Goodbye, Malaysia. A Memoir in Food Photos

I’m leaving Malaysia for good after eleven wonderful years living in Penang. Though there are people and customs and culture and other things I’ll miss about Malaysia, I thought my Goodbye Post should highlight some of the food items I ate in my last week. I will miss all of this tremendously.

Imagine the fragrance and flavor as you look at these beauties:

IMG_20160908_1226448_rewind

Beef Rendang – Indonesian, coconuty, Amazing!

P_20170607_181328

Nyonya – Roti Babi – fried pork sandwich. Yum. Oh, and some greens.

P_20170607_181334

Nyonya Pork Rendang. So different from the beef, but equally delicious.

P_20170607_181404

Sambal Goreng – so unique, prawn, coconut, eggplant, sambal

P_20170612_125432

Thai Long Bean & Pork – tremendous curry sauce on it

P_20170609_114647

Indian! The best butter chicken masala with garlic butter naan.

P_20170614_093141

Dry Curry Mee Noodles. Oh. My. Goodness.

manchuriancaliflower

Manchurian Califlower – fried, spicy, crunchy

The terrible thing about these photos (besides I’m not going to be able to eat these foods daily) is that it truly only scratches the surface of Malaysian fare. It’s diverse, flavorful, and dare I some, some of the best food in the world.

Goodbye Penang. Goodbye Malaysia.

 

Visiting Malacca or Melaka

I recently took what might be my last trip to Malacca. I’ve visited there eight times (I think), and I’ve enjoyed it each time. It’s a great place to take in some history, learn about the Portuguese, Dutch, British and how they elbowed their way into the spice trade. They’ve done a fantastic job developing the river area in the old section, plus you get to visit the vibrant and fun Jonker Street. Here’s a few shots from my trip. Yes, I bought some gula Melaka.

img_20161031_1102542_rewind

Malacca River. Great for night time walks or a river cruise.

img_20161031_1045189_rewind

Dutch built church in Dutch square. You can attend a service on Sunday morning.

img_20161031_1307184_rewind

Here’s my crazy students touring the replica Portuguese ship.

img_20161031_1308323_rewind

Up close.

img_20161031_1619081_rewind

The tomb of famous Malay folk legend Hang Jebat.

img_20161031_1623099_rewind

A typical Malacca building.

img_20161030_2136203_rewind

From the rooftop of Hangout Hotel. Jonker Street in full mode.

img_20161031_0843014_rewind

St. Paul’s church, built by the Portuguese in 1511. This is a statue of St. Francis Xavier, who was interred her for a time.

img_20161031_0849243_rewind

Inside St. Paul’s.

img_20161031_0856098_rewind

Malacca city from St. Paul’s hill. The lone standing gate of the old fort, Afamosa, is in the foreground.

Beautiful Views from Back Home in Pennsylvania

I’ve shared many posts about the beautiful island of Penang where I currently live. And many have been announcing its accolades over the past few years because of its cultural heritage and terrific food.

Well, now I stumbled across a BBC article about an often overlooked million acres of outdoor ideal-ness called the Allegheny forest in north western Pennsylvania. I can attest to how special this area is. The article talks about route 62 from Warren to Franklin, PA, which I have driven dozens of times in my life, as being one of the most scenic routes in the eastern United States. I have to agree. The route hugs the Allegheny river most of the time and weaves through charming towns and beautiful country valleys.

About 15 years ago, I drove two of my Vietnamese friends through the forest, heading to Warren on a summer’s evening. We counted, if I recall correctly, 24 deer and numerous other small animal sightings during the one hour trip through the forest. They were amazed. I was amazed I didn’t have an accident.

I remember the family trips we took to Titusville to see Drake’s well, the first commercial oil well in the world. I remember walking the trails in Cook’s Forest, and standing on the dam at Kinzua.

If you like the outdoors, hiking, camping, exploring land which has changed little since the time of America’s founding, you should really spend some time in the Allegheny Forest.

Here’s the original article. Check out the beautiful BBC: The US One Million Acre Secret

 

Another Article Extolling Georgetown, Penang – My Home

Another article extolling something great about my home for the last 9 years – Penang, Malaysia. More specifically – Georgetown – the main city on the small island. This article now claims that Georgetown is the new hipster destination. Read the Wanderluxe article here.

SAMSUNG CSC

April 2015 – photo by sassevn

Penang is a special and unique spot. The culture – a vibrant mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian – has created an amazing array of some of the best food on the planet and some of the more unique street scenes in Southeast Asia.

SAMSUNG CSC

Gurney Drive view of the port in Butterworth across the strait. photo sassevn

Penang heritage is second to none. Home to one of the two prominent Straits Settlements in the Strait of Malacca, Georgetown is full of unique and beautiful buildings, currently stocked with cozy cafes and delicious dives.

SAMSUNG CSC

A Colonial Era British Building – photo by sassevn

Over the last couple of years, Penang has been voted one of the top places to retire in the world. It has been granted the status of best Asian street food.

It’s a beautiful, inexpensive, tropical island with some of the world’s best food. What more do you want!

It’s my writer’s oasis.

Come give us a visit!

