Known for its reputation as a foodie haven where dozens of styles mix and match, Penang misses the boat entirely on one count as far as I’m concerned. With all the amazing noodle soups including Hokkien Mee, Laksa, Wanton Mee and various others, trying to find a simple bowl of Vietnamese Pho is like searching for water in the desert. One of my favorite styles of food, Vietnamese is unknown and sadly lacking everywhere in Penang. Unsure why a nation so close to Malaysia remains absent from the local cuisine, I’ve seen bizarre food outlets like “authentic Mexican cuisine” a handful of places calling themselves “New York style” pizza and “western style” pub food where they don’t understand that only Europeans put mayo on burgers and fries. Desperately looking for my fix of Bun Rieu, salad rolls, vermicelli noodles and grilled pork served with that delicious simple Vietnamese sauce, I recently scoured the Internet and came up with a whopping three choices when prompting Google for help. Ruling out the first option, a place known as No Eyed Deer because they serve only an average tasting bowl of Pho for weekend brunch, that didn’t leave much more considering the island has over 8,000 choices for food.
Noticing one of the remaining two eateries was near the strangely named Penang Times Square Mall, we saw there was an annual book fair across from a hilariously named hotel (see the picture) so we asked our favorite neighbors if they wanted to make a day trip that included lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. Known as Huong Que, we drove up the umpteen circular levels one drives up in Penang to get to the parking area of the mall’s garage and found our way back down five levels to the street. (I’m unsure why engineers decided that the top four floors of every mall should be dedicated to parking but I know they tend to be empty because there’s usually a “premium” basement level parking option. Most pMalaysians would rather shell out a ringgit of two than walk an extra fifteen steps). Crossing the street in the world’s most pedestrian friendly nation (sarcasm intended) took some skills that car-less expats like us eventually pick up like holding your hand up and running between packed traffic. Entering the small restaurant we found about six small cramped tables for four with little stools designed for people even shorter than me. Seeing that every employee was of Malaysian descent and understood zero about anything Vietnamese, the initial vibe wasn’t the best.