Tag Archives: Chinese food

The Great Non-White White North

Filed under the mostly boring topic of returning to North America for the first time, I apologize ahead of time for the cushy little post about what we did on our winter vacation. In keeping with my blog’s slightly edgy but realistic views, I’ll start by pointing out that Americans worried about immigration can chill out because apparently, every immigrant bound for North America has mysteriously landed in Western Canada. In only eighteen months, the whitest place I’ve ever lived in morphed into a multi cultural center of ethnic, religious and racial diversity. Strolling through the streets and malls, we’ve seen literally thousands of non white immigrants blending in just perfectly with Canadians. Mostly dark-skinned Africans, head dressed Muslims from every conceivable nation and Hindus from nations other than India, it seems the like first course of action for the Trudeau administration was to stick it to the Trumpsters by letting tens thousands of immigrants call Canada their home.

Canadian version of Malaysian wildlife

Canadian version of Malaysian wildlife

Being Canada, nobody cares, argues, stares, protests, tweets, spews hatred or otherwise argues. And much to the chagrin of angry white American voters, its obvious after one day visiting that not only are they all peaceful and appreciative to be here, they’re all employed and contributing to the local economy. Where there used to be teenage white kids staffing retail stores and old Indian men sweeping streets and filling custodial jobs, now there are Senegails, Gambians, Bangladeshis, middle easterners and oh, yeah, thousands of Syrians that the Canadian government welcomed with open arms. Demographically speaking, it makes sense because in every developed nation, someone has to do the service jobs and just like American teens, Canadian kids have grown out of mall jobs and now probably earn online income to support their insatiable smartphone habits.

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Culture Clash

Although you’d never know it based on the current political and social degradation of anything non-white, those married to people of other cultures, races or religions understand first hand what an ignorant viewpoint that is. Enriching the lives of all those who’ve embraced multi-cultural marriages, there’s nothing more interesting and fulfilling than learning about and becoming part of a culture other than the one you’re born into. Having married into a second generation Canadian Chinese family, I’ve been exposed to a world very different from my caucasian New York roots and always jump at a chance to learn something new about Chinese civilization. Clearly the most uneducated interview given in the joke known as The Republican National Convention, some moron asked CNN this beauty:  “What has anyone other than European whites really contributed to the world”?
Sadly, the xenophobic idiot was an elected official and the fact they even allow such a comment on the air speaks volumes about what’s wrong with the nation.

imageHad I been asked the question, I’d counter the sadly uninformed racist legislator and delve into a long-winded response detailing the amazingly storied and fascinating history of Chinese civilization. Ruling over territory ten times larger than Europe, Chinese people are the world’s most successful group of emigrants and communities ranging from 9 million to a few hundred live in dozens of nations on every habitable continent. Choosing Southeast Asia as a retirement destination allows expats interested in things other than border walls and isolationism a great opportunity to discover more about eastern civilization, Chinese history and Asian contributions to humanity. Having explored Chinese museums and exhibitions in Singapore and Penang, I’ve gained a plethora of knowledge about Chinese integration into different societies around Asia and always try to learn more when visiting other countries. Having already done the major tourist attractions of Bangkok on an exploratory vacation that included Borneo and Singapore in 2009, our recent trip presented a perfect chance to learn about Thai Chinese culture. Comprising one sixth of Thailand’s entire population, more ethnic Chinese live in Thailand than anywhere on earth making Bangkok’s Chinatown a perfect place to start our trip after a harrowing start the night before at Dun Mueung Airport.

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That Dreaded Foodie Post

Promising our posts are not designed to mimic “food blogs” and knowing I’m not talented or patient enough to be one of those so-called “experts” that spends their lives visiting every food court, coffee shop and restaurant on the island, we’ve nonetheless begun to amass a small collection of “favorite” places after living here for ten weeks. Not claiming expertise in any subject, I’m simply sharing some thoughts on delicious experiences at relatively economical prices in Pilau Pinang. Nothing more. Having set that, let’s jump right in. Here’s some of our favorites in four different categories.

Mee Goreng

Possibly my favorite dish in Malaysia and also known as Bami Goreng, Mee Goreng is a spicy fried noodle dish commonly found in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Basically, its core ingredients include yellow noodles fried in cooking oil, garlic, shallots, Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, egg and other vegetables. Sounding simple enough, it’s interesting how many variations on the dish are found, depending on who’s doing the cooking. Searching various real food blogs, one finds many Top 10 Mee Goreng Lists along with all the other popular food but hardly any of them look alike. Depending on your preference, you can find it spicy, milder, with or without different proteins and most importantly (for me, anyway), differences in color. Preferring mine as tomatoey delicious as possible, ony mildly spicy and with lots of sotong, there’s really only one choice. If you’re like me and find the picture below mimicking what you belive a plate of mee goreng should be then your first choice should be Seng Lee Cafe.

