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Gurney Drive Hawkers

When I first started reading user reviews of Penang's G Hotel, which is shoulder to shoulder (but not adjoining—that air conditioned, never-exposed-to-the-elements luxury is more Singaporean) with Gurney Plaza, they were almost evenly split East-West. I'm generalizing of course, but a typical Asian reviewer might say, "It's next to a mall—great location" while the Europeans (Americans barely make a dent) would be more, "It's next to a mall—ick."
Penang hotel & mall complex

Not ick because the hotel, which didn’t even exist on my last visit in 2005, is not just next to a mall, it's also across from the Gurney Drive hawkers, the best-known outdoor food court in the city. If you're a novelty-seeker like me, it doesn’t get much better than walking out of your room to beef ribs at the ground floor Chili's and rojak down the street.

Gurney drive rojak

Here would be said crazy salad of jicama, cucumber, pineapple, water apple (the fruit a cashew is harvested from. I know! Nuts from fruit?), cuttlefish, bean curd and Chinese crullers tossed in a thick, spicy prawn paste and topped with crushed peanuts. I am a fiend for the hot, fishy sweet. Shrimpy and fruity is likely to either disgust or charm you, no in-between.

Gurney drive rojak stand

You can buy the dressing at the stands here and probably elsewhere, too. I'm not sure what the difference is between the white-topped and red-topped jars. Perhaps one is pure prawn paste and the other has sugar and chiles added for a ready-to-use dressing.

Gurney drive laksa 

Gurney drive asam laksa

Penang laksa is a totally different beast than most Malaysian laksas. Coconut milk-free and lemongrassy, the asam style is soured with tamarind and enriched with flaked mackerel. Once again, the sweet and fishy combo. Toppings usually include cucumber, pineapple, mint and torch ginger bud. The dark condiment on the spoon is black prawn paste, same as in the rojak. I don't order this in NYC because my experiences have been more bad funky (at Singapore Café there were twigs floating around in the broth) than appetizing funky.

Gurney drive fried things

James picked up some chicken and a few other unidentified fried tidbits served with sticks at a stall wonderfully named McTucky Fried Chicken.

Gurney drive char kway teow 

Gurney drive char koay teow stall

We only made one attempt to seek out exemplary char kway teow on this visit. Loh Eng Hoo Coffee Shop, my first choice, was closed. Honestly, I'm not enough of a connoisseur to find fault with this version.

Gurney drive sarsi & sugar cane juice

Sarsi is a sarsaparilla soda. I thought it tasted a little like Dr. Pepper. I was told to order a sugar cane juice with lime so I did. Some proprietors can be pushy, not rude more this is our specialty. If I'm correct the beverage-sellers have territories, so if you sit in their section you have to order from them.  I'll say yes to practically anything because the food is cheap even when tourist-priced. For reference, the laska above was RM3.00 (approximately 90 cents).

Gurney drive hawker center

Gurney Drive Hawkers * North end of Gurney Dr., Penang, Malaysia

Apples to Apples


It wasn’t enough for 7-Eleven to create a magazine just for Latino construction workers, now they’ve got a line of food in the works for 7-Eleven Mexico and a few lucky Hispanic-heavy stores in the US.

“Our objective is to identify flavor profiles that Hispanics are particularly partial to and develop items in that way,” spokeswoman Margaret Chabris told Supermarket News.

Um, so chile and lime?

To me, using apple flavors for soda was a surprising Mexican preference. Sidral Mundet comes in both green and red apple. I see evidence of a green apple Jolly Rancher soda existing here, but is that really mainstream?

Gai Yang Boran

Dismayed by the no-explanation gate down at Chote Chitr, Bangkok’s most un-secret hole-in-the-wall (apparently, they do not open until 6pm despite dinner and lunch being touted in most reference sources) and first-day-in-the-tropics heat-shocked, plan B lunch became Gai Yang Boran, a rare air conditioned restaurant in the Saochingcha district. Import Foods’ handy map and guide proved very useful (as did James’ Blackberry—traveling is so different with online maps and GPS. My smartphone did not work internationally and I shouldn’t have even bothered bringing it as it got stolen out of my luggage. Three phoneless weeks later and I’m still quite angry about this and too frugal to buy a replacement).

I didn’t realize gai yang and som tum were so popular in Bangkok. The common Northeastern twosome (sticky rice rounding out a perfect trinity) were everywhere on the street, food courts and non-touristy yet comfortable bilingual menu restaurants like this place.

