Many of the images and much of the content of the article below have been shown here on a previous post, but I’m reposting it to provide some info for a fellow foodie over at Chowhound. It also happens to be my personal favorite of the articles I did for ThaiDay, a now-defunct paper here in Bangkok. Enjoy!
Eating the island
Walk down the streets of virtually any part of Koh Samui and you can find restaurants selling the food Italy, Japan, Greece, Australia, England and Germany. Ironically, one cuisine missing from all this is the cuisine of Koh Samui, a variant of southern Thai cooking with a unique island touch. The cooking of Koh Samui remained relegated to home kitchens and housewives until relatively recently, when a few natives decided to share their secrets with the rest of us.
“I was the first person to open a restaurant on Koh Samui featuring local food,” explains Sookhkoe Donsai, the owner of Bangpo Seafood (077 420 010). Wearing only shorts and a smile, Ta Koe (“Grandpa Koe”), as he is affectionately known, is a native of Samui, and owner of one of the island’s most well respected Thai restaurants.
“I used to be a lawyer and got to travel all over Thailand,” explains the 58 year-old. “I noticed that each province had a place to sample its local dishes, which made me realize that Koh Samui had nothing like this. So after coming back home, I opened this restaurant.” This was 13 years ago, and today the success of Ta Koe’s restaurant has largely been responsible for inspiring other Thai restaurants on Koh Samui to include local dishes on their menus.
The emphasis at Ta Koe’s restaurant, as well as the base for much of Koh Samui’s native cuisine is, not surprisingly, seafood. However, unlike the grilled prawn and phat thai cuisine featured in most tourist restaurants, the food of Koh Samui is spicy and salty, featuring strong flavors and making good use of the ingredients at hand.
Often these ingredients tend to be the relatively easy to gather items that can be found just offshore, such as the devoutly inedible-looking sea urchin. Ta Koe explains that during the right season, the people of Koh Samui would pry the sea urchins off of the coral, crack them open and eat the rich roe found inside. At Bangpo Seafood raw sea urchin roe is mixed with curry paste, shredded mango and chilies into a yam, or Thai-style salad. “The salad has to be sour and spicy to counter the fishy taste of the urchin,” explains Ta Koe. A taste reveals that the salad is indeed spicy, but rather than tasting simply fishy as Ta Koe describes it, suggests the pungent saltiness of Samui’s clear waters.
Another fruit of the sea available at Bangpo Seafood is a small octopus known locally as waay. “It comes out early in the morning when the water is cool,” explains Ta Koe of the mollusk, which is considered a staple of Samui cooking. Ta Koe goes on to say that when in season, fresh waay is used in tom som, a spicy/sour soup similar to tom yam, and out of season, the dried meat is quickly rejuvenated in water before being stewed with fresh coconut milk and bruised herbs, a dish equal parts sweet, salty and savory.
Fish is another staple food on Koh Samui, and at Bangpo Seafood fresh fish is prepared using a local method known as hoop ping, meaning that it is splayed and rubbed with a mixture of coconut milk, fresh turmeric, black pepper and salt before being grilled over coals. The turmeric mixture gives the fish a pleasant orange hue, eliminates any “fishy” odors, and negates the need for any dipping sauce.
The residents of Ko Samui have long made use of the sea’s other treasures, notably its seaweed, and one place to sample this unique ingredient is Kin Khao Bang Kham (077 426 181), another seafood restaurant whose menu features a few local dishes.
Toom, the restaurant’s head chef and a native of Koh Samui describes how the seaweed, known as saraay khor, is gathered from the beach in the mornings after the tide recedes. “It’s getting harder and harder to find nowadays,” he laments. Toom, who was interviewed on a Thai TV program about this very ingredient, goes on to explain that the seaweed is then rinsed and par-boiled before being combined with other ingredients in a Thai-style salad, a dish that has made the restaurant popular among locals. “The seaweed [off of Koh Samui] is very good,” he says. “The ocean floor is muddy, which is good for the seaweed and makes it fat and crunchy.”
Local produce at a market on Ko Samui.
Not all of the ingredients found in the Samui kitchen come from the sea. Indeed, Koh Samui’s cash crop is coconut, the extracted milk of which seems to find its way into virtually every local dish. “People from Samui feel that if they eat a soup or curry that doesn’t have coconut milk they don’t feel full.” This according to Sermsi Thongrueang, a native of Samui and owner of a traditional sauna and massage business located in her family’s 80 year-old home just minutes from the sea.
