Raya Came Early

I have many friends online and offline. I think that’s one of life’s pleasures – having friends across geographical regions (it’s easier to stay in touch now with technology) and connecting with them.
Dotty’s one of my friends who met me on my blog. Yes, this very blog. I’ve had this blog running for the past 7 years. In the online world, 7 years is one heck of a long time. (I know. I’ve been online for a long time. Shoot me.)
We’ve taken the friendship a step further than most friends – we love doing stuff the classic way.
Remember those days when you were a kid and wrote to penpals overseas using thin blue aerogrammes? (If you don’t know what thin blue aerogrammes are, you must be young. Go ask your elder siblings or your parents.) I had penpals from Ivory Coast. I loved receiving letters from them. They wrote well in English and we’d exchange news of what happened to us in our school lives.
Nothing beats the excitement of seeing the postman whiz around to our white and yellow gate, honk his motorbike and pass me the bunch of letters, one of which was inevitably the blue overseas letter. I’d disappear into my room to rip it open and read (and re-read) each line.
Yesterday, the same sliver of thrill coursed through me when I got back to the office to find a sizable parcel waiting for me!
Oooh….in a world of email, virtual cards and virtual hugs, nothing absofreakinglutely nothing beats the feeling of a gift that you can hold in your hands!
Doesn't the letter bring fond memories?
Dotty has always put details first and that is why receiving a letter (a real one, OK, in true penmanship style) from her is always a pleasure. The stationery she writes on is as precious as the words on the paper. Have you ever wondered what special is? Special is when someone takes the time and effort to write a letter on beautiful, thick writing paper. Special is when words are written gorgeously (for people who learnt cursive writing in school).
Then the gifts of food and tea.
Raya gifts from a great friend!
Homemade chocolate chip cookies rich with butter and nuts.
A box of Dott's delicious chocolate chip Raya cookies - priceless
Premium Rabea tea from Jeddah (dear Dotty had just returned from there). She’s sent me Rabea tea before and it is a tea that’s low on tannic taste (which is great for plenty of longtime brewing and dunkings).
I felt that Raya came early for me! 😉 Drinking tea while munching on choc chip cookies over the 4-day weekend.
Thanks Dotty! Terima kasih my friend!

Nibong Tebal's Deepfried Secret

Don and Mylene took us to this corner coffee shop last Sunday for a scrumptious lunch. They both are past retirement age but boy, do they have the energy to shame twentysomethings and thirtysomethings! As Green Crusaders for the environment, they go all over Malaysia to give free talks on recycling and composting. Yes, free. And they’re in their 60s!
Anyway, we often catch up whenever they come over to Penang island or when we go to Bukit Mertajam. And lunch or dinner always feature in our plans.
This place they took us to last Sunday was in Nibong Tebal. Called Swee Garden, it’s located just behind Maybank and when we reached about 1pm, the place was buzzing with busy lunching folks.
The specialty, says Don, is the deepfried pig’s trotters. (Don is a retired engineer. He used to work on the Hong Kong MTR project back in the late 1970s. Over lunch, we chatted about the state of traffic in Penang and he proposes that it is POSSIBLE to build an undersea subway system connecting Penang island to Seberang Jaya and beyond. He has the expertise and experience honed from his Hong Kong days. Unfortunately the powers-that-be aren’t listening. More Malaysia Bolehness, I suppose.)
When we were there, he ordered the front leg which is supposedly LESS fatty than the back leg. I suppose this is true as my aunt usually buys the front leg (or what we Chinese call pig’s hand) as it is less fatty and less oily and hence, not so cholesterol-laden.

deep-fried pig's trotter
deep-fried pig's trotter

If you like crispy fatty siew yoke, you would die for this tender, melt-in-the-mouth pig trotters. The skin was to the right touch of crisp while the inside meat was soft, tasty and oily. It still makes me hungry thinking of this dish.
The other dishes we had were boiled octopus with a sprinkling of garlic oil, to be eaten with a vinegary chili sauce. I know. Cholesterol again! But hey, I don’t eat octopus everyday so it was such a treat. Sometimes the simplest things are the most yummy, in this case, fresh boiled octopus.
Boiled octopus with garlic oil
Boiled octopus with garlic oil

Another dish that went really well with our plain white rice was steamed stingray, Teochew-style which meant lots of salted vegetables with sour plums and chili padi. The dish was everything you wanted a dish to be – salty, spicy, tangy, with exceptionally fresh stingray fin. It was another winner as we kept scooping up the gravy.
steamed stingray fin teochew style
steamed stingray fin teochew style

Of course, we couldn’t do justice to ourselves if we didn’t order some greens. We opted for something with a kick of sambal – stirfried sweet potato leaves.
And to round it all up, we had our fill of vitamins with extra thick ambula juice. Imagine freshly squeezed ambula (buah kedondong) mixed with sour plums. It was a concoction made in heaven. We called for a jug of this and each of us had about 2 glasses of this vitamin-rich, green drink. It was rather apt to wash down all the fat and oil from the dishes we’d ordered.
freshly squeezed ambula juice, a local favourite
freshly squeezed ambula juice, a local favourite

I suppose Swee Garden is not a secret for most Nibong Tebal people. But I relished discovering this coffee shop (thanks to Don and Mylene) because it showed why rural Malaysia is still pretty damn good when it comes to food. It was simple fare, absolutely no frills but every morsel was incredibly hearty and filling.
A must-stop if you ever pass through Nibong Tebal town!

