It had been a long and eventful month for MFF Penang and it is with mixed feelings that it has finally come to an end. The few weeks prior to June was particularly gruelling, having no clue on what to cook and what to present. Like the other MFF events, whipping up dishes for Penang MFF provided an opportunity for me to get to know more, not only about the food in Penang but also the people behind them.
A big thank you to one and all who has taken the time to come up with these delectable dishes. Many of you like Cynthia, Amie, Lena, Phong Hong, Cindy, Doreen, Mary … etc shown great support by whipping up multiple dishes. The event also drew the attention of several Penangites who had expressed interest or shown concern over the authenticity of the dishes prepared. Well, the objective of MFF is to promote the awareness of some of these localised dishes, some of which are already dying in the trade as we speak. While staying true to the originality of the actual dish is important, it is not of utmost priority… at least not for me. What was more important, is the effort put in and willingness to try, despite the need to venturing into unfamiliar and undulating terrain to prepare dishes which one has never tried before, both in cooking and in eating. So kudos to you all! Now you can really say that you’d been there and done that!
Penang is literally a food paradise! And for many, one of the main highlights of Penang cuisine is its street food. A walk down some of the roads and alleys in Penang and one would be easily led by the nose quite literally, to a hawker stall or two showcasing some of the finest which Penang has to offer. Many of these hawker stalls are not permanent fixtures within a certain kopitiam or kedai, but merely makeshift carts driven around by motorcycles they are attached to, as their “chefs on wheels” peddle their signature dishes from place to place. Seemingly nomadic but in fact, true Penang foodies are in the know of the precise whereabouts of some of these famous stalls, i.e. at a particular junction between a certain “Lorong” and a certain “Jalan” in the daytime, or at which corner of a particular “pasar malam” by night. It could be rojak, laksa, or hokkien mee, but one thing remains a common trait amongst these street food stalls. They rely not on media publicity to draw attention and create awareness on their existence, but solely by word of mouth, through folks who share their gastronomic experiences at these stalls to their relatives, who in turn told their friends, who in turn told their neighbours. Many of them have only one item on their menu, bearing sharp contrast to what hotel buffets and established restaurant joints boast about. But for that one thing they do, they do it best.
This month’s Malaysian Food Fest brings us to Penang! To date, MFF has brought us on a virtual culinary tour to almost all the states in Malaysia. As we come almost to an end of this long journey, it is time for us to pay a long due visit to this beautiful island found on the northern tip of the Straits of Malacca.
“Modern” history of Penang stretches back almost half a millenium ago when it was part of the Kedah Sultanate that was ruled by the Siamese overlords who named the island Koh Maak to mean “Areca nut palm Island” in Thai. Admiral 郑和 Cheng Ho from the Ming Dynasty then pinned this place as 槟榔屿 on his maps, the Chinese equivalent of its Thai name, when his entourage passed through the Malay Peninsula as they set sail for the west. This formed the basis of its name in Malay “Pulau Pinang” which was later anglicised to become “Penang” as we know it today.