Talking About Penangites' Passion

I’m a Penangite if your definition of Penangite is someone who is born in Penang. I wasn’t brought up here but I love this tiny island which is very community-minded. We live here like closeknit kampung folks.
And there’s a thread that knots us all Penangites together – food!
No one can bravely say that Penang is not built on food.
Every corner you turn, there’s bound to be something to tickle, entice, pander and flirt with your taste buds. And everyone who is a Penangite knows that we, either of the adopted-status, or born-here status or the migrated-here status, never leave a conversation without dipping into our fave topic – where to get the best food for our tummies.
That annoys some Caucasian friends because they cannot for the life of them understand why we Malaysians are nuts about stuff we put into our mouths for survival sakes.
My British friend grumbles not-so-good-naturedly that we Asians/Malaysians talk about food a bit too much. He can survive on a week of the same grub and won’t bat an eye. He can eat bread and more bread and still thinks it’s OK. (I don’t mind bread but I’m Asian/Chinese – give me some rice at some point in time!)
Actually, truth be told, Asian lives are tied up with food. Food is the culture that keeps families together, gets us back to the fold and gives us a reason to have a party/celebration. Food is also a status symbol at times, prompting lavish banquets which gives PETA people heart attacks (shark fin anyone?).
More than any other culture, we Chinese take our food seriously. Malays don’t go mad over food like us. And neither do Indians. Look at Malay weddings or Hindu weddings – food is just there as a side accompaniment, it does not overshadow the main event (Hindus are the best; they serve vegetarian food and do not kill any animals just to satisfy man’s hunger).
But look at Chinese weddings and you will suddenly have a throve of food critics who anticipate each of the 8- or 10-dishes and attack food with such vengeance we probably look like we’re some starving nation. And we tsk-tsk all the way on our way out of the wedding dinner, giving snide comments about the quality of the dishes served (and the portions too).
If you take away the Chinese yen for good food and all sorts of food, you take away some Chinese-ness too. That’s the sad truth. We do live to eat, not the other way around. And going by food blogs focusing on Penang food by Penang bloggers, well, we probably have the most number of food bloggers in this tiny state. (Thanks to Derek, here’s one Penang food blog you can peek into)
But it’s not just us Penangites. I was in KL last month and met up with friends.
And of course, our conversation turned to food too.
Yeo raved about this to-die-for butter cake and marble cake sold at the OUG morning market. Before the woman opens her stall for business, there’s a LONG LINE of people in front of the stall. People stand in line on a Saturday and Sunday morning (this is about 7-ish or so) just to buy her smooth as silk butter cake and espresso-fragrant marble cake.
Yeo even said that most people were skeptical about the cake – were the cakes really so damn fantastic that people woke up early on weekends just to buy them in large quantities? Yeo said he was intrigued and so he lined up too, only to realize, damn, the cakes were THAT good. And the lady only sells on weekend mornings.
Just as he was a bit unconvinced, so was I.
I mean, how great can a butter cake be?
Fortunately for me, Yeo did wake up early on Sunday morning, lined up and bought us the cakes so we could bring home to Penang to try.
The butter cake was so fine and rich. The marble cake was full of flavour. They were quite incomparable to any other butter or marble cakes which I’ve tasted. Now I know why it’s worth waking up early for!
So if there’s one unifying factor for Malaysians, it’s got to be food. We will do mad things for food. Another friend is willing to drive miles and miles (even out of Penang) just to discover some snack/food that’s not available on the island. We’re willing to brave traffic for our favourite fruit.
I myself have done it too once – all the way to Taiping to get some popiah and Hainanese chicken chop based on the recommendation in my Flavours magazine. I didn’t get any popiah or good Hainanese chicken chop but I did find a smashing place for kopi and toast!
Even when I get to Kuching, food is the first thing on my mind and they’re pretty damn good. It’s a good thing that I can still eat and NOT have the food show up on my waistline (though my waistline is enlarging….I try to exercise like gila and hula-hooping to get rid of the jelly belly!)
But then again I can tell you, I eat practically everything. I have no problem with chicken feet, chicken intestines, sweetbread, liver, pig brains, duck blood, pig blood, duck tongues, crocodile tails and what-not. I’m not easily frightened of strange animal parts and when I say I can eat anything, I am inherently proud of my Cantonese upbringing.
When I was in HK many years ago, I tried but could not find stinky tofu. I would’ve loved to try that. Also, when I was in Bangkok, I was looking out for fried insects to munch. Unfortunately, I could not seem to find any!
I would like to try some Sarawak sago worms though. I heard they taste like prawns!