If you are following me on Instagram, you would have noticed all the mouth watering pictures of Penang local food with Hennessy X.O I have posted over the weekends last week. A friend mentioned that during that few days, he thought he was following just me alone as I have been flooding his timeline.
In my previous post, I’ve mentioned that I will be heading to Penang Island for Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows Pre-Event Food Tasting with Chef Michael Han. You can read about it in here. So to say, the upcoming heavy uploading of yummilicious food pictures in Penang is to be expected. During the 24 hours in Penang, I uploaded approximately 55 pictures on Instagram. It wasn’t that many, on average of 2 pictures in an hour only [You can search for them with the hashtags of #hennessyXO #hennessyXO2012penang #takepicha]
As soon as we got on board in the coach prepared to bring us around Penang Island for Hennessy X.O food tasting, we were given a cup of Kacang Putih (Chickpea in Malay) a type of local snacks. The beans are roasted/baked with salt. Although it was left open in the air the entire day, the beans still remain fresh and crunchy.
While on our way to fetch Chef Michael Han (Singaporean Chef of FiftyThree) from the hotel and snacking on Kacang Putih, our tour guide gave a brief story telling about the histories of Penang. It was a fun-filled facts and I have just added a few A++ knowledge in my brain.
- Did you know that Penang Island used to be part of the sultanate of Kedah? Since then, Penang State Government has been paying Sultan of Kedah RM18,800 as an annual honorarium (like a form of rent, just saying). When asked why RM18,800, the guide jokingly said that like the Chinese beliefs, the figure 8 is considered the most auspicious number.
- Did you know that British came to Penang and conquer the island from 1786 to 1957? And then, they returned in 2000 as Tesco.
- Did you know that Penang Island used to have different names before they finally settled with Pulau Pinang? Among them are Pulo Pinaom, Pulau Kesatu, Prince of Wales Island, etc.. I still like the latter one. So Ang Moh.
In the year 1867, the first Hennessy shipment to Malaysia landed in Penang. Hence, the Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows Event 2012 to be held in Penang in part commemorates the heritage of Hennessy X.O cognac in Malaysia. And thus, the journey of Hennessy X.O Food Tasting with Chef Michael Han in Penang began.
#1 Famous Assam Laksa @ Joo Hooi Cafe, Penang Road
Our first stop was at Joo Hooi Cafe on Penang Road. Penang Laksa is the most famous hawker food in Penang and is also the most favourite food among the locals. I learned that this stall has been operating for 40 years already! To date, the business is operated by the second generation of the family.
Penang Laksa is very different from Sarawak Laksa, where I came from. Penang laksa is fish based soup whereas Sarawak Laksa is prawn based soup. Likewise, the tastes are also very different. However, comparing the two, Penang Laksa has stronger taste and flavours.
These are the steps to prepare a bowl of Penang Laksa. First, the bowl of thick rice vermicelli is run through with the first pot of soup, and then later, added with the thick soup from the second pot.
Once the rice vermicelli has gone through the hot bath, it is garnished with finely sliced onions, cucumber, pineapple, lettuce, mint and pink bunga kantan (ginger buds).
This bowl of temptation is served with a spoonful of Heiko (prawn paste) for those who prefer the addition of stronger fishy flavour.
Although Chef Michael is from Singapore, he is no stranger to Penang flavours as his nanny was from Penang. He grew up with “a steady diet of Penang Laksa”. Today, he enjoys his bowl of Penang Laksa with a glass of Hennessy X.O on the rocks.
Yours truly enjoyed her bowl of Penang Laksa as well.
Before leaving, Chef Michael had a chance to hands-on in preparing a bowl of Penang Laksa.
To feed our curiousity, we added some Hennessy X.O into Assam Laksa just to find out what this combination would taste like. Turns out, it’s a pretty good combo!
#2 Ais Kacang & Pai Tee @ New World Park
Next on, our second stop was at New World Park. I’ve heard a lot about this place. This is one place where you can find among some of the famous Penang hawker food under one roof – ie: Char Koay Teow, Fried Oyster, Wanton Mee, Assam Laksa, Curry Mee, Ais Kacang and many more.
