On my most recent trip, I arrived in Penang welcomed by rain clouds and an unexpected shower of irony. This was indeed the weekend of the Penang Marathon and slowly but surely, the city was filling with health conscious runners who made it so almost every affordable bed was taken in downtown Penang and elsewhere. They came from all over as far as Germany and others from further up the Malaysian coast.
Their presence was a stark contrast to Penang’s normally sleepy routine at this time year, just ahead of the year end good weather. But with a great number of places left unexplored in my previous eating excursions to the island, I arrived ready to embark on my own weekend marathon, running between hawker centers and the most popular nasi kandar hot spots.
Marathoner: So where do you like better for food, Thailand or Malaysia?
Dwight: Thailand, especially Bangkok and Chiang Mai for abundance and Malaysia (including Singapore) for choice.
As I marathon through Georgetown bumping into other food lovers — some actually there to participate in the running marathon — I’m repeatedly ask where I prefer to eat. This wasn’t my first trip to Penang (remember my obsession with ayam percik?) or my first time pondering the question. In fact, it reminds me of being in a heated twitter argument with the Eating Asia (great food writers and photographers) about which city in South East Asia had the best street food fare.
These days, however, instead of defending my first love Bangkok, I’ve learned to answer this question diplomatically. Of all the S.E. Asian nations, Malaysians and Singaporeans — and yes their expats, project the most fiercely passionate food nationalism. Many balloon headed Thais with their ultra-nationalism about EVERYTHING can be pretty unbearable too.
Me? I wish all of you would STFU.
I’m not trying to ruin dinner with such musings.
I’m so full from living in Bangkok and traveling about South East Asia, I’ve hardly the energy to debate anyone.
Yes, I’ve got my own opinions. I’m the first to hit the snooze button on char kway teeo and give a big wet kiss to hawkers dealing everything similar to mamak style rojak, sweet elusive idiyappam and will grub on nasi melayu in a parking lot, or under a tree— or with green eggs and ham if need be.
Yes that rhymes and if I continued on rhyming Dr. Seuss style, I could write bible sized volumes of prose about my love of things edible from Delhi to Manilla. But you won’t catch me waxing endlessly about the street food of any of these cities in preference to the other.
So forsake skinny people, tourists, and anyone else arguing at the table.