Friday, 11 September 2015

Street food in food street

About a month ago, I was given a copy of this delightful 22-page booklet, A Quick Guide To Butterworth. I say delightful because for the first time, someone has taken the trouble to pen something down about the charms of this town which sits on the opposite side of the Channel from Penang's island capital, George Town.

Butterworth used to be busier in the past but with more of the Penang mainland opening up to housing and industries - towards the southern part of Province Wellesley where the second Penang bridge is impacting development in a big way - Butterworth has quieten down somehow.

The Butterworth Outer Ring Road which skirts round the town's seafront seems to have caused the old part of the town to become more deserted as the ring road cuts off easy access to the sea. I've been hearing tales about how the area around the Sree Maha Mariamman Devasthanam Temple has become a hotbed for gangsterism. I can't confirm this and I can only hope that I am wrong.

But for two days on the 15th and 16th of August, that old, quiet part of Butterworth, with the focus on Jalan Jeti Lama, came alive for the experimental Butterworth Fringe Festival, an off-shoot of the month-long George Town Festival on the island.

As to be expected, Joe Sidek was in the thick of all the activities. Basically, he remains the man responsible for bringing a bit of culture to Penang, and now from the island to the mainland as well. I was there for the simple opening ceremony by the Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, and then did my short walkabout before disappearing for a quick Lor Mee lunch.

Butterworth sure has attractions of its own. It must be realised that the other end of the Penang ferry services is located here. Where else do you board the ferry if not from the Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal? Here is also the point where the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTMB) train services end, bringing travellers from the north and south to Butterworth before crossing over to the island.

There is also the Penang Port, which is the oldest port in the country, dating back to the days of the British colonial period. To the north and south of the ferry terminal are the North Butterworth Container Terminal, the Butterworth Deep Water Wharves and the Prai Bulk Cargo Terminal. Unfortunately, the Penang Port has lost a lot of its shine. Due to deliberate emphasis by the federal government elsewhere, the volume of cargo handled here pales when compared to both Port Klang and Port of Tanjong Pelepas.

I'm not going to write a lot of Butterworth's attractions, seeing how anyone can pick up a copy of this book from various centres around the town, but I just want to mention that Jalan Raja Uda is now possibly the new focal point of growth for the town.

So much has changed along this road in the past 20 years. It used to be a two-lane throughway but it has now be expanded to four lanes. Along some stretches of this road, there are even six lanes for traffic which never stops. Three-storey commercial buildings line along this road.

The wide availability of food at all hours of the day and night is probably what makes Jalan Raja Uda better known for.

There must be at least three large food courts along the 3.5-kilometre long road. Apart from them, there are countless hawker stalls by the roadside selling the popular range of street food that one can also find on the island.

Char koay teow, hokkien mee, curry mee, popiah, koay teow th'ng, char koay kak .... whatever one is craving for, it can be found here. To me, Jalan Raja Uda is the Food Street of Butterworth. Period.

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