[Penang, Malaysia] Eats at the 𝗛𝗢𝗻 π—•π˜‚π˜€ π——π—²π—½π—Όπ˜ weekend market

Hin Bus Depot is Penang’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 Lim’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 there’s something β€œnew” each Sunday. But the food stalls seem to have a few β€œpopular” 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 - I’m not a fan of β€œkencur” 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 it’s meant for women, and has the kacip Fatimah root, which is traditionally taken by Malay women to increase their libido (I’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 π™Œπ™€π™€π™¦π™ž.π™˜π™€

Cappuccino almond flakes cookie from π™Œπ™€π™€π™¦π™ž.π™˜π™€

Caffeine hit from Rangoon!

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

One of the more interesting finds this time was Sonam & Ching’s charming little Tibetan pop-up called 𝙔𝙖𝙠 𝙔π™ͺ𝙒 𝙔π™ͺ𝙒. 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 β€œTua Sua Kah”, i.e., β€œthe Foot of the Big Hill".

I told them that it’s quite amazing that they could have met: Sonam, a man from β€œThe Roof of the World”, and Ching, a lass from β€œThe Foot of the Big Hill”. The warm, friendly couple had met as Facebook friends, before Ching decided to go and meet Sonam personally because, in her words, she β€œwanted to see if he was for π™§π™šπ™–π™‘β€! Well, that was 3 years ago, and here they are now, together in Penang.

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

  • π™Žπ™π™€π™œπ™€π™œ 𝙆𝙝𝙖𝙩𝙨𝙖 (Tibetan spiced potatoes) with 𝙉π™ͺ𝙒𝙩𝙧𝙖𝙠 π˜½π™–π™‘π™šπ™₯ (Tibetan fried bread):

  • Steamed chicken π™ˆπ™€π™’π™€ dumplings, with spicy tomato dip:

  • Fried beef π™ˆπ™€π™’π™€π™¨, 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 I’d expected, as I’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 𝙍𝙖𝙩π™ͺ π™π™šπ™£π™™π™–π™£π™œ π˜½π™žπ™™π™–π™£. Clad in a striking red, traditional ethnic Padang lacy kebaya, Surya cooked up 𝙗π™ͺ𝙛𝙛𝙖𝙑𝙀 π™§π™šπ™£π™™π™–π™£π™œ, served with green-hued π™ π™šπ™©π™ͺπ™₯𝙖𝙩 (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 Lemonade’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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It’s a huge commercial event, rather than a religious one, as Christians make up only 12% of the country’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. I’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 Year’s in 2012 and there were still many Christmas-y decorations around town.

One of the β€œbest” Christmases I’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, who’s half-Iban/half-Bidayuh - two of the largest tribes in his home state of Sarawak.

Whilst his forefathers may be headhunters, Julian’s more adept at producing Sarawak’s β€œstate dish” - 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 Julian’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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Bessarabsky Market, Kyiv. Ukraine
Credit: Juan Antonio Segal, Flickr