Although I’m a big fan of Laksa, Hokkien Mee and Mee Goreng, sometimes I crave real meat. Not the minuscule amounts of chicken and beef they put in soups or the two bite chicken or duck rice meals at hawker stands. No, I want steak, chops, pork, lamb and anything else that provides an actual healthy serving of animal protein. Always hungrier on days I workout at our dinky little gym, we stumbled upon a little hidden gem in Pilau Tikas with a silly name and an unbelievably generous menu of grilled meats all served buffet style. Well, it’s semi buffet style anyway. For only 60 ringgit, you look at the menu selection and they come take your order based on how many people in your party want each dish. Grilling each item to order, you sit back and enjoy for about an hour or two as plate after plate come out.
Known as Beep Beep Q, the little restaurant sits tucked on Lorang Bangkok between Jalan Burma and Jalan Kalwani. Convenient for those rare expats like us with no cars, it’s right off the street that the 101 bus traverses making it an easy place to get to without a lot of extra walking. Housed in a small little building halfway down the street, we went on a Sunday night, one of three weekend nights they offer the buffet. (Other nights are à la carte so it’s probably not worth it). Taking advantage of our newest friends that moved into our condo after breaking a lease from their astronomically noisy condo in the middle of Constructionville, we suggested this place when we decided to brave the haze and leave the house for first time all day. (Different topic discussed later down the page). Anyway, we approached the street and found all the parking spots empty which is the first time I’ve ever seen that. Thinking the pea soup mix of burning forest fire and ash kept people indoors, it turns out you need some sort of permit to park on various streets in Pilau Tikas despite the lack of signage describing this (which is rare in Malaysia). Learning the hard way, our driver received a nasty 100 ringgit ticket and the lesson learned is if you ever see empty parking spots in Penang, it probably means it costs to park there.
Greeted politely by the guy who took our order and also grills all the food, we admired the Vintage American and European style decor of old cars, license plates and assorted paraphernalia. Amazingly, even after all the food they offer, you also get “all you can eat” room temperature mashed potatoes with skin (delicious), soup (average) and green salad as well as a choice between mango juice or cold water (totally unheard of in Penang). Relatively small, the dining room inside only had four tables and since we were a party if five, they had to put two together. There’s also some limited seating outside but we didn’t feel like inhaling the toxic soup sledge of burning wildfire that’s pervaded Penang thanks to our friends across the straits. Selecting one by one, we all decided to sample just about everything on the menu, unsure how big it would be so we followed the recommendations of our trusty waiter/cook (and perhaps owner?). Another big plus for me is the clean toilets with toilet paper and sink with soap. (For those unfamiliar, Malaysians hate paper products for some reason and if you don’t bring your own Toilet paper and tissues, expect wet hands and don’t even think about making number two.
The tile of the post notwithstanding, they do offer grilled mangos and bananas as well as four types of grilled veggies but why any vegan or vegetarian would pay 60 ringgit for that with no meat is beyond me. Since our friends didn’t like the sounds of the grilled fruit, Diane and I ordered one each. Interestingly coated with a smoky and sweet sauce, they tasted like someone dropped the fruit on the grill by mistake but surprisingly they tasted like a perfect start to the meal.
Not long after we finished the appetizer, the meat began arriving. We all like sirloin so we the cooker guy brought out a plate of four rather large but slightly fatty steaks. Grilled and doused with lots of pepper and a pepper sauce style bar-b-q coating, the meat could have been thicker and more tender but since most Australian steaks run anywhere from 50 to 90 ringgit, we all agreed it was worth the money and best of all, if you want more, you simply ask.
Almost falling off my seat, the prospect of real pork bacon anything jumped out at me like a fifty pound non-Halal hog. Not really understanding the stuff the Brits call “streaky pork”, North Americans love real crisp, greasy, fatty and smoked bacon. Promising that’s what it was, we ordered bacon wrapped mushrooms but unfortunately, my quest for real bacon continues as the flavorless pork lacked the cured flavors that makes bacon taste like bacon. Accompanying the bacon was the dish they called “grilled meatballs”. Between five of us, nobody could name the protein used in the meatballs and they sat on the side until the meal ended and our friends’ son decided to eat them. Tasting something like the stuff they put in soups, they also had a sweet bar-b-q sauce that didn’t really add much but I ate a bunch anyway because I like any kind of skewered meatball even if I can’t figure out what’s in it.
Not to be outdone by the carnivores, they also offer three kinds of seafood that sound appealing since grilled anything is always better so we ordered all three dishes. Unfortunately, they should probably not advertise the place for seafood. First up were the prawns. Served with the head and the shell on, (Chinese style), I love prawns with the shell and usually don’t peel them. Served with a dipping sauce that had garlic but didn’t really have enough else to make it worthwhile, Diane and I enjoyed them because they reminded us of authentic Chinese prawns but we didn’t really notice the grilled flavor. Some typically loud Americans sitting across from us had to show their ignorance by repeating the word “shrimp” and belittling the female server because they think the American name (shrimp) should be known worldwide.