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Conveniently  located in Pilau Tikas, they serve this version in a small coffee shop on the corner of Lorang Bangkok and Jalan Burma and it’s expertly cooked by an Indian guy that’s been doing it since he was old enough to hold a spatula. Served with lots of squid by default, it’s possible to order it other ways but why bother? For me, the perfect combination of tomatoes, chilis and spices makes this my favorite lunchtime spot when we’re heading to Gureny Plaza. Walking distance for those rare expats (like us) that actually use feet instead of gas petals, it took us three tries to figure out when they’re open despite what Google, the internet or food bloggers claim. In Penang, anything cooked at a portable stand is subject to the whims of the cooker despite the “hours”. I should mention the other stands at this place are also awesome and include hokkien mee and one of tastiest Koay Teow soups we’ve had (at least that’s what we think it was; they speak very little English and didn’t understand Diane’s Cantonese). Highly recommended if you’re a fan.

Cantonese Chinese at a Food Court

Having read all of your comments regarding Cantonese Chinese food in a place that’s dominated by Hokkien style cooking which lacks the flavors and sauces we’re accustomed to, we stumbled on this place because it seems to be closed every time we walk past it. For the record, we did try Dragon-I in Gurney Plaza and it did live up to basic Cantonese style but came in at over 100 ringgit for lunch and that’s a bit rich for us. We’ve also simply asked many of them to “cook Cantonese” as suggested by some of you and had no success whatsoever so when we find something resembling what we know as Cantonese, you know we’ll be repeat customers. Set right in the middle of Batu Ferrenghi’s I Love You food court is Waterworld Seafood. One of the only places we’ve seen with a fish menu that includes “Hong Kong Style Steamed Fish”, they served us this beautiful red snapper in a deliciously light but flavorful soy based sauce dripping with carrots, spring onions and ginger.

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Stumbling into them by accident, we were out and about on the Merdeka Long Weekend so lots of folks were milling about, albeit nothing like Hari Raya. Interestingly, this holiday appears to attract mostly Malays which means the Chinese gravitate to the best Chinese places in large numbers. Unlike most food courts, the tables set up around Waterworld are all family style, suitable for large parties and families with 8 or 10 people. Reading into this, that means it’s intended for Chinese folks that often dine with the entire family and order hundreds of dollars worth of food (good sign). Next thing of note: No written signs anywhere around the cooking area and menus are carefully hidden. (Diane and I had to find someone willing to dig out a menu). Subtly hiding menus and pictures from non-Chinese patrons is always a good sign and the tanks with lobsters was the first one we’ve seen. Listed as “market price”, they only served it as lobster thermidor, a sign that they’re not true Cantonese but instead probably learned that European butchery of a great food from an expat that explained how much money the dish commands. We saw one come out at the next table and it was huge but we only like lobster two ways: Real Chinese style (see above but substitute lobster) or with butter and lemon at a white (Guay Lo) seafood restaurant.

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After finally getting a young employee to admit they had menus, we scanned through an extensive 15 pages and found lots of fresh fish (but mostly fried) and more veggie dishes than most Hokkien places have as well as a whole page of venison which I’ve never seen anywhere in North American Chinese restaurants (We passed on the game). Featuring six or seven bean curd dishes, we ordered from the grouchy woman taking orders but she said they only had “house version” despite the “menu” (another classic Chinese tactic). Turning out to be delicious and also cooked in a Cantonese style sauce that appeared to have corn starch (a key ingredient that somehow never reached the Hokkien), the bean curd were crunchy outside and soft inside as well as being served piping hot. Finishing the meal, we decided on sambal squid.

Being Malaysia, they still need to feature local styles like sambal but this version was a more ketchupy and not a very spicy version but filled with perfectly cooked big squids that looked more like North American style calamari. Another great point is the full juice bar that’s part of the food court they occupy and unlike most, you can order a huge size that doesn’t disappear before the meal comes. Searching them out on Foursquare or other sites, you’ll find only mixed reviews but this might be due to a mostly Hokkien population that doesn’t appreciate Cantonese anything except the TV shows where they learn to speak the language. For us, it was 7 out of 10 anywhere besides Penang but 9.5 on the  Penang Cantonese scale. Coming in a very reasonable 66 ringgit for the entire meal,  we recommend this place if you happen to be dying for Cantonese food the way you know it should be and you live in Penang.

