Walking around in the heat of Penang this November had me wishing for a touch of the rainy season. The sun was unrelenting and it seemed so was the Malaysian side walk I wandered which was uneven, causing me to trip and stub my toe several times.
I would later come to be healed of my sun burn and painful minor injuries after stumbling exhausted into a parking lot off of Jalan Burma to find I’d been surrounded by lunch time food trucks. They service the workers in the buildings in the area and I imagine even the folks in the kitchens of the nearby Thai restaurants venture out for a parking lot plate of nasi melayu.
Nasi melayu is the ‘kow gaeng’ (the Thai equivalent) of Malaysia, where food is served up cafeteria style and you’re charged based on how you load your plate with what’s on offer. This type of eating can be intimidating, but if you venture down to this corner you’ll not only get a taste of what the locals love, but you may also have a chance to chat up the friendly Malays working the stalls or stoping by to grab meals. Yes, even chatting up the other folks standing around can be quite fun in places like Malaysia where a high percentage of the population is fairly serious about their eats.
“Painted my fingernails for $2 with 3 curries, 1 chicken wing, 1 fish, 1 sheet of wax paper on 2 flimsy plates buckling under the pressure! #napkinsareforwimps”
There’s a few drink carts in the parking lot serving, for example, freshly ground sugar car juice and soya milk. However, when you arrive it’ll be quite clear, even in a parking lot surrounded by restaurants who’s the star of the show. A humble muslim man with a genuine smile, who’s happy to pile you up a paper plate until the weight of the rice and curries begin to fold and contort the plate.
If you want your meal to go, he’s happy to wrap it up in wax paper and then newspaper for you. If you’re like me and want it in your face immediately, you’ll grab your overweight plate and scurry to find anywhere you can sit and devour it all. Nevermind the people judging you as their cars are caught in traffic nearby. Nevermind the three different curries and pile of sambal which have come to coat your nails and some sort of culinary finger paint. Nevermind the absence of napkins, heat, and aforementioned injuries—- it’s grubbing time!
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