Towkay Serves Teochew

I have been doing a lot of stuff lately and yes, I know, I’ve been so tardy in updating Mayakirana. I probably blame it on stuff that’s called Life.
First there’s the new house of course. I call it a house but it’s an apartment that’s on terra firma. Of course like all new toys and possessions, Nic and I have been up in eyeballs figuring out stuff for the new home. I didn’t know there were so many decisions to be made! Lights – the types and sizes are mind-boggling. Then kitchen layouts. Next, even bathroom doors have to be decided coz we really don’t like the existing bathroom doors. And to think our contractor says the remodeling/renovation is minimal. Bah, I hope so!
But this post is about food. So onwards with our topic of the day.
no expenses were spared in decorating this teochew restaurant
Last year we brought our intern and staff to try out this restaurant hidden within a shop. The uniqueness of this restaurant is that there’s no menu. You just eat whatever the towkay (big boss) cooks that day. Actually the towkay is a well-known local Datuk-cum-businessman. Prices are reasonable considering you get rice, 3 dishes and 1 soup for about RM10 per person. His specialty is Teochew cuisine because duh, he is Teochew.
more penang restaurants should be bright and clean like this
When Tze first brought us there, we were stumped because the restaurant is only accessible IF you know where the entrance is. As it was located within a row of shops selling joss paper and Chinese praying items along Kimberly Street, we were a bit puzzled. Tze, the ever clever foodie, confidently sashays into the garishly pink shop and walks up the small staircase which opens into the tiny restaurant with all tables occupied!
The funny thing is, it’s like some HK mafia movie where everyone looks up at you the moment you push through the glass doors. It’s like a secret society place – but it is secretive because only those in the know will end up walking into a joss paper shop to eat! (Don’t tell your mama this. She’ll go ‘choy’ if you say you’re eating at a joss paper shop!)
But many moons have passed and we have not been there since our 2 outings there.
Last week, we decided to drop into this newly opened restaurant Old House Cafe on Kimberly Street. We’ve seen this new place a few times already but never had the time to pop in, each time lured by our favourite kueh chap hawker stall a few meters before this restaurant. (By the way, the kueh chap is deliciously good but not for the faint-hearted. It has duck meat and pig offal swimming in dark, herbal soup that’s good to the last spoonful.)
And what do you know?
The same Teochew towkay who runs the other secretive hideout restaurant in the joss paper shop is the owner of this spanking new restaurant. So what it means is, he actually now runs his secretive hideout ‘no menu’ lunches on the 1st floor of this restaurant. Lunch at this joint starts at 1pm so you can walk up to the 1st floor and plonk your butt down for some hearty Teochew fare.
old house cafe penang malaysia
When we were there on Saturday night, the place was truly buzzing. It doesn’t have an extensive menu (perhaps it’s new) and the prices aren’t low. (My plate of braised meats with white rice was RM7.50.) But hey, considering it’s a clean, well-decorated Chinese-style restaurant that you’d be proud to bring any guest to, it’s not too pricey. And if you order snacks like yam kuih or bak chang, it’s still quite affordable.
interior of old house cafe kimberly street penang
Plus if you are a Chinese tea aficionado, the Chinese rosewood tables are made just for this leisurely pastime. I would come for the towkay’s no-menu lunch though. That is the most exciting part of finding out that the towkay still cooks and is still offering Teochew cuisine! Coming for prawn noodles or kueh teow thn’g is probably not high on my list. But then again, maybe it’s supposed to attract tourists. Who knows? As long as the Datuk still wields his wok, I’ll be hot-trotting here!
kopitiam style menu for simple to elaborate meals
You can’t miss the restaurant if you’re walking or driving down this street. Pop in and give it a try!
Update 3 Sept 2009: The towkay’s no-menu lunch (minimum 2 persons) still rocks. At a very affordable RM13.80 per person that comes with rice (extra rice is not charged the time we were there), free refills of homemade chrysanthemum tea, 1 soup and 3 dishes. When you enter Old House Cafe, just take the stairs (either on the left or right). Order the Teochew Prawn Balls (6 pieces for RM10) as an add-on dish. Yummy!
(By the way, although I’ve been asked countless times if I want to be a food blogger/reviewer and get to eat for free, I’ve turned down many invites. Penang has enough food blogs and food bloggers as it stands. Mayakirana the blog has never been totally about food. I write about everything under the sun and the way I see it, if I eat somewhere and dislike it, I have every right to diss the food. If a restaurant asked me to review the food, I’ll be obligated to write something lovely even if the food sucked. Hence, please don’t ask me again if I would like to review your cafe or restaurant.)
Old House Cafe
145-153, Kimberly Street, 10100 Penang, Malaysia.
Tel: 04 2622 113