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Sunday February 6, 2011

In search of halal food in Penang

There’s more to satisfy the palate of Muslim visitors besides the ubiquitous Nasi Kandar.

FROM Curry Mee to Char Koay Teow, much has been written about the plethora of delicacies available in Penang. Note, however, that most of these tend to be fare for non-Muslims.

So what is there to satisfy the palate of Muslim visitors other than the ubiquitous Nasi Kandar?

If you have 24 hours, you can go on a sojourn to discover halal food that is thoroughly enjoyed by both Muslims and non-Muslims in Penang. Let me guide you to some of these places.

For breakfast, one is indeed spoilt for choices. I would recommend this rustic place called Canai Café along Jalan Lembah Permai (formerly Vale of Temp Road). Located opposite the Azura apartments, it is a simple set-up with a green plastic signboard dangling from a flimsy chain, and plastic tables and chairs.

Fried ikan terubuk at Lidiana.

At Canai Café, Elias flips the dough of the roti telur while his tudung-wearing wife helps to serve drinks. His roti telur must be differentiated from the mamak roti that is widely available. It is embedded with strips of onions and green chilli, which enhance the taste of the otherwise bland dough.

The dhal gravy with a dollop of sambal (chilli paste) and anchovies is also unique. Pour it over your strips of roti, allow to soak and then savour the taste and smell.

I can’t think of a better way to start off the morning than having this with a cup of piping hot teh tarik and a view of the sea, which is partly visible from the cafe.

When the clock strikes one and the stomach starts to grumble, what’s in store for lunch? If you are still in the Tanjung Bungah area, there are a couple of Nasi Melayu joints to try.

One is Lidiana, which is situated directly opposite the Mesjid Terapung (floating mosque) on the Tanjung Bungah main road. Turn left up the slope when you see the Floating Mosque. The stall is located in a mini food complex, Medan Selera Tg Bungah, on the right. Lidiana is the first stall that you see as you walk through the open iron gates.

This place has a smorgasbord of Malay cuisine with numerous well-worn aluminium trays filled with an assortment of dishes that include Nenas Pacurit, Kerabu Sayur Rumis, Cencaru sambal, Tau Kua sambal, Daging Sos Pekat, Stingray Curry, and heaps of fresh ulam.

The Cencaru Sambal (stuffed mackerel) is a crowd favourite. Chilli oil and burnt rempah give this dish the added oomph.

However, my personal favourite is the fried Ikan Terubuk (Grass Carp). While the terubuk with its numerous bones is a painstaking effort to eat, the taste of the smooth white flesh accompanied by the sambal paste and shallots more than make up for the hassle.

This place is a true reflection of 1Malaysia as it is very common to see Malays and other races eating elbow to elbow there.

The other equally popular stall offering Nasi Melayu is in Tanjung Tokong. If you are coming from Georgetown on Jalan Tanjung Bungah, look out for the traffic lights just after the Straits Quay development project.

Turn right at the traffic lights and then take an immediate right. This is the Nasi Melayu stall that’s more commonly known as the UDA flats Nasi Melayu. The wide selection there will test your decision-making capabilities. The friendly proprietor wears a pony tail and looks like the lead guitarist of a rock band.

For afternoon tea, take a drive along Tg Bungah road to the line of itinerant hawkers along Shamrock Beach. Try the Malay-style Assam Laksa. The soup is not as rich as the Nonya-style laksa but the tamarind and spices provide a nice aroma and taste.

Otherwise you can head towards Georgetown on Kelawei Road. Turn right at the junction of Jones Road. At the stall on your immediate right, there are giant curry puffs with spiced and curried potato fillings. Downed with a cup of hot Kopi O (local black coffee), this is definitely a nice alternative to scones and English tea.

For dinner, venture to Batu Maung on the other side of the island for grilled seafood. After passing Queensbay Mall, continue to drive along the coastal road. The massive electronic plants should be on your right.

Go straight until you reach a crossroads with traffic lights. Continue straight on until you spot the Teluk Tempoyak sign. Turn left and head down the sloping, uneven road. The place you are looking for is on the beach front.

The surroundings there are rustic with a traditional Malay village atmosphere that’s enhanced by the presence of multi-coloured fishing boats in the vicinity. The seafood is fresh and grilled to satisfaction. Home-made sauces enhance the taste of the grilled seafood especially the ikan bakar (grilled fish). Try the special tempoyak paste there if you fancy fermented durian.

There are more places that are worthy of checking out, such as Kg Melayu flats for roti canai, Beach Street (opposite Logan House) for Nasi Lemak Bungkus, the coffeeshop at the Jones Road/Burma Road junction for Yusuf’s Nasi Melayu, and Teluk Kumnar for Mee Udang.

If you still feel like eating at 1am, head to the Hillside hawker’s complex opposite Copthorne Hotel in Tanjung Bungah. There, you can savour Rudy’s halal Char Koay Teow with extra chilli and bean sprouts.

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