Here, we had the Lee Brothers famous Ais Kacang (Ice shaved desserts) and Pai Tee (Top Hat) from another stall.
Ais Kacang (Ice Shaved Dessert) has always been the locals’ favourite of all time especially with our Malaysian climate of Summer whole year round. The shaved ice is topped with red beans, grass jelly, corn, atap chi (palm fruit) and then generously showered with syrup, creamer and black sugar.
What amaze me is that this bowl of Ais Kacang is served on a plate. From where I came from, normally Ais Kacang is served in a bowl.
In this trip, Cheng Yi adds Hennessy X.O in all his food as a way to express Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows
Perhaps, we’ll get something similar from Chef Michael Han after this? Instead of adding sweet rose syrup, maybe switch it to Hennessy X.O special syrup?
Pai Tee (Top Hats) is a popular Nyonya snacks. The crispy flour mold looks like an upside down top hat (which explains why it’s also known as top hat) is filled with shredded sweet turnip, carrot, egg, fried shallots and peanuts. They always say that great things come in small packages, so is the Pai Tee. With just one mouthful, you can feel the whole Pai Tee explodes in one bite. The crispy skin, fillings and the sauce in it just blends everything altogether. Yums!
#3 Nasi Kandar @ Line Clear Restaurant, Penang Road
As the clock strikes noon, which is also the lunch hour, we headed to our third stop at Line Clear Restaurant on Penang Road for Nasi Kandar. Nasi Kandar originates from Penang and henceforth, it is included in this Food Tasting Trip. Line Clear is a very famous Nasi Kandar restaurant and there is no need for an introduction. Let the pictures do the talking:
People actually queue under the hot sun just for Nasi Kandar. Now, this says a lot about the food here! Obviously, the line is never clear!
Fortunately for us, we had someone to queue up for us while we were on the way to Line Clear So, we didn’t have to queue under the hot sun and risk getting melted make up. Line Clear for us XD
I thought the queue was not that long, but to my surprise, it continued all the way inside! Means when I was queuing out there, I could be customer number 50!
Business is so good here, our kind Chef Michael Han lend a hand.
Looking at the amount of food that we’re about to dig in, I was pretty sure we would all end up in Food Coma.
My portion of steamed white rice with all the above dishes and a piece Papadum (Indian cracker), and to complete this plate Nasi Kandar, a few scoop of Kuah (curry gravy) were added and that it must be Banjir (flooded). Although it looked like a mess, it was a delicious mess.
Chef Michael Han and the rest of the Hennessy X.O entourage enjoying Nasi Kandar. We had to exclude Hennessy X.O to be brought in here in respect to the other communities dining in here, but we shall see what Chef Michael Han would do about it in his new menu
#4 Char Koay Teow @ Khoon Hiang Cafe, Jalan Dunlop
I thought I was in Food Coma after having the flooding Nasi Kandar, but the moment I heard Char Koay Teow was on our next stop, I sat up with bright glittering eyes.
Ya, obviously you can tell how much I love Char Koay Teow.
Our forth spot was at Khoon Hiang Cafe for Ah Leng Char Koay Teow. This place is known for its Premium RM10 Char Koay Teow of large fresh prawns and additional amounts of mantis prawn.
Not sure if this is Ah Leng, but seeing his face so fierce in stir frying the Char Koay Teow (CKT). Must be one big wok of fire in there.
You don’t say. Everyone can cook CKT, but who can cook an edible CKT is the question. A good CKT depends on the sensation of “wok-hei”. It’s like you can taste the “fire” in the wok when the CKT is being stir fried. Such skills.. It’s not something you can master overnight.
Here, Chef Michael Han is getting some guidance from Uncle CKT.
Even the sauces used are not of the same as seen from other CKT stalls No wonder tastes different. I believe the far right is pork fat
Being the typical Kaypoh (busybody) that I am, I went to help Uncle CKT. Actually, I just want more more prawns in my CKT.
