Last gasp from Malaysia—until I visit another 15 times

say huat

     Say huat?

     Another visit to Malaysia in the books. I accomplished nothing I intended to (go somewhere new, see inexpensive doctors for a checkup, check my skin post-chicken pox, etc.) but I’m less bothered than I should be about it. I’m also 300kg now. It was time to go before I ate myself into Bolivia, as Mike Tyson might say.
nasi lemak penang

     Preparing what is arguably the national Malay dish, nasi lemak, literally “fat rice”, that is quite cheap. It’s not enough to say there is Malay, Indian and Chinese food here. There are sub-categories and a broad mixing of cultures, such as nasi kandar which is predominantly Tamil-Muslim food, a simple rice and meat dish that is smothered in a variety of rich curries. Nyonya/Peranakan cuisine is from the intermarriage between Chinese and Malaysians, Chinese spices making subtle changes to Malay/Indonesian dishes. In Malaysia there’s probably a cuisine inspired by the third uncle of one-legged Portuguese who hail from southwest Mongolia.

tandoori chicken set

     In some circles this tandoori chicken and nan set is called flavoursome. It reminds me that every time I leave Malaysia before I get the definitive answer to this burning question: is ghee the devil? (I say yes.) This cost nine ringgit, or about US$2.75. Malaysia is very good value for money, but it’s poor form to say that it’s cheap in front of Malaysians when local wages are so low.
     This was at Sri Ananda Bahvan restaurant in Penang. The food is excellent, but I find my favorite part of going there is when a tall, lithe, dark-skinned Tamil girl with long, shimmering black hair and bewitching eyes, all improbable elegance amidst the din of Little India, lopes in like a gazelle, and all the guys working there, which seems like dozens since workers cost three cents to import from India and Nepal, manage to get a short but solid stare in like they have never seen a woman before.

subway penang

     Subway has opened ominously close to the World Heritage zone in Penang at the end of Lebuh Chulia. I’m heartened that I have never seen it busy. It saves me from not giving foreigners the stinkeye when I walk by. Yes, we westerners can get tired of Asian food after a while on the road, but out of respect can’t we all wait until we get to Kuala Lumpur or Hat Yai, please? Thank you.

mcdonalds penang

     This is even more ominous, that the deep pockets of McDonald’s have been able to renovate historic buildings for their own use. Or, should we rejoice that they are being renovated at all? Is the trade-off worth it?

bread history

     Cutesy names aside, stay far away from western food in Malaysia.

danish briyani

     I don’t know what Danish briyani is, but there is a finite amount of meals you will eat in Malaysia and they are too precious to be used for experimenting.

butterworth hitch

     Hitchhiking from Penang to Kuala Lumpur was easy. I took the ferry to Butterworth where I very quickly got a ride with two Tamil women and then this Tamil couple drove me out to near the highway. The key to hitching in Malaysia is to go from big kawasan rehat (rest area) to big kawasan rehat—also known as “R&R”s with excellent facilities: one or two gas stations, a good-sized food court, and sometimes a hotel or a Starbucks.

red sidewalk

     Malaysian police loves making posters and banners of gruesome photos of accidents to try and scare drivers to go more safely. I accept your gratitude for not having a more close-up photo, especially the lower right one—unless you want to see it, then click here. It’s really bad, I’m warning you.

do not go on stage

     If you tried to put up this sign in the Philippines and karaoke was involved, you would start a riot.

     I don’t have photos of:
     The thief who burst out of a cell phone shop followed by two guys in hot pursuit, so hot that they caught up to him ten meters away, the thief was so slow and clumsy.
     Someone dozing in their car with the engine running in order for the air conditioner to work, a popular pastime, global warming be damned.

Practical information:
     I drank tap water for days until enough people told me not to. My last morning in Malaysia on my way to the airport something hit me from whatever it was I ate or drank the night before, which could have been anything.
     The Penang tourist office is putting out some quality heritage-related maps and information. In one they profile individual craftsmen who do one thing and only one thing like making joss sticks, rattan furniture, traditional lanterns or even just the old Chinese guy who makes 300 coconut tarts every morning, then stops, and that’s it. You walk on over, there is the guy’s store and there he is, like how life is supposed to be.
     They give the same treatment to the itinerant food hawkers. I read about the coconut and peanut sesame ball family, found their usual location where they set up most evenings, and there they were. I like my Penang to be a time capsule where nothing changes.
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

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Last gasp from Malaysia—until I visit another 15 times — 5 Comments

  1. Ohhhh, I am jealous, I love Malaysia too, I can’t decide which I like better, Melaka or Georgetown. Earlier this year I went to Kuala Terrengganu which was also great, and the Perhentian Islands too! I was invited to stay in Batu Ferringhi on Penang island by two lovely Malaysian fellas I met in Bali, they let me stay in their condo and from there I could get a bus into Georgetown! I love the China House café in Georgetown with it’s amazing selection of cakes (it’s not cheap but has a really lovely ambiance). And yes, Ee Beng is just too good, I am actually a vegetarian and Malaysia is bliss for a vego, did you try their vego Assam Laksa, ooooohhhh, food bliss! Danish Biryani is a chain, there was one at Batu Ferringhi too, it’s not Daaaynish as in Denmark, but Dan-issshhh as in an Indian person’s name! In Kuala Lumpur I love the Food Republic food court in the Pavillion Shopping mall in Bukit Bintang, and the Blue Boy Vegetarian Centre is great value and great eating… and roti telur with a nice sweet teh tarik has to be my favourite breakfast on earth.
    Today I am celebrating 9 months on the road and I am in Italy and it’s starting to get cold, I have had to relinquish my harem pants, really upset about that. Italy is also pretty good for food I must say, but yes, everything here is just so expensive, and it’s more fun buying ingredients than meals so it helps to have access to a kitchen of some sort.
    I’m planning to get a Qatar flight back to Kuala Lumpur in mid November. Coming from Australia it just makes everything so much more pleasant to break the long flight with a stop in Malaysia. I discovered too that glasses and contact lenses are way cheaper in Malaysia than in Australia so I stocked up when I was there in May.
    I thought I’d be sick of travelling after all this time but right now I think I could do this forever… Cheerio, love your site!

  2. Glasses! I knew I forgot something. I meant to get my eyes checked.
    Glad to hear that you had a good time in Malaysia and thanks for clearing up what Danish meant!
    Congratulations for being 9 months on the road! It will be 9 months for me next week. It’s hard to do this forever, but good luck. Let me know how it goes!

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