 

I want a restaurant which does what I can’t

I live in Asia. Penang, Malaysia to be precise. My tropical, island home is blessed with some of the best Asian food in the planet. The street food is cheap and plentiful and simply amazing. I’m learning to replicate some of the dishes at home, but still they real-deal is always better. No matter how many times I make the Thai padprik chicken in my own kitchen, it still isn’t as good as the one my Thai lady at the food stalls whips up in about a minute over a steaming hot wok.

Western food in Penang is another thing altogether. The best western food in Penang is at my house. If you want real pizza, come on over. Real American food, I’ll whip it up for you. Mexican – oh yes, I’ll have your taste-buds tantalizing. The western restaurants which try to replicate the western flavors fall severely short.

I had a friend who would never buy in a restaurant that which he could make better at home. That makes a lot of sense.

So that’s my new creed – I want a restaurant which does what I can’t.

I met one the other day called Kebaya of the Seven Terraces boutique hotel in Georgetown. I’ll have to do a proper review of the place sometime soon since I just went there for the first time. But I walked away not just impressed, floored really. The flavors, quality, presentation, and service were impeccable. Truly some of the best food I have ever eaten in my life.

But the one dish that got me thinking about this post was their special of the day: smoked beef in red curry. I know how to make beef. I know how to grill a good steak. But one bite of the beef and I knew that they had secrets which I didn’t know. The smoky charcoal flavor permeated every fiber of that beef, unlike any I have ever tasted. Coupled with the phenomenal red curry sauce, it was a dish that could have made me weep if I weren’t so happy.

Those geniuses in the kitchen know a bunch of royal secrets which made my experience truly something to be treasured.

And that’s why I like the local hawker Asian food as well. They have their know-how, methods, and ingredients which make their flavors and experience unique.

This is what a restaurant experience should be like. Hey cooks, chefs, and restaurateurs, make me something that I can’t make at home, and then you’ll surely have me as a longtime customer.

Kudos to Kebaya. The best restaurant in Penang.

Back to Malacca or Melaka

I recently returned from my annual  road trip to Malacca to take in the sites. I suppose each year it brings about another post on the blog with similar photos and such. But, oh well, it’s just a cool place to visit, and the transformation that has taken place along the river is quite remarkable.

(Of course, rumors have it that the Malaysian government development funds from Penang to Malacca because the opposition won the elections in Penang, but I can’t speak to that.)

Whatever the case, Malacca (English spelling) or Melaka (Malaysian spelling) is a charming step back into time with the enchanting old Chinese quarter centered around Jonker Street and the preserved architecture from the time of the Portuguese (16th century), Dutch (17th-18th centuries), and British (19th & 20th centuries).

Malacca River at Night

Malacca River at Night

2015-03-19 19.46.59Malacca was an ideal site for traders throughout the 16-19th centuries because of its location hidden within the Strait of Malacca. It was well protected from typhoons and traders could settle down for months at a time waiting for the trade winds to move so they could travel home.

2015-03-20 08.56.41

The saying goes like this: “Whoever controls Malacca, has its foot on the throat of Venice.” A clear reference to Malacca’s importance as a trading port – everyone wanted to control Malacca, and over the years almost everyone did.

Dutch influence, perhaps?

Dutch influence, perhaps?

Chinatown

Chinatown

Newly developed river walk. Some great little cafes along the river.

Newly developed river walk. Some great little cafes along the river.

My crew in front of Christ Church.

My crew in front of Christ Church.

If you ever get a chance to come to Malaysia, Malacca or Melaka is a must visit.

 

 

A Glimpse at Hanoi – Early 1990s

A friend posted this fascinating LINK showing life in Hanoi in 1990. I found these particularly fascinating because it pre-dated my arrival in Vietnam by only four years.

I first arrived at Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport – the OLD one – in August 1994, just months after the U.S. had lifted the embargo against their former communist foe. We were moving to Haiphong near the coast, a three hour train ride to Hanoi, to teach English. (I’ll reminisce more on all of that later – I need to find all my photos!)

But we would frequently take the train to Hanoi to visit the big city and enjoy the “amenities” that simply didn’t exist in Haiphong. Those amenities included CHEESE and Coca-Cola and stuff like that. Yes, that will put things into perspective as to where Vietnam was in regards to development at that point.

We would bring our bicycles on the train – the train that used to go over the oldest French bridge and actually went to the main train station right in Hanoi proper – they stopped doing that around 1997. Anyways, we would bring our bikes on the train so we could easily cycle around Hanoi.

By 1994, the trams that you saw in the pictures were already gone, but the streets you see in 1990 looked about the same when we were cycling around. There were very few cars, lots of bicycles, and some motorbikes. By the end of the decade, Hanoi changed a lot, and now here in 2015, there are many parts of Hanoi which I would hardly even recognize. I’m sure I’d need to hang out in the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake to feel at home.

We finally did move to Hanoi in January 1998 where we studied the Vietnamese language full-time for about a year and four months before moving to Thai Nguyen in the summer of 1999.

Our house in Hanoi was off of Thai Ha Street (again, where are my photos?) and by then there was already a mini-mart across the street from our house.

Oh, and I loved the little Banh Cuon breakfast show which was a short walk behind our house.

Those were good times. I really miss Hanoi and hope to visit again at some point. Hopefully this year.

And I promise I’ll find those photos!