Sermsi, who also has a reputation as a knowledgeable cook, has agreed to demonstrate how to make two local dishes, both of which include coconut milk. The first dish is known locally as khao man thua khiaow, and is simply rice cooked in coconut milk along with salt and dried beans, a dish that, despite its simplicity, has become very hard to find nowadays. “We used to make it in a clay pot,” explains Sermsi. “This adds to the flavor.” Today however Sermsi makes the dish in an electric rice cooker, something of an anomaly in her ancient teak wood home.
As an accompaniment to the rich rice dish, Sermsi makes khoey jii, a unique side dish of roasted shrimp paste. Marching into her sandy yard the energetic 65 year-old comes back with a single coconut that she thrusts onto an exposed stake to pry away its thick husk. Taking the coconut into the kitchen she cracks it open and uses a traditional sit-down shredder to extract some of the mature meat inside. This meat is ground up in a mortar and pestle along with shrimp paste, chilies, garlic and shallots, and the resulting paste is spread onto the inside portion of a coconut shell and grilled over coals until fragrant.
The dishes are, like much of local Samui cuisine, salty and pleasantly oily, and employ ingredients that can be found with little effort. “Before, people on Koh Samui didn’t have to buy anything,” reflects Sermsi. “We fished ourselves, raised chickens and grew coconut. The only thing we ever had to buy was pork.”
Also making good use of the abundant coconut is Sabeinglae (077 233 082), an open-air seafood restaurant largely frequented by locals.
“I don’t know how to cook, but I know how the food should taste,” reveals Sabeinglae’s owner, Amnat Chotchong. “I grew up right here on the beach, and I’ve been eating this food since I was a kid.” When asked where the recipes in his restaurant come from, Amnat describes how at community or religious festivals, where there tends to be lots of communal food, he would taste the different dishes, find the best one, and ask the cook how she made it. “These old ladies don’t mind giving their secrets away,” he laughs.
One such find is Sabeinglae’s kaeng khua het loop, a rich coconut milk-based curry using het loop, the small anemone-like beche-de-mer found on the coral surrounding Koh Samui. The curry is thick but not oily, and is laced with a generous handful of fragrant-but-spicy cumin leaves, another common ingredient on Koh Samui. Like many of the ingredients in local dishes, the het loop is strictly seasonal, close at hand, and comes from the sea; just some of the elements of a delicious island cuisine that is finally being discovered.
One of the most bizarre dishes in Thailand is khao phat amerikan, American fried rice. This is rice that has been fried–like we always do back home in the States–with the addition of ketchup, sliced hot dogs and raisins, and if you’re lucky, a fried egg. Other than this culinary train wreck, there aren’t too many dishes in Thailand that attempt to combine Western and Thai cooking. Steaks (i.e. pork chops) are popular, especially in Bangkok, but fried meat is more or less universal, and there’s no lemongrass or kaffir lime leaf involved. “Bread” (I use this term in the loosest sense possible) is also very common throughout the country, but for the most part takes the form of fluffy, sweet imitations of Real Bread, without any real attempt to make it “Thai”. You’ll also be hard-pressed to find tom yam pot pies or green curry with salmon (actually, I could be wrong here). In general, Thais like their Thai food Thai, and their Western food staunchly quasi-Western. However, one dish that successfully combines both Thai and Western cooking is spaghetti plaa khem, spaghetti with salted fish,
Lest you assume in your haste that “salted fish” refers to anchovies, it’s actually the very Thai plaa insee, Spanish mackerel. At the neighborhood joint where I consumed the above, a chunk of this extremely salty fish was deep-fried until crispy, before being broken up and sauteed with some garlic, dried chilies and oddly enough, canned mushrooms, the only time I’ve ever seen or eaten this stuff in Thailand. This was briefly sauteed with spaghetti and topped with bai horaphaa, Thai sweet basil, that had been deep-fried until crispy. The result was salty, spicy and satisfying, and although it wasn’t capable of inspiring misty-eyed reflections of my youth in the Old Country quite like American fried rice can, it was still a pretty good lunch.
