Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Seremban2 to honour chess masters

In mid-January this year while on a trip to Seremban and Malacca, I had stopped by the Seremban2 city park to take in the view. In recent years, this park with its main feature being a magnificent lake has become a premier oasis for the people of Seremban, supplanting the popularity of the Seremban lake gardens which for many decades had been a principal feature of the town.

Anyway, the city park in Seremban covers a sprawling area of about 15 acres. My wife and I took a slow walk around the perimeter of the lake and observed the many activities going on there: individuals walking, jogging or participating in vigorous mass zumba exercises; families strolling and relaxing with their young children in tow. Feeding the fishes in the lake also seemed to be one of the favourite past-times of the people and mind you, there are probably thousands of fish, especially catfish.

I had noticed a particular junction along the perimeter where three pathways joined up. A small, relatively flat space that overlooked the lake. I was told that there were plans by the developer of the sprawling Seremban2 township, IJMLand, to make something out of this land very shortly, possibly to complete before the Chinese New Year. It would be one of their CSR projects.

In the weeks that followed my visit to Seremban2, many curious people would have wondered why this 15-foot statue of a chess knight was being erected in that vacant space. But following its completion with no inkling of news on why the statue was there at all, curiosity has made way for quiet acceptance of its presence.

But of course, there is a purpose to this project. Very soon, I am told, possibly come the middle of May, there will be an official ceremony to dedicate this statue and the area around it to chess.

Chess may not be one of the more visible games in this country but I can assure you that the game has a sizable following. If we consider that:
  1. Chess is not exactly a spectator sport for the masses, 
  2. There are chess tournaments all year round ranging from higher-end internationally-rated tournaments for the more serious-minded players to the frequent much more popular lower-end rapid-chess tournaments that attracts 100 players on an average per tournament, 
  3. On the assumption that the chess population in the country consists of 10 percent hardcore chess players who have been playing the game all their lives, 25 percent of chess players who have been at the game for more than 10 years, 35 percent of chess players who have been playing the game for more than five years and the remaining being chess players who have competed in local chess tournaments (including at school level), and 
  4. There are unknown players who only play socially among themselves without ever participating in tournaments, plus an unknown number of people who read chess news off the Internet, 
  5. A growing chess coaching industry throughout the country ensures that more children, getting younger all the time, and their parents and guardians are getting exposed to the game,

Taking all the points above, I would venture to guess that the chess enthusiasts in the country would conservatively number around 100,000. A sizable following for a game that is not often in the public eye, and indeed, does not attract as much support from the Olympics Council of Malaysia as I feel it should.

But for all its grassroots popularity, chess does not have a local hero that the chess players can look up to. Considering that the Philippines have their Eugene Torre, India have their Viswanathan Anand and China have their Hou Yifan - and I'm quoting only three countries - Malaysia have none save for our five international masters. We have not grown beyond five because our culture does not permit state support or even provide ample recognition for our chess talents. Is it any wonder then, that our IMs do sometimes question whether it was really worth their while to have spent so much time in chasing their chess dreams and in return, benefit little or at the very least, see scant recognition for their efforts?

For the unheralded chess players in this country, there is now an attempt to give credit to these five international masters. If we need to grow our chess level, these five IMs should be the core of our development efforts. The country shall need to engage them in order for the game to progress further. By right, this should be the responsibility of the Malaysian Chess Federation but even after more than 40 years there is a perception that something is holding the federation back. By this perceived reluctance to fulfil their role and engage our titled players, private individuals and interested companies must instead step into the void created by the Federation.

Thus, I am glad that IJMLand is now prepared to step into this void. As starters, the public-listed company has erected this statue on their property, the Seremban2 city park. Come this May at the dedication ceremony, the company will unveil five park benches around the statue which shall honour our five international masters. Each of these benches will bear a caricature of a player and beside a chess board etched into the bench, will feature the player's most important game. To make this move meaningful, our five players have already agreed to lend their support to this project.