Following the shrimp was the squid which may have been the first sotong I’ve eaten in Malaysia that was not good. Rubbery and flavorless, this dish should be avoided unless they learn to dress it up better or figure out how to adjust the grill for seafood.
Fortunately, more meat was on the way. Five minutes later they brought out the lamb shoulder. Good news, bad news. Generously large, they seemed to miss the art of lamb which doesn’t go with sweet bar-b-q sauce due to its game-like flavor. Overpowering the taste of the lamb, the meat was well cooked and tasty but lamb shoulder is best with mint sauce or perhaps a light marinade but the beauty of grilled lamb is that it’s not bar-b-q pork ribs. Explaining this to our cook, we suggest mentioning no sauce before ordering.
Unlike lamb, grilled pork chops can absolutely absorb a healthy dose of bar-b-q sauce and the next dish out was extra satisfying for someone who misses park as much as I do. In our working life I cooked pork chops at least once a week and always added homemade sauces that limited the sugar and kicked up the spices. No such luck with these but since pork is harder to find on menus in a Muslim country, I savored every bite of the tasty pork chops and al last ordered more.
Almost forgetting about the third fish dish, it arrived before we finished the pork chops and we almost ran out of room on the table. Sadly, they chose dory, a flaky white but relatively flavorless fish for the garlic fish part of the meal. While not horrible, the fish was over seasoned with green herbs that I assumed was parsley or something similar but it didn’t really add much flavor. Not really tasting like garlic, the seafood came in last place and we could have skipped it but since you get so much for so little, why not sample everything? They’d be better served using red snapper, the island’s most common fish at hawker stands.
Strange tasting wild mushrooms came out next but since our appetites waned, nobody cared that they were bitter. Unable to sample the grilled sweet potato because they ran out, that left only a grilled veggie mix. Despite coming for the meat, I also really miss veggies which are strangely absent from Malaysian food. As one who served Diane salad, protein and green veggies every night during my 18 month stint as a House Husband, it was a welcome sight to see grilled eggplant, zucchini, sweet corn, carrots and green beans. One of my favorite dishes, I ate almost all the veggies except the yams (because they were out of that also) and it proved a satisfying end to an enjoyable meal, even though some of the meat wasn’t perfect and the seafood was very average. Not really expecting the same thick quality meats you can find in a moe expensive Western restaurant, I’d recommend the place anyway and promised them I’d post a blog entry.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. We also ordered spicy chicken wings, black pepper sausage and jumbo sausage that I somehow I didn’t get pictures of, but for the sake of the post, I’ll comment that the sausages were small and had bar-b-q sauce on them (ridiculous for sausage). Visit Healy Macs for an absolutely spectacular plate of sausages. As for the chicken wings, they looked like the incredibly tasty ones at Kafe Long Beach but unlike the island’s best chicken wings, they had little seasoning and were dry. They do Chicken dishes so well in so in Penang (including my kitchen where even I can cook tasty meals) it’s probably worth it to order more meat. All in all, it’s a great place to get some inexpensive all you can eat meat at a reasonable price but don’t expect Steak house quality.
Moving on, I offer one paragraph that addresses the situation NASA says is on track to become the world’s largest global air quality catastrophe ever thanks to climate change, El Niño and of course, corporate greed.
The Haze Commentary
Lately, followers and readers have written me asking about the haze. When I started the blog I promised Diane I’d keep negativity off the blog except for occasional cynical sarcasm which is part of my writing style. The haze is an issue I refuse to write about because there’s absolutely nothing positive to say about it. To address the questions, my eyes hurt every day, my lungs are struggling with daily cardio even in an air-conditioned gym and Diane and I feel like prisoners. Spending the last week barricaded inside a climate controlled living room, the air is putrid, smells like a burning combination of forest fire, chemicals and rubber and the El Niño combined with climate change is preventing any rain from falling in rainforest countries like this one. Asian citizens address this with total complacency and are fearful of repercussions if they engage in any meaningful protests so nothing changes. Basically it would be deemed a national emergency in any western nation and heads would role since this is not a natural event in nature. Instead, it’s akin to a few CEO’s looking the other way while Indonesia illegally and purposely starts the largest wildfires on Earth which affect the health and well-being of 80 million people in four countries. I could fill an entire blog with my opinions on how reprehensible this is and frankly, it’s unbelievable to us, having come from environmentally conscious California. But nobody likes to read negativity so this is my first and last comment on the haze. Simply put, we are visitors and have no say in Malaysian politics so we live with our decision to come here. At the moment it looks like the experiment is a failure because this is no way to enjoy retirement.
Yes, we can hop on a plane and leave for a while but that wasn’t really the plan and in September we successfully spent less than we allocated for our approximate monthly budget. Based on how much we received for our house, we hope to go 15 years or more before using savings or retirement income so spur-of-the-moment trips seem financially foolish.
Cheers from the smoke filled ashcan. Pray for monsoon rain.