[Penang, Malaysia] Eats at the ๐—›๐—ถ๐—ป ๐—•๐˜‚๐˜€ ๐——๐—ฒ๐—ฝ๐—ผ๐˜ weekend market

Hin Bus Depot is Penangโ€™s premier arts & craft market, which opens every Sunday. Besides stalls featuring artworks & handicraft by local artists and sculptors, exhibitions and, performances, there is also a collection of food stalls offering a mix of local and international eats.

We were there last Sunday, the second day of Chinese New Year, and a short Teochew (Chaozhou) opera performance was held in conjunction with the festival.

It was close to lunch, so we tried a few food options there. One of the most popular stalls was the Penang asam laksa stall by 66-year-old Mr Lim Eng Seng, a genial retired civil servant who now makes an appearance at Hin Bus Depot every Sunday.

Mr Limโ€™s asam laksa is rice noodles, covered with a spicy-sour fish-based soup, garnished with fresh mint leaves, julienned pineapple, chopped torch ginger, red chilis, shredded Chinese lettuce leaves and chopped raw onions. The dish gets its piquancy from the addition of thick, strong-smelling fermented shrimp sauce - a Penang specialty.

Another popular stall there is the sourdough sandwich stall, which offered thick, richly-stuffed sandwiches - the most popular one is with sliced lamb.

There was also a Thai-run stall offering glutinous rice, with either sliced mango, or stuffed jackfruit. These were a bit disappointing as the glutinous rice was steamed plain, instead of infused with sweet coconut milk. The desserts were covered with coconut milk and sprinkled with crisped yellow lentils.

Another popular stall there is the Malay Nasi Lemak, run by Opah, a matronly Malay lady who cooked coconut milk-enriched rice, served with either fried chicken or a dry chicken rendang curry. Other accompaniments were crisp-fried anchovies, groundnuts, slices of fresh cucumber and hard-boiled egg - all standard nasi lemak sides.

Other Malay snacks offered included cucur badak - a favourite of mine: basically a toothsome, deep-fried sweet potato-based croquette, with a spicy grated coconut-dried shrimp, turmeric-infused filling.

The Malay dessert, onde-onde is worth a try - mochi-like boiled dumplings, scented with pandan leaves, which also gave them a green hue, covered with freshly-grated coconut. The onde-onde has molten Gula Melaka, or palm sugar, centres. The version here was quite average.

There is a traditional push-cart offering Malay-style pizzas. These are thin-crusted pizzas with localised toppings.

The caneles by a stall offering French baked goods were really good.

As it was Chinese New Year season, Mandarin oranges were offered gratis to all visitors last Sunday.

Hin Bus Depot opens every Sunday from 10.30am onwards, and stalls start closing after lunch, around 3pm.

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Are the food sellers professionals or hobbyists who like cooking?

All hobbyists. The owners of Hin Bus Depot also made sure that the stall-owners all basically sign-up on a weekly basis, eschewing term contracts. This ensures thereโ€™s something โ€œnewโ€ each Sunday. But the food stalls seem to have a few โ€œpopularโ€ regulars by now, e.g. the asam laksa and nasi lemak stalls, plus one stall that sells absolutely kickass ginger beer. :joy:

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I was back at Hin Bus Depot this Sunday morning, trying to catch any exciting new stalls. There were quite a few - one of them being Cangkir, run by amiable couple, Tatiana and Ash, offering jamu - Javanese herbal tonic drinks.

They had 3 types of jamu to choose from:

I tried #1 Kunyit Asam, which had a pronounced sourish tang, reminiscent of a gentle lemonade or Japanese yuzu; and #3 Beras Kencur, which had the heat from old ginger root, but quite nutty/milky in flavour - Iโ€™m not a fan of โ€œkencurโ€ or sand ginger, but the combination of other herbs seemed to negate the scent of this particular herb which I always tried to avoid.
Very pleasant, refreshing drinks, served chilled.

I avoided taking #2 Sari Rapat, as itโ€™s meant for women, and has the kacip Fatimah root, which is traditionally taken by Malay women to increase their libido (Iโ€™d never bothered to find out its effect on a man)!

The market was quieter than before the pandemic lockdowns - but with 95% of the adult population in Penang now being fully-vaccinated, things are slowly moving again.

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Almond cookie with peanut butter filling from ๐™Œ๐™ค๐™ค๐™ฆ๐™ž.๐™˜๐™ค

Cappuccino almond flakes cookie from ๐™Œ๐™ค๐™ค๐™ฆ๐™ž.๐™˜๐™ค

Caffeine hit from Rangoon!