Isaan (northeast Thai) food is something you can’t avoid here in Bangkok. I reckon there’s more som tam, kai yaang and sticky rice here than in the whole of northeast Thailand. A lot of it tends to be pretty hardcore streetfood; think tripe and liver hanging from rusty hooks, dripping blood on shredded papaya, the whole lot coated with a delicate but fragrant film of auto exhaust. Alternatively there’s lots of isaan mall food; chain restaurants serving well-presented and generally clean isaan food, but made for Bangkok tongues (read: sweet). For the most part, there’s not a whole lot of the well-prepared, authentic, sanitary in-between. Luckily I recently came across a place that comes pretty close. Kai Tong (“rooster”), located on Soi Sena 1, is an old-school sitdown restaurant complete with upholstered booths and uniformed wait staff. Definately not the norm for an isaan place.
We started with the restaurant’s specialty, kai yaang, grilled chicken:
And a mighty good bird it was. I think they claim it is kai baan, free-range chicken, but it actually had a bit too much meat on the bone for my taste (chicken meat is virtually tasteless–it’s the fat and skin that tastes good. Believe me.). The chicken comes with a sweet syrup, chili and plum-based dip, and an absolutely delicious jaew, salty/spicy/sour dip made from dried chilies and tamarind pulp.
Following this was som tam pu plaa raa, Lao/isaan-style papaya salad with salted rice field crabs and a thick form of fish sauce:
Almost perfect. If they hadn’t beaten the life out of the papaya with the mortar and pestle it would have been perfect. One thing, okay, two things I like about the som tam here is that they’re not afraid to add garlic, a lot of garlic, and it’s exceedingly sour.
And finally we had tom saeb, an issan-style sour soup:
We’re not big meat eaters, so we asked for mushrooms instead. Not bad, but a little too sweet. Do like the presentation though.
The only bad thing I could say about the restaurant is that the isaan menu isn’t very expansive. They have the 10 or so favorites that you can find pretty much anywhere. They do do them quite well though!
Kai Tong is located on Soi Sena 1, about 2 km from the intersection with Phaholyothin.
Users of Internet Explorer should now be able to see my sidebar where it should be–at the side of the page, but it naughtily refuses to line up with my banner. Anybody with the requisite knowledge of code know how to correct this?
Coconut milk-based curries are among the first Thai dishes I ever tried to make. And they never turned out right. Never. I didn’t know then that these kind of curries are among the most difficult Thai dishes to make. There are a couple reasons for this. For one, there are two very different ways of making them. The most common curries, the ones you see with a layer of oil floating on top, are made my slowly sauteeing the khreuang kaeng (curry paste) in the “thick” coconut milk until the coconut oil “breaks” and emerges to the top. The “thin” or diluted coconut milk is then added towards the end. Alternatively, there curries where you begin with thin coconut milk, and slowly add the thick so that a layer of oil doesn’t form! The curry below is the latter, and I think kind is much easier to make. Although one danger with this kind of curry is that it can get too thick and creamy. You want the end result to be just slightly watery, not too thick. If it does get too thick then add some plain water (or dilulted coconut milk) at the end. And remember to season to taste! The pineapple in this recipe will give the curry a sweet taste, so only a bit of sugar (if any) is necessary.
If you follow these directions exactly, and use some good-quality mussels, I guarantee you’ll like this one.
Curry with Mussels and Pineapple Kaeng Sapparot Kap Hoy Malaengphoo
Large dried chilies 10, seeds removed, softened in warm water
Small dried chilies 20
Salt 1 tsp
Peppercorns 1 tsp
Galingale, chopped 1 Tbsp
Lemongrass, chopped 3 stalks
Kaffir lime peel, chopped 1 tsp
Garlic 30 small cloves
Chopped fresh turmeric 1 tsp
Shallots 5, sliced
Shrimp paste 1 tsp
Mussels 1 kg
Thin coconut milk* 500 ml
Thick coconut milk** 250 ml
Chopped pineapple 250 ml
Fish sauce 2 Tbsp
Sugar 2 tsp
Tamarind paste 2 Tbsp
*Thin coconut milk is canned coconut milk that has been diluted, 50%, with water.
**Thick coconut milk is the coconut milk that comes directly from the can.
Starting with your curry paste ingredients:
Use a mortar and pestle or a food processor grind them together until you get this:
Wash and de-beard the mussels. Bring a large pot of a water to the boil and add the mussels, and boil until they open, about 3 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat and set aside. Discard the shells.
Over medium heat, bring the thin coconut milk to a gentle boil. Add the curry paste and stir until fully blended with the coconut milk.
Increase heat slightly and add mussels and pineapple.
Gradually add remaining thick coconut milk, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring to combine. Don’t let the curry boil to rapidly, or the undesired coconut oil might separate. Add fish sauce, sugar and tamarind. Bring to a final boil and add remaining thick coconut milk.