Gai yang boran chicken

Of course we ordered the grilled chicken. Supposedly, the chickens are farm-raised and the sweet chile sauce is made in-house. Thai chickens are scrawnier and more flavorful than our typical grocery store birds. Notice the plain rice in the background—I didn’t think to specify sticky rice when ordering.
Gai yang boran catfish

A salty, hot, catfish salad with lots of roasted rice powder. I was imagining that fluffy fried style but this was more pulverized.

Gai yang boran larb

Pork larb was springy, wonderful and punishing.

This was where we were introduced to the concept of “Can you eat spicy food?” This is typically what you’ll be asked if the staff speaks a little English  (when they didn’t, they often held up a chile pepper instead to see if you shake your head yes or no). Not do like it but can you physically handle it as if the ability to eat hot food were an inborn trait. I’m sure there are more sophisticated full sentence ways to explain yes, I can eat it, but I stuck with “chawp pet,” which roughly translates to I like spicy. It seemed to work even if I felt like I was using caveman speak.

Gai Yang Boran * 474-476 Thanon Tanao, Bangkok, Thailand

Mystery of the Chinese Salad

Chinese salad Who can guess the Chinese chain restaurant where Tina Fey was served a salad containing a Band-Aid, then a bug?

I think the real question is why you would order a salad in a Chinese restaurant…or why a Chinese restaurant would serve them.

I vote for Ollie's, as they actually have a small salad section on their menu.

Paula Deen's Chinese Salad (pictured) uses a package of ramen and the seasoning packet. [via Eater NY]

The Pumpkin Bread Curse


Just as World War II GIs returned home with a taste for pizza and Vietnam vets must somehow be responsible for the post-millennium banh mi boom (I have to hold someone accountable even if it's a huge stretch), an entrepreneurial Lebanese-American woman, Denise Hazime, has set up a shawarma stand at a Camp Pendleton, California in hopes that Marines have developed a love of Arabic food.

So far, she has been right.  The Wall St. Journal reports, "Marines returning from Iraq and the Persian Gulf were pining for pita, according to focus-group surveys conducted on the base."

Dede Med, as Ms. Hazime refers to herself online, is also a recipe blogger with a singular focus on Mediterranean cooking. Her husband, Crisantos Hajibrahim, may be a bit controlling but he's vigilant and social media savvy!

"Each night, Mr. Hajibrahim logs onto his computer from the couple's small apartment and searches Arabic food recipes to see where his wife ranks. 'I watch for threats,' he says. Mr. Hajibrahim was briefly concerned about one online competitor, but stood down after the contender 'made a critical mistake. She deviated to pumpkin bread.' Mr. Hajibrahim says he won't let his wife post anything but Middle Eastern recipes. 'You must specialize,' he says.

Ah…pumpkin bread…amateur mistake.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Mike Atchue

Chains of Thailand & Malaysia

Thai sunburn Street food and chain restaurants are two of my favorite things. Even though I’m starting with the latter I got plenty of heat stroke-inducing outdoor fare too, evidenced this nasty sunburn (yes, I wore sunscreen). Remember when kids would rub Elmer’s glue on their hands just to let it dry and peel off? That’s what 65% of my body looks like right now, even my earlobes and backs of my hands (ok, I wrote this earlier in the week—now it’s just my forearms and legs).

Sure, Asia has the chains that have penetrated all corners of the planet: McDonald’s, Starbucks and oddly, Subway, but also regional anomalies yet to grace the states with their presence. A pair of my favorites being The Manhattan Fish Market and Big Apple Coffee & Donuts. This is a near-random, non-exhaustive photo gallery or the franchises I spied during my journeys through the air conditioned malls of Bangkok and Penang.

What’s missing are the slew of sushi, tepanyaki, shabu shabu and noodle chains that had a surprisingly large presence. I am not fanatical about Japanese food in the same way I am about other Asian cuisines, which is the main reason why I’ve never been to Tokyo even though I should know better. I do plan on eventually rectifying this.

By the way, I do not have the know-how to create a proper full page slideshow with nice accompanying text. Sucking my photos from Flickr was the only way I could manage an approximation, but formatting and links captioning the original photos have been lost in this display.