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Brought a couple of visiting friends from Kuala Lumpur to Hin Bus Depot, as theyโ€™d heard so much about this bustling weekend market. Also took the opportunity to check out more interesting eats there - thereโ€™s always something new to discover despite oneโ€™s frequent (weekly) visits.

One of the more interesting finds this time was Sonam & Chingโ€™s charming little Tibetan pop-up called ๐™”๐™–๐™  ๐™”๐™ช๐™ข ๐™”๐™ช๐™ข. The Tibetan husband-Penangite wife team was proof that love can transcend borders, cross oceans and even ascend the highest mountains: Chepubu Sonam is from Lhasa, Tibet, whilst Goh Ching Wee is a true-blue Penangite from the town of Bukit Mertajam, known to local Penangites as โ€œTua Sua Kahโ€, i.e., โ€œthe Foot of the Big Hill".

I told them that itโ€™s quite amazing that they could have met: Sonam, a man from โ€œThe Roof of the Worldโ€, and Ching, a lass from โ€œThe Foot of the Big Hillโ€. The warm, friendly couple had met as Facebook friends, before Ching decided to go and meet Sonam personally because, in her words, she โ€œwanted to see if he was for ๐™ง๐™š๐™–๐™กโ€! Well, that was 3 years ago, and here they are now, together in Penang.

What we got from their pop-up stall today were:

  • ๐™Ž๐™๐™ค๐™œ๐™ค๐™œ ๐™†๐™๐™–๐™ฉ๐™จ๐™– (Tibetan spiced potatoes) with ๐™‰๐™ช๐™ข๐™ฉ๐™ง๐™–๐™  ๐˜ฝ๐™–๐™ก๐™š๐™ฅ (Tibetan fried bread):

  • Steamed chicken ๐™ˆ๐™ค๐™ข๐™ค dumplings, with spicy tomato dip:

  • Fried beef ๐™ˆ๐™ค๐™ข๐™ค๐™จ, with pickled radish & carrot, and a yoghurt dip. These were oblong deep-fried potato croquettes, with spiced minced beef filling. Absolutely scrumptious:

Everything tasted so much better than Iโ€™d expected, as Iโ€™m more familiar with Nepali food, another Himalayan cuisine which is similar to, but not quite the same as, Tibetan food. I have to go back another weekend to try other stuff they offer.

The other interesting food offering was by Surya of ๐™๐™–๐™ฉ๐™ช ๐™๐™š๐™ฃ๐™™๐™–๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐˜ฝ๐™ž๐™™๐™–๐™ฃ. Clad in a striking red, traditional ethnic Padang lacy kebaya, Surya cooked up ๐™—๐™ช๐™›๐™›๐™–๐™ก๐™ค ๐™ง๐™š๐™ฃ๐™™๐™–๐™ฃ๐™œ, served with green-hued ๐™ ๐™š๐™ฉ๐™ช๐™ฅ๐™–๐™ฉ (compressed rice cakes). Her red chili sambal sauce was the killer: spicy-sweet & aromatic, and which raised the overall dish to another level.

The market is beginning to take on a festive atmosphere in the run-up to Christmas.

Syasya of Gadis Lemonadeโ€™s cool lemonade was god-sent on a warm, sunny Sunday.

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Is Christmas widely celebrated in Malaysia?

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Itโ€™s a huge commercial event, rather than a religious one, as Christians make up only 12% of the countryโ€™s population.

But everyone gets into the act here when it comes to Christmas celebrations - the malls are all decked up, and 20% of all retail sales take place during this time of the year.

Even the Jawi House here, a popular Muslim restaurant (Jawi Peranakans are of Malay-Persian-Afghan-Pakistani ethnicities) gets into the act with its Christmas dinner offerings:

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In the context of SEA, I remember visiting Thailand for the first time many years ago around Western holiday time and being amused by the Christmas trees/decorations. Iโ€™m sure it was partly to appease Western tourists but also an adoption of Western holidays in a secular way. We were in Singapore over New Yearโ€™s in 2012 and there were still many Christmas-y decorations around town.

One of the โ€œbestโ€ Christmases Iโ€™d ever had in living memory was in Bangkok - unlike in Singapore or Malaysia where Christmas is a public holiday, it was an ordinary working day in Thailand. So, we booked ourselves a table with a view at the gorgeous Erawan Tea Room for Christmas Day brunch.