But while these will be the initial set of five park benches, it should not stop here. I am confident that IJMLand will be prepared to commit more of their benches around the statue to honour new international masters should more of our local players attain this title.

But what will happen if someone should go further and obtain the grandmaster title? I don't see this happening soon enough but when it happens, I would dare say that IJMLand may have other plans in mind to honour them. Who knows, perhaps naming their pavillions at their hill park that overlook Seremban2 after Malaysia's future chess grandmasters? When the time comes, that will be a fine gesture indeed.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

My (close) brush with Lee Kuan Yew

This is my copy of The Singapore Story, the memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew who died yesterday.

I had bought it a long time ago, and possibly more than a decade has passed by already. This particular book of mine has a very remarkable story of its own. And I'm only willing to tell it only because this is a tribute to Singapore's founding father.

It started in June 2009, you see, about a year after the General Elections of 2008 which saw Penang and Perak falling into the hands of the Pakatan Rakyat. Lee Kuan Yew or LKY, the Minister Mentor of Singapore and who was already 85 years old, decided to embark on a tour of Perak, Penang, Kelantan and Pahang.

I was intrigued when I heard the news. Here was a great man whom I'd like to meet, if I can. But I couldn't. It wasn't in LKY's itinerary to meet people publicly. He only wanted to meet the people in government and talk with them. (Personally, I had thought that he wanted to come to Penang to gauge and assess the new state government for himself, and see whether Singapore could work with Penang on mutual projects. To me, it was a fact-finding mission. And I believe that I wasn't too far off the mark in my assessment.)

Undeterred, I asked a friend in the state government whether it could be possible for LKY to autograph my copy of his memoirs. I knew it was going to be a long shot because I had heard that very seldom he would sign his books and if he did, a sizable donation would have to be made to some charity of his choice. Anyhow, my friend said that he would try but gave no promises.

As it turned out, LKY could not autograph the book then and there as he would be leaving soon for Kelantan. But never mind, someone in his entourage told my friend to just leave the book with them and if they can catch LKY in a freer mood, maybe, just maybe....

So apparently, my book left Penang and went to Kota Bharu and from there, it travelled with the Singapore entourage to Kuantan before they arrived back in Singapore. A week passed. What had happened to my book? I didn't want to ask my friend about it because frankly, he wouldn't know either.

More weeks went by without a word. I waited and waited, until one fine day he asked me to collect the book from him. The book had come back from Singapore after all. It had travelled in a big triangle from Penang to the east coast of the peninsula and then down south to Singapore before returning to Penang. It had finished a remarkable trip.

I flipped open the book and there it was, Lee Kuan Yew's signature. Definitely, this will be a book for me to cherish. A precious book for me, and a book for my family. It wasn't easy to get his signature, and it is impossible now to get it again. Rest in peace, Lee Kuan Yew, you did well for Singapore.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Solar eclipse 2015

There was a total eclipse of the sun on Saturday afternoon - starting from 3.41p.m. and lasting for about four hours - but it was not visible in my part of the world, South-East Asia. It was, however, seen from across the northern part of Europe especially above the Arctic Circle. Not having seen solar eclipses before, I had to scour the international news sites to experience this occasion. I wasn't disappointed because someone had decided to film the eclipse from an aeroplane. Wow, awesome!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

50 shades of pink

Today's post is all about the Tecoma flowers which have been blooming all over the place in my neighbourhood and in particular, along the road where I live. For about a week, I've seen the buds open into a glorious bloom of pink and I've seen the flowers wither and fall to carpet both the roadside, kerb and inside my porch.

I've been noticing that many people had chosen to walk along the road just to admire the trees in various shades of red, pink and white.

But while the flowers are beautiful indeed, sweeping away the fallen flowers have been a most tiring effort. The paper thin petals stick to the ground and while singularly the flowers are very light, they are quite heavy when swept together.

