Apologizing for what looks like a brief hiatus, let me first clarify that we didn’t fall off the face of the earth or get swallowed up by a giant monitor lizard. Respecting the wishes of many readers that thought I should keep the politics to a minimum or off the blog totally, I’ve been quite distracted lately by debates, polls, sexual predator stories and various other crap associated with the lowest form of a democratic election in human history. Thankfully, with less than two weeks to go, our one and only visitor decided on a return trip to Penang and will join us as a travel companion for a ten-day jaunt to Cambodia starting tomorrow. Intentionally planning to spend the last two weeks away from any last-minute breaking election stories, late October is also the tail end of rainy season which usually means decent weather and less crowds.
Spending some quality time exploring the temples of Angkor Wat and the depressing but culturally important sites where the Khmer Rouge carried out one of history’s worst genocides, we’ll wrap up with an incredible trip to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, one of Southeast Asia’s largest volunteer rehabilitation centers. But meanwhile, let’s recap. Being Jamie’s second trip to Penang, we focused more on food this time and less on tourist attractions. As newly arrived expats who just received our MM2H visa approvals, Jamie came for a quick four-day visit last year since she happened to be in Thailand anyway but we were in that honeymoon phase where everything looks great so we acted like tourists and used the visit as an excuse to see the popular sites. This year, we decided to entertain our guest’s vegetarian palette by exploring some meatless specialty restaurants that we’ve kind of curious about. But while I respect everyone’s right to choose their own diets, my body needs animal protein to facilitate a basic fitness regime in a hot and humid environment so it proved a bit challenging, gastronomically speaking
We started with a rather upscale vegetarian restaurant known as Idealite. Choosing the location in Gurney Plaza, Penang’s signature shopping and dining spot, the extensive menu jumped out at me and it took about 10 minutes figuring out what to order. Settling on something called Kam Heong Hericium, my trusty Google search tole me it was a variety of mushroom and turned out to be one of the tastiest dishes I’ve had in Penang. Deliciously spiced and surprisingly large and satisfying, I forgot I was eating vegetarian food.
Thinking I’d need several items to stay satiated, I flipped through pages of ramen and noodles, finally deciding on their Signature Oriental Udon. Bringing out a large plate of perfectly seasoned spicy noodles, I barely missed the meat.
Diane and Jamie opted for the platter where you pick from several different options and get a good sampling of vegetarian food along with all the health benefits. Also deliciously packed with good things, the portion sizes made up for the mall prices and I actually stayed full enough for the entire afternoon. Finishing the meal with Panda Bear Buns, I enjoyed the experience and would highly recommend the restaurant for those curious about meatless meals as well as entertaining vegetarian guests. Priced at about 100 ringgit for there of us (about $25), it’s a bit pricey for lunch but the selection and comfort makes up for it.
Having asked our annual visitor whats she wanted to do while in Penang, her somewhat unusual request was finding a ukulele shop. Dabbling a bit in guitar, she wanted to buy one and oddly enough, Georgetown has several reputable shops so we hopped into a Grab Car (Uber’s competition that happened to be offering ridiculously cheap discount coupons) and headed to a store called Manuel Ukulele. Wondering why they named the store after a Spanish person when most people associate ukuleles with Hawaiian music, I Googled that also and learned that a Portuguese guy named Manuel invented the instrument in Hawaii after emigrating. Originally intending to work in the sugar cane fields, instead he decided to invent a small instrument modeled around several other Portuguese string instruments and the rest is Hawaiian history. Finding a mid range ukulele, Jamie chatted with the knowledgeable staff and bought one. Yet another store we’d never walk into for any reason, if you’re in the market for a ukulele, this is the place. It’s also highly recommended for expats wishing to be entertained poolside by their musically inclined visitors.
Naturally, no trip to Penang would be complete without some quality time with the monkeys so we ventured out the next day to our favorite local park. Conveniently placed on the way to the more popular Penang Botanical Gardens, Taman Perbandaran, also known as The Youth Park, never disappoints and within minutes we found some adorable baby long-tailed macaques playing like puppies as well as some large monitor lizards enjoying some tasty worms. Hanging out there for a while, Jamie was showing some signs of fatigue from the heat so we relaxed and enjoyed the monkeys before stopping for some coffee and heading out to our next vegetarian eating experience.
Passing by Penang’s best and most extensive vegetarian Nasi Campur almost every time we head to the mall, we’ve eyeballed Restauran Sayur-Sayu Evergreen many times but never really had an excuse to try it. Turning out to be one of the largest selections of food anywhere, this place is a vegetarian’s dream with over 50 types of food. Extensive selections of noodles go with everything from tofu to every imaginable vegetable, tempeh, veggie “meat” and various soups. Taking two plates because it looked so good, it only came in at 25 Ringgit for two people and we realized the obvious financial benefits of going vegetarian in Southeast Asia. Knowing Diane and I will never give up meat, we decided a once a week lunch date at Evergreen makes a healthy and delicious option. Just like Idealite, it’s highly recommended.
Not wishing to spend money every night before a vacation, we indulged our annual and only visitor by making our first vegetarian pizza. Turning out strangely perfect, I’m almost convinced I might enjoy the lifestyle if I didn’t love meat and seafood so much. We also cooked shrimp curry and she passed on the seafood but enjoyed visiting the local wet market where a cornucopia of greenery abounds daily.
With the Penang part of our visitor’s vacation coming to an end, the timing worked out better this year. Every Tuesday night, there’s a Passar Mallam (night market) at Tanjung Bungah, a town about fifteen minutes from our condo in Batu Ferrenghi. Having not been there in over six months, we weren’t really impressed by past visits but it’s always fun to show visitors so we headed over last night. To our surprise, a number of new and interesting vendors cropped up and they also have one of the freshest Laksa stands I’ve seen so we ate dinner and perused a bunch of mostly cheap merchandise. Eating some deep-fried mushrooms, a plate of Char Kway Teow, deliciously fresh jackfruit, addictingly good deep-fried tofu cubes, some grilled chicken wings and finishing up with a fresh cane juice and amazing passion fruit bubble tea, I’m rescinding my previous two star recommendation out of five and upping it to four. Here’s a small sampling.
So today we’re off to Cambodia by way of Kuala Lumpur. With no convenient or inexpensive direct flights from Penang, it made more sense to travel by train to the big city, stay overnight and catch a non stop flight to Siem Reap tomorrow morning.
Having recently upgraded the entire rail system to accommodate faster trains, all service from Penang to Kuala Lumpur is now via shiny new express trains and while they’re not nearly as fast as European or Japanese trains, it’s now Southeast Asia’s fastest rail service and takes just under four hours. Priced at 59 Ringgit (about $16 USD), it’s economical and relatively comfortable but be warned; the trains are kept at sub- arctic temperatures and it’s one of the few times I’ll travel in the tropic with long pants. Hoping to post a few times from Cambodia, we’re grateful to our one and only visitor for introducing us to vegetarian food in Penang and we only wish more friends would venture out to see us. If you’re ever in the area or want some advice or help on acclimatizing to life in Penang, feel free to drop us an email.
Cheers from Batu Ferrenghi, Malaysia.