Early the next morning, jetlag made its presence known and dragged us out of bed at 6 am. Being hungry and eager to see whats in store for us, we made our way to Chinatown in search of breakfast. As we walked around, we noticed that most places were still closed. So when we spotted a dim sum cafe with lots of people who to us looked like locals, we knew it couldn't be a bad place to start the day.
We took a seat and waited patiently for the dim sum cart to come by our table. I'm sure we could have just pointed at items to get what we wanted, but since we were at a Chinese restaurant, we took a stab and started ordering in our remedial Mandarin. Perhaps our lack of vocab gave us away, but eventually a waitress came by who was extremely eager to find fellow Cantonese people dining at the restaurant. (Do you still call a woman old enough to be your grandmother a waitress?) She was hilarious and seemed so happy to have met us. She asked us if we were students (we said yes because it was just easier to explain rather than saying we were food bloggers), and told us about her son who was working abroad. She also came by every 5 minutes and was adamant about telling us to keep working hard and to proudly represent Cantonese people in the world (does this even translate? heh). I have to admit, it's a nice feeling to be in a foreign country and to be able to find someone whith whom you can feel some sort of camaraderie and/or kinship. Granted there are a fair number of Chinese-Malaysians who speak Cantonese in Penang, but still nice! She also gave us some restaurant business cards as "souvenirs". I miss her already. :)
Our awesome "waitress". She was a good soul, and I wish she accepted tips.
Some of the items we ordered: shrimp cheong-fun with soy sauce, topped with fried garlic and fried shallots I think (awesome! I plan to eat it this way at home from now on!); salted pork and thousand year egg congee which had good flavor; something they called "dai wong bao" which contained sticky rice, bbq pork and chicken on the inside- a different waitress totally upsold us on but it was pretty good so I forgive her!; and my obligatory siu mai which was smaller and less juicy than what I was used to.
Our waitress also told us to sample cendol
, (pronounced chen-doy) a local street vendor dessert made with shaved ice. Not given the exact location to find this cendol, she instructed us to ask around and explore. And explore we did.
After walking around a few blocks, we stumbled upon an open air market- our favorite type of market. It was still early in the morning but already the market was packed with locals trying to pick out the best and freshest ingredients for their daily meal. There were many varieties of seafood fresh from the fishing boats, meat being butchered on site, fruits with all the colors of the spectrum, vegetables, and dry goods in every direction. Vendors on all sides were proclaiming they had the best of what they were selling.
We stopped at the first fresh squeezed sugar cane juice vendor we saw. Jared loves his sugar cane juice. That and the temperature being in the mid 80s this early in the morning gave us no choice but to stop for a cold refreshing drink.
There were cooked items for sale at the market as well as fresh fruit. But being full from our breakfast, we only "window shopped" the various offerings. In the middle of the market, there was a couple selling freshly peeled jackfruit. The fragrant smell given off from the ripened fruit stopped us mid-track. Back in Chicago, it is difficult to find fresh jackfruit. Most of the time you find them canned with syrup at asian markets. Not to pass up this opportunity, we bought a bag and snacked on it along the way. The couple selling it also spoke Cantonese and ensured us that many other Hong Kong folks liked jackfruit and this was a good buy. (huh, ok)
We walked around for a bit and finally out of the corner of our eyes, we saw signs for cendol. The only problem was that it was across a busy street. I'm not sure if you readers have been to Penang, but traffic laws do not seem to apply or give the right of way to pedestrians. I would venture to guess that there about 10 street lights and perhaps 5 stop signs in the entire city (jk!) You either walk what seemed like a mile to the next stop light or stop sign or you took your chance jaywalking. So, we took a deep breath, mustered up some courage and froggered our way across the street. Phew! We sat down at a 2 person table next to the stall, pointed at the picture poster on the wall and seconds later we were presented with refreshing goodness.
By this time, the sun was glaringly hot, so the shaved ice with coconut milk really hit the spot. Along with the ice were green jelly noodles and stewed red beans and sweeten with palm sugar. We had cendol every chance we got after this, but none seemed as good as this first stall.
It was barely lunch time when we got back to our hotel and we were already wiped out from the heat. Yes, we admit that we are total tropical heat wimps. It was friggen HOT, I tell you! So we took our midday showers, cooled off in the air conditioned hotel room and ate some fresh jackfruit while laying in bed to recuperate. Good times!
De Tai Tong Cafe
45 Lebuh Cintra