And I've been doing this both inside and outside the porch. I've bags full of wet and dry flowers to show as evidence, all waiting for the Municipal Council's garbage collectors to come and dispose off.

Earlier last week, I made a complaint through the Better Penang website that the Council sweepers have not been seen in my neighbourhood for a very long time.

More than a year ago, the Province Wellesley Municipal Council (MPSP) had terminated the services of their contractor. The MPSP had recognised that their appointed contractor hadn't been doing a good job and taken back the service of sweeping the roads and clearing the drains.

I hailed that decision because I had believed that the MPSP was serious enough about keeping their standards high to meet ratepayers' expectations.

Initially, I noticed sweepers coming round to my road on Wednesday mornings. But for several months already, the sweepers have been absent. I haven't been seeing them doing to rounds. Luckily, ours is a relatively responsible neighbourhood and our roads remain clear of falling leaves and other debris.

However with the Tecoma season upon us, I was concerned that clearing off the fallen flowers would become tedious. So I wrote to the Better Penang website.

Two days later, my wife noticed a group of men coming round to collect the heap of fallen flowers on the roadside. So she asked the supervisor why they hadn't been doing their jobs for so long and the answer she got was that there was shortage of manpower at the Council.

Shocking indeed! It's gross inefficiency for us ratepayers to suffer the manpower shortage at the MPSP with the Council taking little visible effort to address the issue. At least, that's my perception of the problem.

Thankfully today, eight days after the first flowers had bloomed, almost all of them have fallen off the branches, leaving behind a tree bereft of flowers and leaves. It is as if autumn had arrived in my neighbourhood except that the Chinese New Year weather remains hot, humid and stuffy.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

2015 durian season starting

I caught up with my good friend, Durian Seng, earlier this week and I asked him about this year's durian season. Will the harvest be bountiful? He broke into a big smile which said everything!

He's obviously happy. According to him, the hot fine weather has given rise to his trees flowering profusely. Right now, the fruits are starting to form. Some are already about two to four centimetres long, he told me, and the ripe fruits should be ready to be enjoyed by mid-May at the earliest. Different species of durian flower at slightly different times and with the rainy season starting soon, if any tree had not flowered before then, it would be barren come the durian season.

Anyway, with the present trees flowering, he knows that his season is set from end of May till the end of July. I promised him that I would release the dates for the availability of the various types of durian from his estate in Sungai Pinang, so here it is. Just keep a thought that the dates are all very tentative. But he is so experienced with the King of Fruit, which has been cultivated since the days of his father, that his dates can't be far wrong.
D604 (早花黄肉) 25 May - 5 July 2015. Yellow, creamy and dry, sticky.
Lipan (蜈蚣) 25 May - 5 July 2015. Beige, aromatic and creamy, sticky.
Kunpoh Angbak (坤宝红肉) 25 May - 15 July 2015. Old tree, reddish hue, sticky.
Little Red (小红) 25 May - 15 July 2015. Reddish; sweet and smooth.
D600 1 June - 5 July 2015. Golden yellow, bitter.
Horlor (葫芦) 1 June - 20 July 2015. Golden yellow, aromatic, sticky.
D11 (十一号) 5 June - 5 July 2015. Beige, sweet, sticky.
Kunyit (黄姜) 5 June - 15 July 2015. Yellow, bitter sweet, sticky.
Kapri (甲必利) 10 June - 15 July 2015. Old tree, aromatic and bitter.
Green Skin (青皮) 10 June - 20 July 2015. Old tree, beige, sticky.
Lin Fong Jiao (林凤嬌) 10 June - 20 July 2015. Old tree, yellow, bitter sweet, sticky.
Bak Eu (白肉油) 10 June - 26 July 2015. White, bitter weet, aromatic, sticky.
Red Prawn (红虾)10 June- 31 July 2015. Pinkish, bitter sweet, aromatic, sticky.
D15 10 June - 31 July 2015. Golden yellow, bitter sweet, aromatic, sticky.
D99 15 June - 31 July 2015. Golden yellow, bitter sweet, aromatic, sticky, thick flesh.
Ganja (长帝) 18 June - 31 July 2015. Yellow, bitter sweet, sticky. 