Serve hot with rice as part of a Thai meal.
A few months ago I visited the morning market in Nonthaburi and posted some pics. Well I was back there again this morning and took a few more images worth sharing. If you weren’t around the first time, Nonthaburi is a province just north of Bangkok whose market is a huge affair located next to the Chao Phraya River. There’s lots of fruit from the surrounding provinces, and it’s one of the few places in Thailand where you’ll see bicycle rickshaws still in action. I’d really recommend it to market hounds or just people interested in Thai food. To get there take the Chao Phraya River Express boat to the northernmost stop, or tell a taxi driver to go to thaa ruea non (“Nonthaburi boat pier”), the market is only a block away.
Selling cutting boards:
which, I’ve read somewhere, are usually made from tamarind wood.
The flesh inside is white and speckled with tiny black seeds; quite different from the outside!
There’s lots of seafood at the Nonthaburi market, including artfully arranged mussels and clams:
a kind of fish known as plaa jeen, “Chinese fish”:
and lots of eels and turtles:
Other products from nature include honey:
and some rather attractive pumpkins:
Lemon Farm is a grocery store chain in Bangkok that sells “organic” and “natural” produce and other products. I’m making a point of using “” here because as far as I know, there is no agreed upon standard for organic produce here in Thailand. There is however a great demand for these kind of products, and most grocery stores in Bangkok have a section with products labelled as “safe” or “green” or “healthy”. I think that more often than not, these labels are simply slapped on products, along with an increase in price, without any real regard to how their produced. Regardless of this, the produce at Lemon Farm is good, although slightly more expensive than elsewhere. I’ve been shopping there for years, and like the free-range eggs and formalin-free fish. I also like to buy products that are made by small community organizations and government programs.
A new Lemon Farm opened near my house recently, and we stopped by for lunch. Every branch of Lemon Farm has a small cafe serving a few mostly vegetarian dishes. One of these, khao yam is a southern Thai dish, and takes the form of a “salad” of rice and fresh herbs. The version served at Lemon Farm is not a traditional one, but rather an “herbal” take on the dish, with some unusual additions such as carrot, sesame and brown rice:
The dish traditionally also includes puffed rice, shredded green mango, pomelo, thinly-sliced lemon grass, green beans and “wing beans”, dried shrimp, grated coconut, and oh yeah, a bit of rice. The whole lot is topped with a type of southern fish sauce called budu that has been simmered with palm sugar and even more fresh herbs. The best part is mixing all these different ingredients into one big delicious mess:
Despite the unorthodox additions, it is an excellent khao yam, just as good, or even better, than anything you’ll get in the south.
The cafe also has khanom jeen, fermented rice noodles served with a curry sauce:
Normally the curry sauce is made from fish (usually plaa chon, snakehead fish), but this being “health” restaurant, the noodles are made from brown rice, and they’ve substituted the fish with mushrooms. Like khao yam, you also mix a variety of fresh herbs and veggies into the dish:
Despite the lack of fish, it was actually a pretty good khanom jeen by any standards.
Today we’re going on a field trip to
This is a street in Ko Rattanakosin, Olde Bangkok, that is known for its Chinese shophouse architecture and its insane variety of eats. I have to admit that I’m somewhat of a newcomer to Thanon Tanao. I’ve passed through several times, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I discovered just how much good food there is here.
Here’s a view of the street from the Ratchadamnoen Klang end:
On the right you’ll see our first stop, Kim Leng:
This is small restaurant that serves up good central Thai/Bangkok fare such as curries, dips and Chinese stir fries. Most of the dishes are made in advance, so you can just choose whatever looks good, and they also make some dishes to order. I’d recommend the nam phrik kapi, a shrimp paste “dip” that is served with par-boiled veggies, and battered and deep-fried eggplant and mackerel.
Next, for fans of isaan (northeast Thai) food, we go a couple blocks up the street to a place called Kai Yaang Boraan (02 622 2349), which serves grilled chicken, papaya salad and other Lao-style specialties. It’s not the best isaan food you’ll ever find, but I think it’s a very good introduction to the cuisine, as they have all the standards and the shop is spotless. It’s also probably the only air-conditioned restaurant along the strip.
