This photo below is everything that’s right with the world. Sure, there are famines and wars and Manchester United fans, but this overcomes all. It’s from Mustafa’s, a nasi kandar restaurant which is Indian-muslim food where you order a curry and they slop on the gravy from half a dozen other curries for a taste sensation overload—but that’s not what’s fantastic about this. It is the size of the curry pot. You can tell from the stains how high the level of the curry was earlier in the day (I took this pic at night, sorry).
First of all, within a half mile of Mustafa’s there must be at least 50 other Indian or Malay restaurants selling similar food, but the fact that Mustafa’s—a very good place, but not a great place—can sell this much curry shows two things: one, I don’t believe Malaysian homes have kitchens because EVERYONE eats out, and two, they appreciate good food. I read a letter to the editor in a local newspaper a few days ago and a Penangite was saying that if you open a good restaurant in Penang, people will find you no matter your location, the level of obsession is so high.
I am happy to listen to other opinions, but for me, Penang is the food capital of the world. There is so much good food that I realized I had forgotten half of it when I got here.
The Big 3 of cuisines here are Chinese, Indian and Malay, and even if any two suddenly die out tomorrow (everyone’s secret dream) you would be left with a vibrant community in its own right. It’s not like Los Angeles where they have a few of the same ethnic restaurants on one block and suddenly it’s “Thai Town!” or “Little Ethiopia!” with signs and banners.
There is a lot of variation within these cuisines that would take a lot of time to go into, and you can spend months plowing through it all. Forget a single blog post, I can make a whole website about it.
I have a new favorite restaurant in Penang. I have long lauded Sri Ananda Bahwan as the greatest restaurant in the world and made a whole webpage about it. I still love it, but it pains me to report that they ran out of coconut chutney last night at 8pm. How could that happen—on a Friday night?! It is a very serious, possibly unforgivable transgression.
I used to not even like approaching Sri Ananda Bahwan from the wrong direction, my devotion and veneration was so great, but I am about to pass the torch. Next blog post.
I’m not such a foodie, I appreciate good food and would love to cook better, but when I set foot on the island, a switch is flicked and I’m suddenly a food snob, a historian and very protective of my Penang.
I’m only here for 9 meals—I mean, 3 days. It is such a waste to eat at a subpar place that you don’t just eat willy-nilly, you need to put some thought and planning into it.
I tell everyone who will listen that the food is the best in the world here and they should come, but who listens to me?
Only the rats do. Even in daylight I think twice before going down lonely alleys, not for thugs, but for the un-shy gigantic rats. I can hardly blame them. I imagine what they say to each other: “The food scraps are the best in the world here and you should come!”
Also seen in amazing numbers are burly Indian transvestite prostitutes, but this fixation by the good people of Penang only goes to show how progressive and open-minded they are, right? Right? Hello?
Within 30 minutes of being on the island I saw the silver-haired Parking Chit Woman on her trusty bike with the too-low seat, and I saw the owner of my favorite, now-defunct hostel. She recognized me immediately even though it had been years since I was there, and again, I have homeless facial hair since there is no hot water to be found and can’t shave. That made me feel good.
I also saw Ice Block Delivery Guy right away. He might be retired by now. I can imagine the conversation with his son:
Father: “Son, after a lot of thought, I have decided that I want you to take over the family ice block business.”
Son (furiously playing a video game): “Huh?”