Food Heaven

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Sunday, March 4, 2007

He Said:

From Kuala Lumpur we took another overnight train (in a delightfully snore-free and spotlessly-clean private compartment) north to the town of Butterworth, where we caught a short ferry to the island of Penang. A few hundred years ago, Penang was run by the East India Company and was a major trading post and re-supply stop for sailing ships plying the Indian Ocean routes between Asia, Africa, and Europe. In the last few centuries, its importance as a center of trade has declined dramatically since ships no longer need to stop here to take on fresh water or food stores. This has left behind a rich multicultural heritage similar to some other historic Indian Ocean ports we have visited like Singapore and Zanzibar.

Penang has much more "local flavor" than the modern and corporate Kuala Lumpur. The town is full of vibrant markets, historic architecture, and food vendors selling all types of Malay, Indian, Arabic, Chinese, and of course, Penang-style cuisines. Although there are some sightseeing opportunities here, the real reason why most people come to Penang is to eat. The food here is mind-blowing. Besides the huge variety of restaurants and coffee shops, every few blocks or so there is an outdoor food court known as a "Hawker Center". Unlike the street food vendors in most countries we have visited, the Malaysian hawkers/vendors work from spotless, stainless steel carts that are actually Health Department inspected. An average Hawker Center usually has a few dozen carts, each specializing in two or three different dishes. An average plate of seafood rice, skewered satay chicken, or vegetable noodle soup costs between 2 to 4 Ringgit ($0.60 - $1.25 USD) and it is delicious! I have yet to walk away from a lunch or dinner feeling anything less than stuffed, I just can't control myself around the heaps of delicious chow kuey tow, curried seafood, hokkien mee, and nasi goreng on offer! Its good we are only spending a couple of days here, I'll be lucky to get out of this place having gained less than five pounds!

She Said:

The private compartment is definitely the way to do train travel! It was like having a little hotel on wheels, and they even had a turn down service and left little cupcakes on our pillow. And it cost less than one night in a cheap hotel. While we were in Kuala Lumpur, we took advantage of the high-speed Internet and downloaded all the recent episodes of LOST and The Office, and caught up on the train. If you are a loyal LOST watcher, you might be as frustrated as we are with all the open story lines! What is the deal with Michael and Walt? Are they just never going to show them again? And what happened to that lady with cancer and her husband? They seemed to have dropped off the show. And the smoke monster thing? Maybe you can tell we have a lot of time on our hands, because we have really debated and discussed all these plot lines. It could be time to get a job!

Penang is a cute city with a lot more "Malaysian" flavor than Kuala Lumpur. Todd was insistent on eating himself to death with 3 to 4 meals a day, as the Penang style cuisine is his "perfect food," with its unique combination of sweet and spicy as he kept repeating over and over again. I was a bit intimidated the first time we ate in a hawker center, as I was unfamiliar with most of the menu items, and each individual cart was preparing equally unknown items. I eventually got the hang of it, found some items that I loved enough to pig out with Todd... beside, I was only doing it so he wouldn't feel like such a pig... :-)

Besides eating ourselves to death, we spent a lot of time walking around (necessary to counteract the caloric intake) and checking out all the tourist sites, which included a large British Fort (okay), a renovated Chinese mansion (very interesting), and the local history museum (yawn, but Todd enjoyed it). I continue to be struck by how clean everything is and how polite the people are. And no one has tried to sell us a single thing since we arrived in Malaysia. Anyway, tomorrow we are off to the beach via a two-hour ferry ride to Langkawi. We are looking forward seeing Malaysia's "paradise."
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