Continuing on the same side of the street, the next interesting place we’ll come to is Raad Naa Yod Phak:
As the name suggests, this place serves raad naa, noodles in a sticky broth that I don’t really care for. Much better, in my opinion, is phat see iw:
These are the same noodles as raad naa, but are fried “dry” with the addition of soy sauce, egg, pork, and the tender shoots of kai lan. They do an excellent job here, frying the noodles up in a huge wok that allows them to get slightly burnt and acquire a delicious smoky flavor.
Passing a large Chinese shrine, we now reach a street called Thanon Phraeng Nara. This is an excellent food street, with many of the restaurants located right on the sidewalk.
One of the first places you’ll see is Khanom Beuang Phraeng Nara:
Khanom bueang are small “tacos” that come in two forms: salty and sweet. The sweet ones:
are filled with a mixture of shredded egg yolk, coconut meat and dried fruit. They are made on a charcoal stove, so they also have a slightly smoky flavor, and are at their sublime best when hot and crispy. The khanom bueang here are easily among the best Thai desserts I’ve ever had, and are completely different from the cream-filled impostors you’ll find elsewhere in Bangkok.
Just up the road is a popular noodle stand:
Where we’ll stop for a quick bowl:
before continuing on. As we u-turn and go back to Thanon Tanao we’ll pass a very tempting phat thai kung sot:
But we’ll have to say no thanks here, as we still haven’t reached our goal, the acclaimed hole-in-the-wall, Chotechitr (02 221 4082):
This is a tiny restaurant that, since having been mentioned in a New York Times article last year, has gained a cult-like following among foreigners in Bangkok. Being the Thai Food Guy, I was tired of sheepishly admitting that, No… I’ve never actually eaten there… So we’re going to make a point of stopping by today. We begin with yam tamleung, a spicy/sour “salad” of tamleung, a vinelike green:
An excellent dish. More than sufficiently sour with just a hint of sweetness, and as we know, a handful of giant prawns and squid never hurt anybody. This is followed by kaeng paa plaa kraay, “jungle” curry with fish dumplings:
A less successful effort, in my opinion. This is a dish that should not under any circumstances be sweet, but in true Bangkok style, bordered on the dessertlike here. The homemade fish dumplings were excellent though. Finally, there was moo thod krathiam phrik thai, pork fried with garlic and peppercorns:
This is my favorite dish, and not just because it contained mad amounts of garlic and pepper, but because it was obvious that the person making it employed some restraint and didn’t fry the hell out of it. The pork was tender–possibly the first time I’ve consumed tender pork in Thailand–and the other flavors, salty and just slightly sweet, were perfectly balanced.
Continuing on the same small street where Chotechitr is found is a small community called Phraeng Phuton. There are several longstanding restaurants here, and one good choice is Udom Pochana:
This place has serving food here for 60 years. They do mostly Chinese-style dishes, such as bamee, wheat-noodle soup, and wonton soup, as well as the somewhat more obscure kalee, “curry”:
This is a very old-school dish that is hard to find nowadays and is obviously different that your average Thai curry. The dish is actually more like a gravy than a curry, and there’s little trace of spices of any kind. The above was the beef version, and is served with sweet potatoes and cucumber.
This is just a tiny taste of what’s available along and around Thanon Tanao. I’ve yet to visit the place that makes pig brain soup, or the famous Thai ice cream restaurant in Phraeng Phuthon, so there will certainly be additional excursions. Stay tuned.
I’m off to Malaysia and Singapore for a little over a week. I expect the highlight to be Penang, where thanks to Bee at Rasa Malaysia, I’ll be stuffing my gob with the finest street food Georgetown has to offer. But it promises to be a full trip, with interludes in fine dining in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and Malay-Portuguese fusion food in Melaka. Details to follow…
Penang appears to be the latest hot destination among SE Asian foodbloggers. Chubby Hubby was there, Karen of ramblingspoon recently made a visit, and of course there’s Bee of Rasa Malaysia, a native of the place, and a frequent blogger on the food of her hometown. If you ask me, all this attention is justified, as Penang has got to be one of the greatest food cities in SE Asia. I was able to learn this firsthand on a visit to the city a week ago. I have been to Penang several times previously, but was always kind of overwhelmed by the food scene there. I’m not too knowledgeable about Chinese food, which forms the bulk of eats in Penang, and couldn’t tell a lo bak from an oh chien if my life depended on it. However, with the help of the previously mentioned Bee, I was able to make some sense of Penang’s eats, and had a fantastic three day long meal. If you’re thinking of visiting yourself, go to her blog where you’ll find an amazing resource for Penang food-related info.