Friday, 6 March 2015

Penang hawker food update 2015

Last year on the third day of Chinese New Year (2 February 2014), I was alerted - pleasantly alerted - to a news story that had appeared online in the British newspaper, The Independent. Many people would know what I'm referring to. This was a news story that recommended my hometown, Penang, as the Number One place to visit in 2014 for local street food. Although 2014 had come and gone, Penang still remains as THE place to visit in order to savour the best street food around. Indeed, my home State is the food capital of Malaysia, no denying it.

I just realised that eight years have passed by since I first wrote a rather comprehensive story on Penang's famed hawker food. (An update was done two years ago but with this recognition from The Independent, I must always try and bring my own recommendations to the fore.) Now, I know that my preferences are still far from definitive but in my opinion, they are still comprehensive enough.

At that time in 2007, the article was simply an update of an older webpage on Penang food that I had originally created in 1996 or 1997. In all probably, it could have been the forerunner of all the food blogs in Malaysia or Singapore. Today, there are multitudes of people writing about food. I don't intend to go down that road again.

Nevertheless, I would like to think that I should attempt to update my seven-year-old story every now and then for my own satisfaction. In my own way, in my own style. More so as during that interlude, George Town has become a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. Therefore here goes, call this the SS Quah Penang Food Award 2015, if you like. [Disclaimer: All these are still my own opinion and nobody else's. If you disagree with me, tough titties, I say!]

A quick intro to anyone who is not yet into Penang food: Penang is a paradise for food lovers who come from all over Malaysia, Singapore and overseas. The first thing that people do when they cross the border by land, sea or air, even before they check into a hotel, is to ask: "Penang food, where, ah?"

Ais Kacang. Not many stalls can beat this "anchor tenant" at the new New World Park Hawker Centre. The owners used to operate from the roadside at Swatow Lane for decades until the New World Park was finally rebuilt and they moved in. Along with the relocation, the prices of their ais kacang naturally increased too. But the stall continued to be well patronised, especially by the lunchtime crowd. The ais kacang comes with the usual sweet red kidney beans (large ones!!), attap nuts and sweet corn, all covered with shaved ice and laced with rose syrup, brown sugar syrup and sweetened condensed milk. For a bit more indulgence, ask for ice cream and sliced fruits like bananas and papayas. The Ais Kacang stalls in Lorong Selamat also serve similar irresistible versions. Over on the mainland, I find that the Ais Kacang stall at the nightly Sentosa Food Court (there are several but you should head for the one with the red stall lights) in Bukit Mertajam, corner of Kulim Road and Jalan Sentosa, serves a version with the smoothest and finest shaved ice. 

Apong. Originally cooked by Indians in small claypots over charcoal, most apong stalls now use small metal woks over gas fires nowadays. To me, this is not so interesting anymore and the taste is somewhat different. But it's still possible to find apong, the old fashioned way at the coffee shop at the Burmah Road/Moulmein Road junction (same coffee shop selling the Hokkien Mee described below). Available in the mornings until about 9am, after that,habis!

Apong Balik. Quite different from the Indian apong described above. The batter contains more eggs, lots more eggs, thus making the final cooked apong balik soft and fluffy. The most memorable stalls are along Burmah Road, just outside the Union Primary School. The Apong Guan stall is run by Ah Guan while Apong Chooi is run by, well, Ah Chooi. Figures, right? Anyhow, they are brothers who went their own separate ways a very long time ago after some family disagreements. And both decided to establish themselves on this road, hardly 20 metres apart. Apom Guan is definitely more popular but his brother's version is almost indistinguishable. For an alternative version, try the morning stall at the Pulau Tikus Lane-Kuching-Burmah Road junction.   