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Eco-Unfriendly Green

Balance in everything. I love genuine greens—collards, kale, cabbage—as much as artificial greens. It’s always been my favorite color. In fact, when I was young, pre-preschool young, putting green food coloring in my milk, served in a mini A&W root beer mug, was the only way my mom could get me to drink the dairy product.

In the US, green dye usually denotes mint (urgh) or lime (ok) and occasionally green apple or kiwi. I loved that in SE Asia green baked goods and drinks almost always denoted pandan (like the buns below) or green tea (as in the roll cake). Quickly shot on a hotel bed, these two aren’t showcasing their optimal greenness.


Allow me to salute St. Patrick with a few random photos of unnaturally green foodstuffs.

Green spam

Green eggs ‘n’ spam soba from IOjaw on Flickr


Cendol from Rasa Malaysia (waah, one of the only things on my to-eat-in-Penang list that I didn’t get around to)


I Am Baker via Serious Eats

Green bread

Green pandan bread from JY’s Baking Jornals


Ice cream Jello from The Food Librarian


Before indulging in a stream of compulsory (only to me) vacation dining recaps, I must first mention NYC’s Thai stalwart, Sripraphai. I dine there maybe every month-and-a-half and will always defend it against downhill alerts no matter how big they get for their britches, but haven’t posted about it in ages because I always order the same things and find the food to be generally consistent. No need for an update. However, I did want to assess the restaurant post-Thailand vacation.

While Sripraphai’s menu strays in many directions (northern khao soi and larb as well as the formidable southern curry) the bulk of what they serve is very close to what you’ll find in Bangkok: rich curries and multi-textured salads that skew slightly more sweet than hot. Awesome and never tiresome. I could eat this food every single day and not get bored (even though I indulged in some Sizzler and German fare in Bangkok).

By sweet, I don’t mean the lime juice-and-sugar dominated papaya salads of Brooklyn. Sripraphai still manages more spice than your corner Thai joint (though occasionally they go too tame–I’m not sure what to think of this Chowhound code word business). Their heat level and style of cooking is very much in line with Bangkok’s renowned Chote Chitr, which I finally got to try. Yet when we went three hours south to beachy Hua Hin, the non-touristy food was jarring and outright incendiary. I loved it, but never encountered that chile intensity in Bangkok. You probably won’t find it at Sripraphai either.

Sripraphai bbq pork salad

On my last visit just before heading out of town I decided to go wild and order something I’d never had before. Meet the bbq pork salad. Slightly different than the Thai salads I normally eat, this fatty grilled pork mélange is very limey and coated with roughly chopped garlic. While balanced, I prefer more sweet and hot.

Sripraphai crispy watercress salad

Like the dressing on he crispy Chinese watercress salad that never gets old. There’s just too much going on to get tired of it. Shrimp, shredded chicken, toasted cashews for crunch and dominate battered, fried watercress that manages to never be greasy. The best part might be the “goop” (that’s what we call it) that pools at the bottom of the plate from the dressing, sliced shallots, chopped chiles, cilantro and bits of pliable fallen-off batter on the verge of turning soggy. Never waste the goop. I could eat it over rice. Looking at this photo makes me very sad that I have vegetarian chicken salad sandwich and yogurt for lunch. I have never seen this dish in Thailand (I’ve only been twice, so hardly scouring the nation) or encountered it elsewhere in the US. Maybe it’s a bastardized invention.

Sripraphai chinese broccoli with crispy pork

Crispy pork is always a must. The more decadent version is stir-fired with chiles and basil. When I’m pretending to be healthy (you know, ordering two pork dishes at one meal) I pick the porcine nubs tossed with Chinese broccoli. Though flavored with little more than garlic and oyster sauce (maybe a little soy sauce too), there is nothing dull about this meat-enlivened vegetable dish.

Sripraphai penang curry

Then a curry. My favorite is the thick one with duck, eggplant and bamboo shoots. This is a typical panang, one of the big three, with beef. Rich, just a little spicy and covered with torn lime leaves and a drizzle of coconut cream. Nobody dislikes panang curry.

No desserts this time around, though when I do pick up a little plastic container to go it’s usually pumpkin custard squares. I checked out the new Filipino bakery catty-corner to Sripraphai but wasn’t feeling inspired by any of the ensaimadas. I just wanted a slice of ube chiffon cake.

Previously on Sripraphai

Sripraphai * 64-13 69th Ave., Woodside, NY

Too Tired For Words

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