Street food in Penang takes several forms. The most well-known are the city’s hawker centres. There are semi-contained areas that are specifically designated for selling street food, essentially keeping the food off the streets! My favorite example of this was the Gurney Drive Hawker Centre:
This was the largest, although possibly most “commercial” hawker centre I came across in Penang. It’s popular among tourists, but there are also lots of locals. And there’s an amazing array of food, ranging from all the various Chinese treats that Penang is associated with, to Malaysian and even Indian eats. I personally liked the rojak:
a ‘salad’ of crispy fruits and vegetables (such as pineapple, cucumber, jicama, among others) mixed up with a copious sweet/savoury shrimp paste sauce and topped with ground peanuts–when done well among the most delicious things in the world.
Also delcious were fried oysters:
Unlike the Thai dish , which tends to be cripsy and flavourless, oh chien, as they are known here, have a soft texture, lots of egg, and a delicious garlicky flavour. The oysters are tiny things often the size of a fingernail, but are almost never overcooked and are, well, just OK. The dish as a whole is great though.
For a hawker centre that’s a bit more “authentic” there’s the gritty collection of stalls known as New Lane:
Here I enjoyed chee cheong fun:
a deciptively simple dish of steamed noodles sprinkled with sesame and served with three different sauces. I say deceptively because the dish looks bland, but the sauces, in particular the spicy/savoury one, had an incredible depth of flavour, and the noodles were tender and delicious.
If you need more noodles, this guy makes a popular won ton soup:
but I was more interested in trying some authentic satay:
The above was prepared by this lady:
who, as you can see, intentionally used fatty pieces of meat and let them flare up, which gave the sate a wonderfully smoky flavour.
The food fun in Penang isn’t limited to the night. In fact it starts out quite early, at Penang’s morning market. There, in addition to the various raw ingredients, you can also find prepared foods such as Chinese-style curries and fried dishes:
essentially fried cubes of dough. This is not something that would normally appeal to me, but the combination of the salty sauce and charred essence of the pan made this dish delicious. It was actually quite similiar in form and flavour to the fried oysters.
proved to be one of my favorite snacks. This dish consists of tender pork, and I believe, crab and/or shrimp, wrapped in a sheet tofu skin and deep-fried. The result is served with two dipping sauces, one sweet/sour and one a bit more salty/savoury.
As if this wasn’t enough, there are also hawker centres and food courts that are only open during lunch time. A good example of this can be found on Lorong Selamat where I enjoyed the Penang favorite, char kway teow:
wide rice noodles fried with chili sauce, egg, cockles and shrimp.
Normally I’m not a big fan of Asian sweets, but the iced kacang at Swatow Lane converted me:
This is basically finely crushed iced topped with a seemingly random array of sweet things such as syrup, grass jelly, beans and here, sliced jackfruit. On a hot Penang day I can’t imagine anything more refreshing.
Many of the daytime hawker stalls are like large indoor cafes:
and serve dishes such as assam laksa:
a thick broth of fish and fresh herbs, served with thick udon-like noodles. This is among Penang’s most famous foods.
And come evening again, if you haven’t got time for an entire meal, then a good option is lok lok:
This is a variety of skewered meats and veggies, which you dip in a boiling water to cook, and then top with one of two sauces before eating. Standing room only.
For me, a special highlight of Penang food was the amazing diversity of Indian and Muslim foods. Both of these are somewhat hard to find in Bangkok, so I always eat my fill when I’m in Malaysia. I was in for a special treat during my visit to Penang, as it coincided with ramadan, where at the end of every day of fasting, known as the buka puasa, several stalls selling food emerge on the streets. Penang’s Little India had a great deal of these, and a particularly popular treat was a kind of bread known as roti jala:
The weblike shape is made by pouring the liquid batter through a seive:
Other treats included fresh coconut juice:
and some obscenely sweet-looking fried bread:
Not to mention a whole host of other sweet foods (does fasting create a desire for sweet foods?):
If I had any complaint about Penang’s street food, it would probably be the extreme lack of vegetables and the extreme overabundance of starch. Penang’s Chinese community seems to survive on noodles alone, with the Muslim community seemingly surviving on rice (or breads) and meat. And between either of these, there’s hardly any green to be seen. There is of course lots of southern Indian vegetarian, which is delicious, but the veggies are usually pretty overcooked and mushy. Followers of weird American reduced carbohydrate diets consider yourselves forewarned…