Bak Moy. It's more than moy (or broth) that the hawkers sell. Normally, I'd go for the mee suah. But no matter whether its moy or mee suah, the hawkers that used to sell at a roadside stall in Jalan Kampung Malabar, off Penang Road is quite well known. It's worth waiting 30 or 40 minutes just to enjoy a bowl.  It is to be noted that the stall has now shifted its operations to a shop further down the road, called Hon Kei. Business continues to be good but personally, I feel its standard has dropped a bit. Another bak moy stall, but one that is lesser known, is located in a coffee shop along New Lane. (A word of warning: don't get confused with the roadside stall that sells chee cheong chok. This bak moy stall in inside a coffee shop.)

Banana Leaf Rice [entry added on 17 July 2014]. This is of ethnic South Indian origin and comes served on a banana leaf with a standard serving of two or three types of vegetable dishes and papadom. You can usually choose between fish, chicken and mutton as a main dish or if you prefer, go vegetarian all the way! One of the oldest banana leaf rice restaurants is the Veloo Villas Restaurant in Penang Street. It's now my choice for traditional Banana Leaf Rice whenever I'm in the financial district of George Town, ever since the owner of the Shusi Restaurant, which I had been a regular customer for at least 20 years, decided to call it a day. Shusi is still operating but under a completely new management. Nearby is the Sri Ananda Bahwan Restaurant and the food's cooked by real Indian nationals. So, it is about the closest you'll ever get to authentic Indian food cooked by authentic Indians. However, if I'm around Glugor at lunch time, I would head to the Passions of Kerala in Minden Heights. The Passions of Kerala also have a branch at the New World Park in Burmah Road/Hutton Lane but being located there, the prices are more expensive and you'd generally be expected to pay at least RM4 more per person. 

Char Koay Kak [entry added on 17 July 2014]. For one of the best plates of this dish, you must go to MacAlister Lane. You can't miss this stall. You'll see it immediately on the left side of the road as you turn into it (it's a one-way street). Also, the ones at the Jelutong market are quite alright. For alternatives, you can try the stall at the junction of Burmah Road-Tavoy Road but I tell you, it's not that great. In the mornings, the stall at the SuperTanker food court in Taman Lip Sin. In the evenings, I have been surprised pleasantly by the palatable quality at the Taman Pekaka coffee shop, which is fried by an Indian lady! In Bukit Mertajam, the stall at the Sri Sentosa Coffee Shop is run by the rudest and most despicable pair of hawkers that I've ever come across (actually, the wife is the culprit) but their version is actually not too bad.

Char Koay Teow [entry added on 17 July 2014]. Too close to call but my votes for the most expensive char koay teow go to the stalls outside the coffee shop at the MacAlister Road-New Lane junction, the one at Lorong Selamat and one other outside the Kimberley Coffee Shop in Kimberley Street. Yes, you get big delicious prawns but you get a huge bill too. Also, beware of the pieces of fried lard that's mixed into the fried koay teow. They're crunchy and give a distinct taste to the food but it's too oily for people watching their cholesterol. You can also try the roadside char koay teow stall that opens in the afternoon near the Anson Road/Siam Road junction. BTW, do give the Two Sisters stall in MacAlister Road a real miss. Serious! It's an over-hyped stall and they can even cheat you over an egg. Just watch them fry three plates together and use only two eggs. Huh! Over at Chai Leng Park on the mainland, there is this same hardworking hawker that fries at a corner coffee shop opposite the wet market in the mornings and the Great Wellesley food centre (previously Chai Leng Park's only cinema) in the evenings, and I like his style of frying! In Bukit Mertajam, the specialty seems to be char koay teow with duck eggs. There are two stalls to try this BM version: one is at the Kulim Road-Jalan Maju junction and the other is located next to the taxi stand in Jalan Pasar. Both are opened only at night.

