Penang: Day 3

On our third and final day in Penang, we visited the Tropical Spice Farm about an hour outside Georgetown.  It was lush, colorful, and aromatic, and afterward, we found an empty patch of beach right across the street. Munching on some corn on the cob grilled with butter and honey, then feeling the waves gently lapping at my feet, it was the perfect summer moment.

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In the afternoon, we crossed the Padang Brown Hawker Center off our list. We had popiah for the first time, which I enjoyed for its clean taste, assam laksa, and an assortment of steamed fritters that would not have been out of place at a dim sum parlor.

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Our hawker food extravaganza ended with Gurney Drive, probably the most famous hawker center in Penang. We were greeted by stall after stall of roasted meats, satay, rojak, loh bak, fried noodles, roti, cendol, etc., though some of the vendors overlapped in food choices, making it seem somewhat repetitive. While exciting, the experience was nothing like that of Taipei’s Shihlin Night Market, which bursts at the seams with street food, so grand it can’t contain itself and spills over into the surrounding areas and swallows everything in sight. At Gurney we had a selection of satays (beef, lamb, and chicken), a variety of satisfying if generic fried noodle and rice dishes, and of course washed it all down with some more ice kacang.  A lot of it just looks like sludge, but hey, it tasted good going down.

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I want to come back to Penang to try some non-hawker establishments and see what other culinary happenings are rocking this epicenter of flavors and ingredients.  Our trip was admittedly one-dimensional, but I don’t regret it at all.  I tried several new foods and left with a strong sense of what Penang hawker food is about and how it seems to have evolved.  I respect that this is a regional cuisine that’s globally-derived, the result of the free flow of different peoples coming in and doing their thing and adding onto what’s already in place.  Cuisines aren’t made in a single explosive creative moment, they’re built in layers like rice paddy terraces.  And that’s all she wrote.

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