Friday, February 27, 2015

The Wet Market Chicken Stall

"Visit a local market" is an oft heard piece of advice when traveling internationally. It's a great way to take a peek into the daily life a local. For many visitors to Penang's Pulau Tikus Wet Market, also known as "The Rich Wives Market," the tour starts off pleasantly enough. The din of hundreds of customers and vendors echoes through the air, and there are plenty of exotic fruits and vegetables to ooh and ahh over. The fragrant, vividly hued blooms at the flower stall just beg to be photographed. Everyone is having a jolly good time.

Then....they come upon the chicken stall.

A chicken is weighed before being slaughtered.

For anyone who does all their shopping at a grocery store, the chicken stall is an eye-opener. If you're used to getting your chicken out of a refrigerated case on a styrofoam tray neatly wrapped in plastic film, the wet market chicken stall hits you over the head with the reality of how chickens end up on the plate in Penang. This realization left one visitor I was with standing there stunned with her mouth hanging wide open and a look of abject horror in her eyes. (Don't worry. No bloody photos ahead.)

There was something extra tragic about a living, breathing bird being weighed on a scale surrounded by members of his flock who had only recently been bled out and plucked. Did she fathom that she was about to share their fate?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ghee Hiang Biscuits, a Penang Food Souvenir

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy New Year!

Chinese New Year is once again upon us. It's time for visiting family back in the home town, nightly fireworks, celebrating with friends, and giving lots and lots of gifts. While a hong bao (red envelope) filled with money is always welcome, food gifts are a nice touch, especially if it's the local specialty. Paris has its macarons. Belgium has its chocolates. Penang has Ghee Hiang pastry biscuits. I always bring these back to Texas with me. If I don't, my mom is sure to give me a hard time about it. (Hi mom!) She says they remind her of the Chinese pastries she enjoyed growing up in the Philippines.

An assortment of biscuits from Ghee Hiang

First of all, Ghee Hiang has nothing to do with the clarified butter used in Indian cooking, in case if you were wondering.

The bakery started in 1856 when a pastry chef from Fujian province in China moved to Penang. Back then, hundreds of Southern Chinese immigrants were moving to what was then called Malaya to work in it tin mining and rubber production. It's grown over the decades to become a popular Penang bakery.

Supposedly, people from other towns always ask someone to bring them back some Ghee Hiang biscuits if they hear that a visit to Penang is coming up. The queue can get quite long if it's a busy travel season because Ghee Hiang biscuits are the perfect Penang food souvenir since you can't bring the street food back with you. (If you're headed back to the USA, note that US Customs really, really frowns on bringing in bak kua, Malaysian pork jerky. I found that one out the hard way, so strike that from your food souvenir list.) Ghee Hiang even offers pretty gift sets with an assortment of biscuits packaged nicely in what turned out to be a very heavy cardboard suitcase.



Tau Sar Pneah biscuits

Their most popular item is the Tau Sar Pneah biscuits. You might even say that it's one of Penang's legendary foods. My mom can't stop raving about them. A fluffy pastry encases a filling made of ground mung beans, sugar, fried onions, lard and salt. It's a little sweet with a hint of savory flavor from the onions. I used to eat a similar pastry when I was a kid and could never figure out why it reminded me of meat. Now, I know that it was the onions I was tasting.


Beh Teh Saw biscuits

Because I have a bit of a sweet tooth, my favorite biscuits are the Beh Teh Saw. The outer crust is unbelievably flaky with a few sesame seeds sprinkled on top. It's definitely something to eat over a plate unless you want to be cleaning up after yourself with a broom. On Chinese New Year, that's a big no-no because you'll sweep away all your good fortune! Inside, there's gooey molasses filling that also has a bit of fried onion in it. To be honest, hubby finds this flavor combination incomprehensible. Perhaps the taste is better suited to an Asian palate instead of one conditioned by years eating ultra sugary American sweets. I like it, so I figure I don't have to worry about sharing. More for me!


Almond Cookies

I also like the Ghee Hiang Oriental Almond Cookies. That's an understatement. I absolutely adore them and could probably eat the entire box in one sitting. These are some of the best I've had. I usually buy just one cookie whenever I go to Ghee Hiang, and it never seems to make it all the way home with me. All that's left are crumbs in the car.



Statues of the Ghee Hiang baby mascots at the Macalister Road location.

Ghee Hiang has four locations in Penang. One is a walk-up window along busy Burma Road. Another is in historic George Town on Beach Street. My favorite location is the one on Macalister Road because it has a private car park, and you can look through a window from the shop to the bakery to see the pastries being made. If you're in Kuala Lumpur, there's a branch in Hutong Village, Lot 10.

See the Ghee Hiang website for a complete list of locations and products. You can also order online.

Umm, now I'm kinda hungry after writing all this. Thank goodness I have some Ghee Hiang biscuits in my kitchen!

Do you have a favorite food souvenir? Have you tried Ghee Hiang biscuits?