Curry mee [entry added on 6 Mar 2013]. When I was young, this dish used to be called curry mai fun but somewhere along the way, it has been shortened to curry mee. No matter, because this savoury soup dish is long a favourite with both Penangites and visitors. The one stall on the island that comes to my mind has long established itself at the coffee shop at the junction of Lorong Seratus Tahun and Nanning Street. It is still drawing in the crowds especially during lunchtime. Parking, however, is a real headache. [Update (28 Apr 2014): I just discovered a nice curry mee stall called Tuai Pui Curry Mee in Kimberly Street. The stall operates from a coffee shop about 50 metres from the Carnarvon Street junction. Wholly recommended.] Over on the mainland, connoisseurs of this dish will often direct you to a shop along Jalan Raja Uda in Butterworth. They used to operate a stall beside the road but as their business grew and development overran the area, they relocated eventually to a shop some distance away. Their curry mee is rather expensive but business is still as roaring as ever in the evenings. As for me, I frequent either the stall at the Yam Huat hawker centre in Jalan Ciku or at the Taman Bukit hawker centre, both in the mornings in Bukit Mertajam. Don't try the other curry stalls in this town; they are all so hopelessly yucky.

Chendol, a dessert to cool down your hot days, made with green pandan-flavoured noodles and large, red kidney beans in coconut milk, brown sugar and shaved ice. There's a very famous stall along Keng Kwee Street, a side road off busy Penang Road. There's another not-so-famous one directly opposite it. If you want better service, try the less famous one. The quality is absolutely the same, so I dunno why people keep going to the other side of the road!

Chicken Rice. This seller used to have a stall tucked within a small coffee shop at Kampung Malabar but has now gone Big Time with his own shop in Cintra Street, called Wen Chang. A very popular place and I do not see any reason to disagree with its popularity. Friends from KL used to come by just to taste a bowl of the rice first, before diving into the chicken. On the mainland, the nightly chicken rice stall at the Kuan Nan coffee shop is one of the best around: the softest chicken meat I've ever tasted and even the breast meat is very tender!

Fried Oysters. Too oily for my liking but if cholesterol washes off you like water washes off a duck, you can try the stall at the Seng Thor coffee shop at the Carnarvon Street-Kimberley Street junction. Its reputation goes back decades as the business was handed down from father to son.

Hokkien Mee. I don't know why Pulau Tikus seems to be one of the better places for a bowl of Hokkien Mee - noodles served with eggs, small prawns, meat slices, bean sprouts, kangkong in a spicy prawn stock and sometimes coming with generous chunks of choice pork meat, pork ribs, pig skin, chicken feet and small intestines - but if you are around this area, do try the stall at the coffee shop at the Burmah Road-Moulmein Road junction. There are two coffee shops, so make sure you go to the right one. It's the one on the right and it is usually sold out by 8.30am. You may also want to try the stall at the Burmah Road-Bangkok Lane junction. But Pulau Tikus is not the only place on the island to try Hokkien Mee. Opposite the entrance into the Kuantan Road market is a Hokkien Mee stall that has been around for decades. I know it has been around since the 1960s (the original hawker was my neighbour) and the business has now passed down from the father to his son. The stall also sells Loh Mee where instead of the prawn soup, you get a thick brown gooey gravy made from tapioca starch and egg. Best taken with their chopped garlic in vinegar for a special tangy experience. In the evenings, head to the centre of Presgrave Street and search for the Hokkien Mee stall that's set up in one of the houses. On the mainland Penang, the place to go is again the Sri Sentosa Coffee Shop at Lorong Maju Jaya 1 in Bukit Mertajam. Go try the Hokkien Mee with their extras.

Koay Chap. There are many Koay Chap hawkers in Penang but the only hawker worth mentioning sells nightly from a stall in the middle of Kimberley Street. Just look out for the stall operators. You can't miss them. All of them are quite plump and round, no doubt a living testament to the quality of their own food. On the mainland, the stall at the Fresh Food Court in Nangka Road, off Song Ban Kheng Road in Bukit Mertajam, is worth a visit.

