This is a post on a bingeing trip in Penang, from over a year ago. By the time I settled in, I was eating everything I could lay my hands on. Typical to me in my moments of greed, I didn’t often get around to doing the sensible thing and writing down the names of what I was eating even though I asked for them, discussed techniques and ingredients and sometimes lingered around just to watch the fascinating action. I do however remember so much of the atmosphere, the flavours, the educational experience that eating Penang was. So here’s the post I wrote but never did publish.. Writing this and wading through the hundreds of other pics of Penang that I clicked, has left me with a craving for unfamiliar, exciting food. A longing for the inimitable experience of being a in a truly unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar flavours, smells, sounds and sights. I’m going to have to travel soon, I can see.
Trying to eat all of what Penang can offer you is a ridiculous goal. Unfortunately I only realised this by the end of the trip. Back in Mumbai about 4 KG heavier, a bit high on the cholesterol scale but oh so so inspired, excited, and totally blown away; I can honestly say that was the most educational experience for me from a food perspective. Ever.
Penang (that I first wrote about here) opened my eyes to a lot about me, my relationship with food and helped pushed my boundaries and very importantly – admit that I do have some. I will be honest with you… to start with, I was rather intimidated by the smells of the food in Penang. And then the fact that I was intimidated ended up intimidating me much more. That cocky self image I had, of being a food adventurer, was all shook up. Thankfully, the cooking classes (that I wrote of here) I had signed up for proved to be an eye-opening experience and a fantastic induction me into the world of Malaysian food. Touching, cooking transforming food made it easier for me to understand, approach and then interact with what Penang had to offer to a cook . By then end of it, I knew what ingredients were offending my nose and why. And once I learned that a lot of what I was finding difficult to handle were herbs, not fermented meaty miscellaneous parts of un-named animals as was my unfounded conviction, I found I could tentatively venture into the enormous world of food that Penang offers.
It’s probably true that in Penang, one could live for a whole year on street food without repeating a single dish. So large is the variety of dishes on offer. But the biggest lesson that Malaysia offers, is the true beauty of fusion. In a world that is increasingly intolerant, where we are fast moving towards mono culture while losing the beauty that only diversity can engender, this learning has special significance. From the lovely spicy tamarind based noodles to the curries and the apoms; Penang taught me that when approached with honesty and sensitivity, a whole new range of possibilities can emerge through the blending of cultures and food. What’s more, unlike in many other countries where you need to visit with a local to truly appreciate local cuisine, here, this mouth-watering heritage is available to all who visit. Warm, open, accessible, this is truly a culture of food that is open, welcoming and breeds a genuine exuberance and love for food in all that partake.