Penang food, culture get the thumbs up

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By Melissa Darlyne Chow

PENANG being a food paradise is not a statement unheard of. It is all too common, and you would probably wonder too, why this is coming up again.

Well, just ask Australian restaurant critic and food writer Pat Nourse, as well as Lina Goldberg, an American writer, who is a street food enthusiast, based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

An article written by Nourse, who is with the Australian Gourmet Traveller, on his food adventure in Penang, was recently published. And, yes, he had a lot to say about Penang food.

His description on eating in Penang was very interesting. To quote Nourse, “Here, eating isn’t so much a way to pass the time or simply sustain life, but rather, the national sport. Every Penangite is a player. And, regardless of their background, they play to win”.

Nourse described Penang as a “smallish island connected to the north-west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and here geography, demography, politics and history have conspired to produce a perfect climate for street food of a higher order. The island has fertile land and seas, a confluence of food cultures and a comfortable, discerning populace — all factors that combine to produce a great place to eat”.

Among the food mentioned in Nourse’s article were fried koay teow, popiah, har mee (prawn noodle soup), bak kut teh, laksa, nasi kandar, apom telor, roti canai and puthu bambu.

In concluding his article, Nourse wrote: “Penang establishes the benchmarks and resets your perspective on just how good hawker food can be. You’ve got the choice of the familiar, which will be presented to you with new clarity, and plenty of stuff you won’t see anywhere else”.

And he can’t wait to come back here again.

If I can sum that up in just a few words, it is that Penang is truly blessed with good food. But of course, you already know that.

As for Goldberg, Penang was in her list of “Asia’s 10 greatest street food cities”, and she described Penang as “one of the world’s top dining destinations”.

The dishes which received noteworthy mentions were assam laksa, Hokkien mee, wan tan mee, nasi kandar, rojak, lor bak, curry mee, fried koay teow, koay chiap and ais kacang.

Goldberg also wrote that the one thing that united Penangites of all backgrounds was “their love for good food”. And rightly so.

But it is not just Penang food that has gotten rave reviews. Talk to Jurgen Bottcher, or Strawalde, who is a German painter, sculptor and filmmaker currently on a visit to Penang for the first time.

His landing in Penang has sparked a flurry of paintings being produced by the 81-year-old artist. Twelve, to be exact. And all, inspired by this place we call “home”.

Strawalde recently said in an interview that he has fallen in love with Penang, and was drawn to the cross-cultural diversity, nicely preserved buildings, yet-to-be preserved ones and the liveliness of the place.

He also mentioned how people from different races here are able to live in peace and harmony.

Strawalde’s demeanour as he told stories of his exploration in Penang was one of excitement and joy. You could see it all written on his face.

Here is a man, seeing Penang with his own eyes for the very first time, and he has immortalised them in his paintings and films.

Their descriptions of Penang food, or even the culture here itself, have no doubt put the state in the spotlight, giving a breath of fresh air to aspects we already know and are aware of.

More importantly though, their observations, whether through sight or through their taste buds, are a good reminder of what we have here, and how we should appreciate them even more. [News link]

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Posted by on April 3, 2012 under Opinion.