ready so I sat there and waited and took some photos of the unbaked product.

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The Kaya Kok was just wonderful.  A bit sweet but then hey Kaya should be sweet.  And they didn’t give you a thick piece of pastry to drown the kaya flavor but instead it was encased in a nice thin pastry.  It was perfection even though we ate it a few hours later in the massive traffic jam we had to go through on the highway.

There was so much to do in Concubine Lane but the heat and time was a factor. So we continued our journey.

Penang was still a long way to go and the traffic and the heat didn’t make it any easier and the accident that occurred started a jam kilometers before the tunnel and kilometers after that.  I’ve never been through a traffic jam like that in my life not even in India.  But when you’re with friends, it’s not too bad because everyone will laugh and make comments and it will pass.

All through the trip there were decade’s worth of changes.  Buildings, factories, houses, roads, everything and off course Tolls.

Soon Penang was in sight.  Now we were wide awake.  We decided to take the ferry into Penang, and guess what?  We had to wait!

Gone were the days when the ferries moved up and down every few minutes.  It was a 30 minute or so wait before we moved into a ferry.  I was most excited.

Surprisingly, there were more pedestrians on the ferry this time, a few cars and many many people either going to work or returning home from the mainland.  What a vast difference it was from the time I was last on the ferry.  First thing I did when I got out from the car was to count jelly fish just like when I was a kid with my sister. There wasn’t any.  I finally saw one when we were nearing the end of the ferry ride.  Everything changes I guess.

You can breathe the air of oldness in Penang.

So we drove through Penang town towards Batu Ferringhi. The last time I was in Penang, Batu Ferringhi was more forests than anything else.  Now it was as happening as Phuket and Seminyak Town or Kuta Town in Bali and the traffic was even worst.  I never realized how winding the roads were and a trite scary as well.  So now were going towards Teluk Bahang for a seafood dinner.  It was a long and winding road I tell you.  The traffic was on the other side so it was not so bad, but the sharp turns and the speed some of these cars were going was rather terrifying.  We were lucky Foodie Boy 1 was a cool and calm driver, because I would have been cursing every man, woman and child.

Finally after turning in a side road and through a muddy and sandy road we arrived at Fishing Village Seafood Restaurant.  It was a little shanty place from perhaps the early 80s or even the 70s, nothing looked new, in fact some parts did look down right rotten, but the sight of the expensive cars parked nearby said something else.

We were really hungry, so we ordered.

Food took a while and we were forewarned so we had to just wait because there were three tables before us who were waiting as well.

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The first was the Fried Calamari.  It was nice and crispy and certainly not a let down.  It was nice to pick as we waited for the next few dishes and it stayed crispy to the very end.

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Then the Oysters topped with Roux and cheese came.  We only ordered four oysters and after eating it, I think we should have ordered more.  While it was suppose to be western it still had a nice kick to it so the flavors came out better.  The Oysters remained just right despite the cheese being a nice golden.  It was good. The crispy friend garlic gave it a nice flavor.

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The fish arrived.  We had a Snapper cooked Thai style.  The stock was a nice light Tom Yam Flavor and it enhanced the flavor of the fish that was alive a few minutes earlier.  No fishy smell, the meat was easy to get to without much bones.  The Tom Yam Stock was a nice soup as well.  I always love the garnishing.

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Tofu with Seafood was next.  I liked the flavor of this and there was enough Seafood in it to deem it Tofu with seafood.  They were not stingy with their seafood and it was nice comfort food.

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Since Foodie Girl always like healthy stuff we ordered Bitter Gourd with Salted Egg.  Now I have had this in other places and there was never ever enough salted egg to mask the evilness or bitter gourd.  Not here.  There was enough salted egg and it gave  this usually punishment vegetable a nice flavor.  The Bitter Gourd remained crunchy but well cooked and didn’t look oily.

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The salted fish fried rice came last.  Hmmm… it was nice with a lot of prawns and for some reason seafood stick, but there was hardly any salted fish.  Salted Fish fried rice should give you that sudden shock of salted fish but this was seriously lacking.  And when you did bite into a piece of salted fish, it was soft and not crispy.  A bit of a let down, but four hungry people still devoured it.  Perhaps if it was the first dish, we would not have been so picky because by now we were quite full.

There was Lobster and Crabs, and other seafood as well.  Almost every table took lobster.  Maybe if we ever go back, we’d get a lobster

Price wise it was ok.  Food was nice and comforting.  Ambience was a bit out but seeing the old rich flock there, so there must have been some allurement to the place, because the next table were Penangites who were back from Australia for holidays.  Big ears was listening.

So we drove back through the traffic passing by the myriad restaurants and night markets as careening through those tight turns and reached our abode for the next four days.  It was quite high up as well.

Before we went to bed, Foodie Boy 2 gave us a rundown of tomorrow’s happenings.

 

To be continued.