Wet markets to water views

Sitting in the Golden Sands Resort at Batu Ferringhi in Penang, a childhood haunt of B, feeling rather full after a large meal of seafood by the beach. Despite changing hotels, today was not a travel day.

It was nice to be able to sleep in with the only timetable being that of breakfast and a midday checkout. A buffet breakfast is part of our stay and we enjoy nasi lemak, curry, fruits and pastries, though not the roti canai which is particularly poor.

The problem with included buffet breakfasts is that you feel the need to eat plentifully, reducing the stomach space for other local delights.

We have some business at the bank to complete and, as usual, it doesn’t go completely smoothly, though it is resolved thanks to Chinese practicality as opposed to certain other community members’ intransigence. Meanwhile Alex and I play hangman and wordfinds, needing only papers and pens to amuse ourselves.

Hopefully that is the last business we ever need to do in Malaysia.

Round the corner from the bank is Jalan Penang. We continue along the old shop house lined street, the sheltered paths reeking of old colonial times. The ornate Chinese decor of the Ming Xian Tai Pastry House stops us in our tracks and we enter to try one of their egg tarts, which is perfect. As is their salted egg pastry, something I don’t normally like.

A bit further along is the popular Joo Hooi Cafe, which B really wanted to visit. We have a bowl of cendol, green been flour worms, kidney beans and shaved ice in coconut milk and palm sugar syrup, from the famous cart outside the cafe. I don’t like palm sugar syrup (gula melaka) and don’t ask for regular sugar syrup (which they often lack), so mine is unsweetened. Not so great, but I can still taste the quality of the ingredients.

Doing things the wrong way round, then we eat meals of Penang assam laksa, popiah and char kway teoh from the stalls inside Joo Hooi. Assam laksa has a sweet and sour coconut milk free soup and is one of B’s favourite dishes. Only she doesn’t get to eat much because Alex decides that he liked it.

The seafood popiah is really nice, though I think I prefer the crunchy Singaporean version more, but the apparently famous char kway teoh is a major disappointment when compared with last night. B says he didn’t add sambal in, but I answered yes when he asked if I wanted it spicy. You need sambal (chilli and shrimp paste).

The Nonya Old House a little further down the lane is so tempting, but we just don’t have the room for anything, not even the sweet kuih.

This area is familiar from our last trip. We go to the Chowrasta Wet Market in search of uncooked prawn crackers and curry paste. Much of the market is packing up their remaining raw meats now and we need to hurry back too as the hotel checkout is fast approaching.

We are a little late getting back and are locked out of our room, but housekeeping comes to our rescue. Then we wait for a taxi to take us to our next accommodation, the Golden Sands.

The taxi is old and worn. About halfway along it stalls at traffic lights and refuses to restart until the driver calls for assistance, which arrives on scooters to push the taxi along until the ignition catches. Apparently he switched to gas, but the engine sounds sick the rest of the way.

B used to holiday here at the Golden Sands as a child. Much may have changed, but it’s still a very nice hotel. Alex can’t wait to get to the pool area, which has a kids’ play area with tipping bucket and water slides that feel fast for their short distance. I enjoy a few rides too.

There’s a whirlpool/jacuzzi, a 1. 5 metre deep pool for families and another 3 metre deep pool only for adults.

We play for a long time before we can finally extract Alex from the water. Then we share a drink of fresh coconut and take a walk along the beach, past the stalls offering water sports, massages and hair braiding. A deep creek thwarts further progress so we return to the hotel and debate where to eat dinner.

B wants seafood back nearer Georgetown, Alex wants western food at the hotel buffet and I want to see the sunset on the beach.

In the meantime he and I go back to the pool for mocktails.

We finally agree to see what’s near the hotel, threading our way through the night market stalls that are in the process of setting up.

Beach Corner doesn’t look like much from the street. We wouldn’t know that it was the right place but for the large sign over the parking lot, as the building is otherwise signposted BBQ Grill.

When we take a look inside it is empty of customers, but it becomes obvious that it is split in two between an Indian/Muslim restaurant on the left and a Chinese seafood restaurant on the right, run by a group of old Chinese aunties.

The menu looks okay, but what is really attractive was the location overlooking the beach, the open sides letting the breeze in and giving us sunset views of the water.

The menu was somewhat sparse and the price of crustaceans high, but when B asked them if they could cook teochew style fish, not on the menu, they said not a problem.

Fortunately the food is really good, despite the touristy location. The teochew flounder is steamed in a slightly sour broth that is really delicious, the first time I’ve had it. The pippies’ curry sauce is quite yummy too, even though I don’t eat the shellfish themselves. Their speciality of inci kabin, fried chicken, is really tasty, but what truly lifts it is the lime and chilli sambal. Fried and steamed rice round off the dinner.

Meanwhile we watch the setting sun shimmer over the grey waters while horses, a camel and jetskies ride past.

A bit further along is The Ship, a steak and seafood restaurant shaped like its name that brings back more memories for B. Beyond that is a giant neon lit Thai restaurant and spa that has rows of glass tanks with a wide variety of live seafood for sale, including huge moray eels and siphon feeding clams.

On the way back to the hotel we thread our way through the night market stalls selling clothes and knock off bags and watches. They seem less pushy than before, but the passageways are narrow. The only things we buy are flavoured ice blocks from a convenience store.

Then back to the hotel, exhausted.

Sunset over Bathurst Ferringhi and wandering the old streets of Penang were my two favourite memories of the last trip and it was great to be able to experience them again today, along with some great food and a nice swim. More tomorrow?

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