Koay Teow Th'ng. One of the better ones I've taken is at the Chai Leng Park market. Stall No. 14. It's served with slices of pig entrails, meat balls and minced meat. At night, I've been frequenting a stall along Kimberley Street quite often. Location is that short stretch of road between the Kimberley Street-Rope Walk and Kimberley Street-Cintra Street junctions. You can order pig intestines and chicken feet as side dishes.

Mee Goreng and Mee Rebus. The stall at the coffee shop at the Burmah Road-Bangkok Lane junction serves good Indian mee goreng and mee rebus. There's also one at the Mamak food court at Gurney Drive, claimed to be from Edgecumbe Road originally. For the more adventurous, try the Mee Kuah Ketam along the Kulim Road in Bukit Mertajam on the mainland. It's just before the junction to the Bukit Mertajam Country Club. This place is packed in the afternoons, except Fridays when it's closed!

Nasi Kandar. Unfortunately, nasi kandar is too commercialised today and many of the old-style Indian Muslim sellers are no longer around in the land of its origin. I wouldn't put too much emphasis on the stuff they cook. Nevertheless, among the most well-known is a place called Line Clear, in a lane off Penang Road, although its operation is now clouded by controversy over family disputes. One of the quaintest characters there is one of their elderly workers who can speak to you in Hokkien or Cantonese, depending on your inclination. But I can tell you that if you have wheels, go to Jelutong on the outskirts of the city and zoom in to the Deen Restaurant along the main road. The nasi kandar there is as original as they come. By the way, I wouldn't patronise the shop known as the Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar. On principal, I would avoid that place because I feel their prices are too high. 

Penang Laksa. People say the stall in Ayer Itam is the best but don't you ever believe it. It's one of those over-hyped hawker stuff. The soup smells heavenly but tastes quite bland. For me, I would prefer the stall along Lorong Selamat. It's garnished well and the Lemak variety is the best I've ever tasted in the city. Again if you have wheels, go to the new food court in Balik Pulau and search around for Stall No. 26. You won't be disappointed. And while you are still there, you can also go into Balik Pulau town and try the other laksa stalls there.

Po Piah. The best on the island so far is at the Padang Brown food centre. If you are on the mainland, do go the stall that's inside the one-storey coffee shop at the junction of Jalan Bunga Raya and Jalan Pasar in Bukit Mertajam. It's only available from 3pm until everything runs out! Others? I'm not very impressed but these two stalls makes me go crazy thinking about the po piah!

. Never had a strong liking for rojak but I'm quite partial towards this stall in Bukit Mertajam that's curiously called Rojak Orang Hitam Putih. Don't know why it's called that way, but the stall's located within the same coffee shop where you can find the Po Piah that I've described above. P.S. While you are there waiting for the food, order the local coffee. Now, that's my type of coffee: thick and delicious and guaranteed to keep you abuzz better than any expresso!

Wanthan Mee, or Tok Tok Mee from the sound of sellers knocking bamboo sticks together to draw attention to their ware. What used to be my favourite stall on the island is located at the first coffee shop you see on the right-hand side as you turn into China Street from Jalan Kapitan Kling mosque. It's available from 7am daily, except Sundays. On the mainland, one of the stalls at the Seberang Jaya food centre beside the Seberang Jaya wet market is worth a try. Especially, try their curry wanthan mee for a refreshing difference! Another wanthan mee stall of note on the mainland is in the coffee shop at the Jalan Rozhan-Jalan Impian junction almost diagonally across the road from the TESCO Bukit Mertajam outlet.

Yong Tau Foo. The only authentic Penang yong tau foo stall is located at the Padang Brown at the Anson Road-Perak junction. Others are poor imitations and there's really no competition for this stall. Try it for a memorable lunch or tea.