Karen Ong and Chef Michael Han cheersing away before digging into the mouth watering looking CKT.
We started eating the CKT with Hennessy X.O in hand. Later, Cheng Yi being Cheng Yi, added some Hennessy X.O into the CKT.
Cheng Yi pouring Hennessy X.O while Wilson looks on in full anticipation to taste the newly flavoured CKT.
The CKT tasted so much better with Hennessy X.O in it. The CKT became more fragrant and tasted superb! It was so good, we even wallop CKT of those who couldn’t finish theirs.
Chef Michael, please please add CKT with Hennessy X.O in your menu.
#5 Fried Oyster @ Seng Thor Coffee Shop, Carnavon Street
On our fifth and final stop, we had Fried Oyster from Seng Thor Coffee Shop in Carnavon Street. Fried Oyster or better known as Oh-Chien is yet another favourite hawker food among the locals and Yours Truly.
There are plenty of choices to enjoy this fried oyster but Seng Thor Coffee Shop is best known for fried oyster.
It’s a norm to have a good wait of 30 minutes and sometimes up to an hour for the fried oyster.
The whole process in cooking fried oyster is not a matter of finger snapping. It is time consuming and goes a few rounds of frying.
The fried oyster ingredients
While waiting for our Fried Oyster, we all took turns to take picture with Chef Michael Han. During this time, Chef Michael Han shared his experience as a Chef and also how he ended up being a Chef despite having a Law degree as his major.
Finally, after the long wait, we got our share of Fried Oyster. As we witnessed the whole cooking process of Fried Oyster, we felt kind of obnoxious with the amount of oil they use to fry the oysters.
But when I pop one omelet into my mouth, I’m truly amazed!! The fried oyster is not greasy at all! Such skills We all admired and complimented as to how the fried omelet didn’t end up being greasy and all. Popping one omelet after another, we couldn’t stop and wanted to ask for more. But due to time constraint, perhaps another time.
Among all 5 stops we went that day, Chef Michael Han’s favourite one is this Fried Oyster.
Done with all the food tasting for the day, we went to check-in to our hotel and freshen up for an interview session with Ms Karen Ong (Marketing Director of Moët Hennessy Diageo Malaysia) and Chef Michael Han.
From the interview, we got to know the relationship between Hennessy and Chef Michael Han. When asked, how Chef Michael Han would deconstruct the local food with Hennessy X.O, he answered that it is secret. That aside, Chef Michael Han mentioned that Penang local food has a robust flavour and goes well with Hennessy X.O. That said, Hennessy X.O flavour is very good and stands out with Asian food. The challenges that Chef Michael Han faces are getting the right ingredients and not to stray too far from the local food.
Karen also mentioned that Hennessy X.O paired with food is something Chinese has been experiencing especially in banquets. Which is true as I grew up hearing old folks shouting at the top of their lungs, “Yum Seng” from one table to another in wedding or anniversaries banquets and also my late grandfather loves to add XO into his shark fin soup.
Furthermore, Hennessy X.O is getting more popular among youngsters. Hence, they would like to create a different experience for different generation.
In addition, Karen would like guests of the dinner series to experience a nostalgic journey, remembering the old memories but presented in a surprising and unexpected way. This coming dinner series would be of something different, to wow guests with what they don’t expect.
With that said, I can’t wait for Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows Gastronomy 2012 in Penang, within the chapel of St. Joseph’s Novitiate from September 26th to 28th 2012. As Chef Michael Han’s cooking is more European influenced, which uses less oil, no big wok nor big fire. This adds on to more curiosity as to what he would come out with and looking forward to Chef Michael Han’s Gastronomic inventions!
The next morning, we woke up reading this article from The Star:
A week later, Bok and I were spotted in the Metro North:
Thank you Hennessy for the wonderful experience with Chef Michael Han on Hennessy X.O Food Tasting in Penang!