A Week in Food Paradise
Mitch Hedberg used to tell a joke that went, “Every book is a children’s book if the kid can read!” I think about this joke every time someone asks us what Freya eats on our travels.
All food is children’s food if the kids eats it!
– Pete Kremer… channeling Mitch Hedberg
I’m so glad that Freya has been a willing food tester, and eager eater throughout our trip so far. Especially since we just spent a week in George Town, Penang, Malaysia.
We didn’t know a whole lot about George Town before booking our one-week stay, but that’s kinda been our modus operandi. We were just throwing names of places that we could fly to from Phuket that might not be on the ‘normal’ tourist circuit around South East Asia. Jannika had read that George Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, so this destination became quite interesting.
It wasn’t until we got to the airport to check in that we became as excited about visiting George Town as Freya is at the sight of a Magnum bar these days. In front of us at the checkin counter a local Penang family was flying home from a quick vacation in Phuket. We started talking… normal traveling small talk… then, the son (Adrian) said, “If you like food, you’ll love Penang. It’s Food Paradise.” I got goose bumps!
During the 1:15 flight, the same family came back to our seats and gave us three pages of notes on what to do in Penang and where to eat. AND, they offered to com pick us up Sunday morning to take us on a food tour of Penang. Pinch me!
We had a few days to wait until our Penang food tour with the Thor family, but it wasn’t hard to find amazing food until that time. The streets of George Town have ‘hawker centers’ set up on street corners all over the city. These hawker centers are comprised of anywhere from 5 – 50ish hawker stalls, and because of the mix of native Malay, Indian and Chinese, each hawker center sells an eclectic mix of amazing food. From wonton and noodle soups, to clay pot fried rice, to Indian curries… the food is so tasty, and so cheap. It’s pretty standard to get a meal for 6RM, which is roughly $1.50USD. These ‘hawker centers’ are like the original food truck rallies… dream on Bay Area hipsters.
Besides visiting a plethora hawker centers, on Saturday we were treated to a Chinese steamboat meal by our AirBnB host (in the U.S. we would call it Chinese Hot Pot). She was hosting a surprise birthday party at her house, and invited Jannika, Freya and me to join. She put together a serious steamboat spread… nearly everything you would find on a Hot Pot menu, was sitting on the table just waiting to be thrown into a boiling pot of broth. Great food. Great company. A great Saturday night…
And then it was Sunday. Sunday started with an 8:30am pickup from Jeannie, Jaimie and Adrian, then straight to the Jelutong morning market. Jeannie and her husband used to own a coffee shop that was part of the market, so Jaimie and Adrian grew up around the market their whole lives. Just a few years ago they sold the coffee shop to a relative, so we were getting the royal treatment by some serious locals that were ‘in the know’. We left everything in their hands, so they ordered, and ordered, and ordered. We shared at least eight dishes during breakfast… rice, noodles, more noodles, coconut turnover pancakes, crazy chicken feet and black egg soup. Everything was delicious; Freya tried it all, and liked nearly everything. After breakfast we drove to a street fair within George Town’s heritage area. While there we ate kettle corn, Chinese Dragon’s Beard candy, a shaved-ice ‘dessert’ with red beans and green noodles, and even went to a museum called the Wonderfood Museum.
Because we had been eating fairly consistently for about 3 hours, we decided to skip lunch and save up for dinner. Jannika, Freya and I were picked up again at 5:00pm for our dinner outing. We drove about an hour away to the Telok Tempoyak Seafood Foodcourt and ate a smorgasbord of freshly caught fish, shrimp, squid and crab. The sauces were amazing… ‘you eat this one with the shrimp’, they said; ‘you eat this one with the fish’, they said. I ate it all with everything, and drank so much fresh watermelon juice to go with it. For dessert we drove back to George Town and went to a restaurant called China House. It’s a really cool, artsy place that has a full restaurant, an art gallery, and a live music venue, but it is known for its cakes… specifically the tiramisu. So, of course, we ordered the tiramisu along with the Oreo & Nutella cake and the double chocolate torte. This was the prefect, most decadent, way to end the ultimate foodie day. Freya was a great eater all day, but I definitely think the cakes were her favorite part of the day. The sugar was also a good pick-me-up since we were already about an hour past her bedtime.
The whole day felt like we were part of a food TV show, there were just no cameras. Maybe we were part of the research day before the cameras are rolling for the live shoot. Either way, this was the closest I’ve ever been to completely Anthony Bourdain-ing or Andrew Zimmern-ing a city.