This post is part of the following link-ups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.




Thursday, January 29, 2015

Finding Hope in the Streets of Cambodia

Growing up, I never thought I'd visit Cambodia which was called "Kampuchea" back in the days when I still had to take Geography quizzes. Reports of horrible genocide dotted the news, and the award winning movie, The Killing Fields, loomed large in my formative years. Even after the Khmer Rouge's rule ended, they left the legacy of a decimated population and a maze of landmines throughout the country. It was the furthest place from a vacation spot that I could imagine.

438 anti-personnel mines and 809 unexploded ornances (UXOs) cleared from around Beng Mealea temple
The work is still ongoing.
Dogs are trained to detect them... and stop before triggering an explosion. 


Gradually though, the country has begun to heal itself. Instead of death and destruction, people come expecting to experience the wonders of the ancient Angkor temples. The Kingdom of Cambodia, as it's now officially called, has seen tourism grow by roughly 20% each year. I definitely feel that if I go back, visiting the temples will be a different, more crowded, experience. Comparing my trip to photos I saw in other blogs' posts, the temples are in the process of being superficially altered to handle bigger crowds — like adding boardwalk paths to keep visitors out of the mud and also control where they wander. It's getting harder to feel like Indiana Jones.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cambodian Snack Food: Bamboo Sticky Rice

It's Girl Scout Cookie time where I live in Texas. When we moved back this summer from Malaysia, I was so grateful that an existing Girl Scout troop was able to squeeze in my daughter that I uttered the words, "I will do anything to help." That, in short, is how I ended up being the Cookie Mom, the person who coordinates this fundraiser for our troop. If you're not familiar with Girl Scout cookies, they are only available in an area for 4-6 weeks, and they are HUGELY popular, especially Thin Mints. Girls sell them at booths outside stores on the weekends, and some parents sell them at work. American expats in Malaysia will hopefully ask that friends send a few boxes over. Even hardcore foodies who have sworn off all processed foods make an exception for Girl Scout Cookies.

To get my mind off of American cookies, I am turning my thoughts to Cambodian snacks.

You've heard of street food. What about highway food? The highway between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is lined with stands selling Krolan (Bamboo Sticky Rice).  It's very similar to a dish I've seen in Thailand and Malaysia. The smoke rising up from the charcoal brazier is what first caught my eye, and then I noticed what initially looked like scrolls of parchment paper in baskets on tables. No one seemed to have a very big operation, but the stands were plentiful.

Friday, January 16, 2015

I Couldn't Believe They Carried That on a Motorcycle

One thing that always amazed me about Asia was what people carried on the back of a motorcycle.

Some things don't give me much pause. A passenger on back? People in Texas do that all the time. Although, a Buddhist monk as the passenger is something I've never seen in the USA.

A Buddhist monk (Cambodia)

I sometimes see whole families including kids and even babies all sharing one bike. Coming from Texas where kids are required by law to sit in a car booster seat until they are 8-years-old, this type of sight was hard for me to get accustomed to. I get it, though. Cars are expensive, and for a lot of families in Asia, one motorcycle is the only way to get the whole family around town.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Have you tried Fresh Nutmeg?

I used to think of nutmeg as just an aromatic, brown, powdered spice that I added to my Christmas cookies and desserts. The smell of it brings to mind the image of festive holiday decorations, presents under the tree, and sipping eggnog by a roaring fire. Tasting it is like jumping headfirst into a Currier and Ives print.

Then, I moved to Malaysia and discovered fresh nutmeg. It tastes fruity and light — nothing like the spice. I love nutmeg juice which is a refreshing antidote to heat and humidity. It's a treat you should make sure you try if you visit Penang island. While it's not native to Malaysia, nutmeg trees were cultivated in Penang in the late 18th century by the British East India company as a way to expand their lucrative spice trade.

Nutmeg fruit

Today's guest post is written by 13-year-old Sean K. and photographed by 11-year-old Isaac K., two of the wonderful Malaysian kids I met while living in Penang. Their family and some friends toured the small, family-run Ghee Hup Nutmeg Farm and factory, and I asked them to share their visit with you.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Look Back Around the Globe in 2014

This Christmas finds me at my parents' house. In all my years of traveling, being married, having my own family, and living overseas, I almost always seem to find myself in my childhood home during the holidays. In fact, I've only been away from my mama on Christmas once in my entire life. No matter how far away I go, I also come full circle and end up where I began.

What a year it's been. Here's a look back at our 2014.


Orlando, Florida — Walt Disney World and Universal Studios

Cinderella's Castle, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Visiting Disney World during the off season is a dream come true for hubby. We honeymooned here decades ago in June when it was hot, humid and crowded. You may find it hard to believe, but the kids have never missed a single hour of school due to traveling. With that family policy in place, hitting Florida theme parks when the crowds are low is difficult. This year was finally our big chance because school didn't resume until mid-January. Score!
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