Korean

Among the many foods available in Penang, we love Korean for its freshness and health benefits. Using mostly fresh veggies and rarely deep-fried, nothing tastes better after a long walk through Penang’s Botanical Gardens than a fresh lunch and since we usually walk back to the bus stop that takes us home, we’re always hungry. One of the busiest streets in Penang, Jalan Gottlieb is where we accidentally found Sa Rang Chae, an excellent choice for Korean with an extensive menu featuring grilled meats, soups and sides of all kinds. Normally not wanting to pay dinner time prices for lunch, we stuck to our favorite two dishes which happen to always be cheaper than main dishes  anyway. Bimbeebap is a bowl of warm white rice topped with sautéed and seasoned veggies, chili pepper paste or salty soybean paste and topped with a fried egg and sliced beef. It’s stirred together before serving. Priced at around RM 28, it came out fresh and hot. Our other favorite Korean lunch dish is Japche, made from sweet potato noodles stir fried in sesame oil and served with carrots, onion, spinach  and mushroom. Garnished with beef and a bit of sugar, it was also one of the best ones we’ve ever had. They also serve a huge potion of Japanese side dishes and allow you to refill each one once. While main dishes are a bit pricey, I’m sure they’re awesome and we will no doubt visit for dinner one time. It makes great lunch stop if you find yourself in the area. (I couldn’t find the picture of the Japche so instead I’ve shown the Kim Chee Soup which I had on my second visit).

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Japanese Charcoal Bar-b-q

Suggested by our neighbors after our trip to the back side of Penang, this style was totally new to Diane and me. Combining Japanese and a bit of Korea, each table comes with a small charcoal wok. KNK – Kan NIchi Kan Japanese Charcoal in Tanjung Bungah is similar to hibachi style or hot-pot but much better due to the extensive choices besides the bar-b-q items. The menu was too complicated and half in Japanese so we let Idy (our neighbor) order. Apparently they were having a special on the meats that came with beef tongue (took me back to my childhood in the Jewish deli), Korean style ribeye (very tender), pork wrapped in mushrooms (yum) and the tastiest squid I’ve had so far (due to the bar-b-q flavors maybe). Bringing out generous sized portions along with some Japanese sides, they also bring a dipping sauce and fresh garlic as well as lemon for the beef tongue (strange but very good).

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The onion blossom looking dish above came with the meal and nobody knew what it was but we ate it anyway. Thinking we might need more food (we didn’t), I wanted to try some soup and asked the guy if it was a small portion for one person and he said yes. Naturally, the piping hot bowl of spicy ribeye and Kim-Chee soup was almost enough for dinner and just to be sure, Idy ordered a cold soup that was one of the best things I’ve ever had. With noodles, eggs, cabbage, cucumbers and watermelon, I’d never heard of a whole page of cold soups but then again I’ve not yet been to Japan so what do I know? The entire meal came to just over 200 ringgit and we paid since they chauffeured us around the island all day. GIven the phenomenal USD to MYR advantage, this brought the total to under $12 each for all this food making it perhaps the best value for the money we’ve seen in ten weeks. Catering to a clientele  of all Japanese and Koreans (and maybe some Chinese; it’s hard to tell sometimes), it’s another example of how to choose an ethnic restaurant; look for crowds and no white people. Highly recommended and I’d bring visitors here in a heartbeat.

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Use your Groupons !!

Finally, a word about Groupon. For the unfamiliar, Groupon was once the Darling of Wall Street and had the greatest and fastest growing business in the USA. Fading quickly due to a host of copycats that immediately lowered the bar, the company faded into a bunch of crappy offers from dying restaurants like the episode of Seinfeld with Babu and his failed Pakistani food. Fortunately (for the CEO), the idea spread to other countries and should be used in Malaysia as a new way of exploring restaurants that might actually be worth something. Diane spotted this one for Oh Sushi restaurant, an upscale looking restaurant that suffers from lack of customers like almost all businesses at the beautiful but ridiculously underused shopping and entertainment complex known as Straits Quay. Usually offering a specified amount of food for a discounted cost, this place gave a choice of three different set lunch menus. Translating into $5.46 USD each, they surprised us by bringing  out two enormous meals. Proving you never know what you may get, mine had grilled beef, sashimi, salmon, miso soup, green salad, shrimp tempura and something resembling egg drop soup (a New York Chinese food invention). Not to be outdone, Diane’s had sushi, tonkatsu and a strange but flavorful soup with intestinal meat of some sort and cabbage. Use those groupons !!