We were one of only 2 or 3 tables occupied at that time, as it was a working day. In Singapore, Christmas season can be noisy, with crowded malls and restaurants, as everyone scrambled around with last-minute buys or year-end get-togethers with friends or work colleagues. Here the Erawan Tea Room in Bangkok, it was peace & serenity all round.

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From Borneo, the Land of the Headhunters, came mild-mannered, bespectacled Julian Frederick, whoโ€™s half-Iban/half-Bidayuh - two of the largest tribes in his home state of Sarawak.

Whilst his forefathers may be headhunters, Julianโ€™s more adept at producing Sarawakโ€™s โ€œstate dishโ€ - the delicious Sarawak laksa: rice noodles steeped in a deliciously-spiced chicken broth, and garnished with poached shrimps, strips of chicken-meat and egg omelette. Served with a squeeze of lime, it was absolutely addictive.

The aroma coming out of Julianโ€™s pot of laksa broth was absolutely intoxicating, like a cloud of deliciousness that enveloped anyone nearby and drew us into ordering it.

No regrets!

One can also grab a host of other interesting bites there, from Keto-friendly snacks & bakes to fresh oysters & rice wine cocktails.

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Hin Bus Depot came alive last month with the sing-song chatter of Thai, and the aromas of Thai cooking. It was the Into the Thai Food Festival, organized by the Thai community in Penang.

These were what we bought for lunch - just a small sample of the vast array of Thai foodstuff available there:

๐™‹๐™–๐™™ ๐™๐™๐™–๐™ž - the classic, ubiquitous Thai fried noodle dish introduced by Field Marshall Plaek Phibunsongkhram in the 1940s.

๐™‚๐™ช๐™–๐™ฎ ๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™š๐™ฌ ๐™ง๐™š๐™ช๐™– or boat noodles - noodles in spiced beef broth. This dish got its name from where it was sold originally: from small boats plying the canals of Pathum Thani.

๐™‚๐™ช๐™–๐™ฎ ๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™š๐™ฌ ๐™ง๐™š๐™ช๐™– - the spicy โ€œboat noodlesโ€, replete with toasted chili powder.

๐™Ž๐™–๐™ ๐™ช ๐™จ๐™–๐™ž ๐™œ๐™–๐™ž - steamed tapioca dumplings filled with ground chicken-meat and crushed peanuts.

Thai-style soy-braised chicken, egg, chicken feet, mushroom and gizzards.

๐™†๐™๐™–๐™ค ๐™จ๐™ค๐™ž ๐™œ๐™–๐™ž - Northern Thai coconut curry noodles with chicken.

๐™†๐™๐™–๐™ค ๐™จ๐™ค๐™ž ๐™œ๐™–๐™ž uses two types of noodles: egg noodles submerged in the curry sauce, garnished with crispy noodles on top. Pickled mustard stems and leaves are provided, to cut through the rich, milky curry.

The desserts stall:

๐™๐™ค๐™ž ๐™ฉ๐™๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™œ - golden egg-yolk threads. This popular Thai dessert was introduced by Portuguese-Eurasian royal chef, Maria Guyomar de Pinha, to the Siamese court in the 17th-century. Itโ€™s adapted from the Portuguese ๐˜ง๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ด ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฐ๐˜ด dessert.

๐™‡๐™ช๐™  ๐™˜๐™๐™ช๐™ฅ โ€“ mashed mung beans coated in gelatin.

๐™‡๐™ช๐™  ๐™˜๐™๐™ช๐™ฅ are shaped and tinted to resemble tiny replicas of various types of fruits & vegetables.

๐™๐™ช๐™— ๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ข ๐™œ๐™ง๐™ค๐™— - Thai โ€œred rubiesโ€ dessert of water-chestnuts coated in red-tinted tapioca starch, served in iced, sweetened coconut milk, with jackfruit strips.

Everything tasted so good - freshly prepared, and with the home-cooking flavours one usually finds in special pop-up food fairs where the purveyors are home cooks and hobbyists out to show off their specialty dishes.

Canโ€™t believe the two of us actually ate all these!

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Wow - what a spread. It all looks delicious. Thanks for showing us!

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When food is good, greed is easy.

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True! :joy:

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So much deliciousness!

Curious - is pad thai very sweet there as well? I donโ€™t know if what Iโ€™ve eaten in the US is extra sweet because theyโ€™re adjusting to local palate, or itโ€™s meant to be that way.

