Anthony Bourdain hates monkeys. Also Penang was once known as the pearl of the Orient. And the sauces are really dark and murky looking... but extremely flavorful. That's basically what we learn in this episode... but let's come along for the ride, anyway.
Tony lands in Georgetown, Penang's capital, right in the middle of the Chinese New Year festivities. He is greeted by several dancing dragons and possibly a baby Buddha. The general consensus in this part of the world is that Penang is the food capital of the region, taking a little flavor and influence from the many different nations that have passed through. That means Thai, Asian, and Indian flavors mix in most dishes. Tony meets his friend David at the CF Market, where Penang's former street vendors have been corralled. Which is good, because Tony admits to eating Popeye's fried chicken at some airports. Over a dish of pork, vegetables, and noodles, Tony exclaims that it doesn't take much to make him happy these days. Only a lucrative deal with CNN, a book publishing deal...and a bowl of steaming noodles.
So apparently there are two kinds of sauces in Penang. Take your choice
of either red or really dark. David says that these flavors cater to the
nether regions of your palate (which is the best line ever). Tony
walks smack into a New Year's celebration, complete with fireworks, more
dancing dragons, and food offerings to the gods. Everything from fruit
to booze to many, many whole roast pigs are laid out on a giant table.
Tony, though not a god to most people, is still offered roast pork and a
hot pink sweet bun - for luck.
The next day, Tony's ready for a
little laksa, which is (are you ready?) -- a bowl of noodles. This time
with a little of this..a little of that and a strong fish stock thrown
in. Tony allows himself to imaging a United States where there are no
McDonald's or Taco Bells and families eat noodle bowls from individual
food carts. Sometimes I dance around in my underwear, Tony. It still
doesn't make me Madonna. (Did anyone get the 1980's Working Girl reference there?)
And here come the monkeys. Let me
first say that when I was a child I was freaked out by monkeys because
they looked too human. Tony is just freaked out. He says it's because
they're constantly erect and throw their own feces. Plus, they can be
trained to attack human penises. And with that the fish is ready.
you're in Penang you might swing by New Lane, which is an ordinary
street by day, and a food wonderland by night. What to get? Fried
tripe? Fried oyster or giant skinned frogs? Well, no. Tony goes for the
relatively safer rice cake strips stir fried in lard with shrimp. His
guide, food writer Helen Ong, explains that Malaysians don't care where
they eat as long as the food is good. "We'll eat with the stray cats,
next to a drain, on a red plastic stool." That's dedication...and
possibly several health code violations.
Riding in a flowered,
neon-lit pedicab with his friend David, Tony feels like he's a possible
flower girl at Liberace's wedding. They pull up for beer refills
(because when you're in a gardenia covered chariot, it's best to be
inebriated). As they ride slowly through town, they peruse all the
vendors selling fried noodles and street squid, then they're at the Red
Garden. Which is part food court/part retiree dance hall. Tony is still
not in the mood for frog, so they settle on fish head curry.
a joint called Line Clear. people stand in line for hours. The place is
open 24 hour a day, seven days a week and attracts many cats. The
people (and cats) come for their special plate which is (get ready for
this one)....fried chicken, fish roe, beef, shrimp, and squid. This hot
mess is served on rice and covered in many different sauces. And I
think we lost track of one of the cats. Line Clear stands for no
problem, by the way. Which is what your intestines are not saying after this meal.
the show running down, it's time for Tony to get a little
philosophical. "I talk a lot about getting lost in the east. About
breaking away from the world I left behind, if only for a few days or a
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week. It's easy to do that here. To be forced - just walking down the
street or eating breakfast - to learn new things. That feels good.
Especially in Penang."