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Mosh-moshed among my 2,639 IPhone photos are a host of other delicious food pictures, usually all with a story but as promised, our story is about two people attempting early retirement in a place they never visited thanks to an unexpected layoff and this is not a foodie blog. Making no money and not interested in advertising, I write for fun and hope these places benefit you if you live here or inspire you to come visit if not. Now that our MM2H Visa is complete, it was time to stop wasting $114 USD a month on the storage locker so our 2 cubic meters worth of personal stuff supposedly arrives in Penang on October 24th. Most importantly, the computer is on that shipment and eventually I can finally go back to posting like a normal human being without the never ending hassle of using an IPad for everything in lide. Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks and thanks for following along!!

Know any great Foodie finds in Penang ? Please share 

 

The lost art of Chinese cooking

Winding up two weeks spent squaring at Diane’s parents house in Edmonton, Alberta, Diane and I anticipated her mom spending two days cooking a specialty item hardly made by anyone under 60 anymore. In the spirit of an Anthony Bourdain episode in Penang where he visited someone who cooked an obsolete dish practically gone from existence due to the time and effort involved, we ate an item known by different names, depending on who does the speaking. Known as Joong in Cantonese, Zoongi in Mandarin and Bahtzang in Taiwanese, it’s basically sticky rice and a host of interesting items wrapped in a green leaf similar to a banana leaf. Understanding the ingredients takes some poking around and I believe the main items are Chinese sausage, peanuts, pork fat, dried split mung beans, dried shrimp , duck eggs and chestnuts.

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Cultural Pride: Singapore Style

As a new political horizon dawns on Singapore, I find myself reflecting back to our last Singaporean excursion a few years back. Initially planning an exploratory visit to Penang for expat destination research, instead we decided on the glitz, glamour and excitement of the world’s only country where cultural pride involves department stores, cash registers and shopping bags. Maybe we’d been living in Status Symbol Land for too long or perhaps all Americans long for another land where instant gratification at all cost is not only encouraged but practiced by an entire citizenry. Either way, the memories of a beautiful rainforest vacation to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo quickly faded into a five-star adventure at The Pan Pacific Hotel in Singapore’s yuppiest enclave. Like Dorothy realizing she’s not in Kansas anymore, we emerged on the Marina Bay Streets determined to find something beyond Orchard Road that made this town tick.

contest photoRealizing this wouldn’t be an easy task, we spent some time reading guidebooks and talking to the impeccably dressed and extremely courteous hotel staff. Explaining that we wanted to experience some cultural aspects of the city, they all seemed confused and understood as much about multicultural life as most Americans understand about anything outside the USA (little to nothing). Undaunted, we left the hotel via an air-conditioned back door hallway which ultimately led to the pristine subway terminal designed to quickly illustrate the difference between Asia’s incredibly beautiful modern infrastructure and The San Francisco Bay Area’s dilapidated obsolete network of crumbling commuter railways. Glancing up at the billboards, the first thing we noticed was the third place winner of a photography contest explaining how Singaporeans love shopping. Yikes. Fortunately, we discovered our favorite two cultures had their own version of Singaporean culture. Having explored and thoroughly enjoyed Little India one day earlier, this time we headed to Chinatown.

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A Kung Pao Kosher Christmas

A funny thing happened on the way to the Christmas dinner table at Diane’s relatives house. There was no dinner. Spending our last holiday season in the cold before we move to Malaysia in the spring, Diane and I heard the news through the family grapevine.

rabbiAlthough both her parents are relatively fit and healthy, they’ve apparently decided that 80 is the magic age where parents get to say “I’m too old to cook anymore”. Fortunately, there’s always been a solution and for a Chinese-Jewish couple, it’s almost sacrilegious NOT to engage in the traditional Christmas Feast at a Chinese restaurant. Invented in New York City, Christmas Day Chinese dinner represents the busiest day of the year for a Chinese restaurant, sans perhaps Chinese New Year. Welcoming both religious, non-religious and those Jews somewhere in-between, Chinese entrepreneurs figured out long ago that the Jewish community has a lot of money, celebrates their own holiday season on eight different days that never fall on December 25th and best of all, Jewish people love Chinese food.

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