Intrigued by the steamed tapioca dumplings โ€“ in India we have fried tapioca fritters that are delicious, but the stickiness from extra moisture is to be avoided. Often crushed peanuts are used to prevent the tapioca balls sticking too much.

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Pad Thai isnt overly sweet in the UK. Usually a good balance between sweet, salty and sour.

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I found the pad Thai I had in Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles, to be very sweet, much sweeter than Iโ€™d have liked. But Iโ€™d had โ€œtoo sweetโ€ pad Thai in some places in Bangkok as well. As one of its key ingredients is palm sugar, I guess it all depends on the chef.

Thais prefer much sweeter flavours than the Chinese, Hongkongers, Singaporeans or Malaysians, so our local renditions of the pad Thai have largely dialled down on the sweetness, besides the chili-heat.

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Yes, the British renditions of the pad Thai have a good balance of flavours. But the sweetness has been reduced to suit the British palate - native Thai sweetness level can be a bit extreme for most other food cultures.

Within the Thaisโ€™ own backyard, only the Cambodians trumped the Thais in terms of their usage of sugar. Iโ€™d had โ€œsweeter-than-usualโ€ soup noodles in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and, when I mentioned that to my local Vietnamese colleagues, theyโ€™d point accusingly at the vendors, saying โ€œAh, that is because they are CAMBODIANS! Too sweet! Too sweet!โ€ :joy: :joy: :joy:

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The latest hotspot at Hin Bus Depot is Danish by Danish bakery, manned by the Danish father-and-son duo, Erik and Johannes Lund, who are passionate bakers.

The origin of Danish pastries has always fascinated me ever since I read about it many years back, how a strike by local bakery workers in 1850 caused the bakery owners to bring in bakers from abroad, amongst them Austrian bakers.

That something so delicious was actually a result of business owners bringing in strikebreakers seemed so controversial and implausible. But thatโ€™s how the story goes.

Interestingly, Danish pastries are called โ€œwienerbrรธdโ€ (Vienna bread) in Denmark, and also in neighbouring Norway and Sweden, in a nod to its Austrian origins.

Over here at Hin Bus Depot yesterday, we tried:
:small_orange_diamond: ๐—ฆ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ด๐—น - cinnamon roll, named after its โ€œsnail-likeโ€ shape.

:small_orange_diamond: ๐—ฆ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐˜‚๐—ฒ๐—ฟ - the best-known Danish pastry, with its trademark custard centre. The name comes from Berlinโ€™s Spandau prison which, to Danish bakers, resembled the shape of the elevated pastry.

:small_orange_diamond: ๐—™๐—ฟรธ๐˜€๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—ฝ๐—ฝ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ - a traditional Danish pastry lathered with remonce (a thick paste thatโ€™s equal parts sugar and butter), then sprinkled with poppyseeds & white sesame seeds.

:small_orange_diamond: ๐—–๐—ต๐—ผ๐—ธ๐—ผ๐—น๐—ฎ๐—ฑ๐—ฒ ๐—•๐—ผ๐—น๐—น๐—ฒ - a round pastry topped with a smear of chocolate.

All were excellent, and quite likely the best Danish pastries on the island. A queue would form the moment the Lunds open for business at 10.30am. They usually sell out by noon!

The Lunds also have their own permanent bakery (for take-outs only) on Presgrave Street, near the intersection with McNair Road.

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Back at Hin Bus Depot this morning, this time to catch Julian Frederickโ€™s Sarawak laksa, the best Iโ€™d ever tasted outside Borneo!

The aroma from wafting the pot of bubbling Sarawak laksa broth was intoxicating. Julian used a deep-flavored chicken and prawn broth, to which he added the complex blend of Bornean spices which we do not have a substitute for in West Malaysia.

Julianโ€™s Sarawak laksa is the most authentic and best-tasting Iโ€™ve come across here. To get any better, one has to fly all the way to the Land of the Headhunters! Julianโ€™s garnishes for the rice noodle were the standard ones: par-boiled, shredded chicken, de-shelled shrimps, julienned egg omelette, beansprouts and cilantro.

A nearby lemonade stand run by the indefatigable Swee Yuen offered iced honey-passionfruit and honey-lemon concoctions that were perfect to complement the slow-burn of the Sarawak laksa spices.

Hin Bus Depot truly is the happiest on the island on any given weekend:

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