Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hainanese Delights - Penang, Malaysia

When we were back in Malaysia for Chinese New Year earlier this year, we spent about 90% of our time there eating :P Malaysians eat all the time, in times of celebration, during family gatherings, when meeting up with friends, in times of sadness...anytime! Not only do we enjoy eating, but we also enjoy hunting down and discovering places that serves good food. I dare say that almost the whole nation is made up of foodies. Therefore, you can imagine the amount of places/restaurants we tried during our one month vacation in Malaysia. Over the next few weeks or maybe even months (hey, we went to a LOT of places to eat :P), we will try to feature at least one restaurant, once every few days. We hope that our reviews will help our Malaysian readers decide where to go to for their next meal and also introduce the various types of food found in Malaysia to our non Malaysian readers. Alright, so sit back and join us on our gastronomical tour of Malaysia.

We were back in Penang (my family now lives in KL but Penang is our hometown) to celebrate Chinese New Year. Like us, many families from all over Malaysia would return to Penang for CNY. Now, Penang is well known for it's food. So, you can imagine the crowds and chaos at eating places during this season. My dad was working that day (the last day before the long CNY vacation), so my mom took us and Ashley out to lunch. She said that if we wanted really authentic Hainanese food, we should check out Hainanese Delights. So, we braved the crowds and headed to 1926 Heritage Hotel. Hainanese Delights is located inside that hotel. On a side note, 1926 Heritage Hotel is pretty cool. Built in 1926, this row of link houses, with Anglo-Malay architecture used to be the living quarters for British colonial officers and local administrators. Today, they have restored 24 of those link houses and converted them into this beautiful heritage hotel. Cool eh?
As expected, there was a huge crowd at Hainanese Delights (even though it was way past lunch time). We managed to get a table and we were told that because of the CNY season, we could not order from the regular menu but we had to order from the set menu. The set consist of one appetizer, four dishes, steamed rice and one dessert. It cost RM38 (a lil over US$11) per person and we could mix and match a variety of meat, vegetable and seafood dishes. For our appetizer, we HAD to order the Choon Piah (egg roll). Apart from the Roti Babi (fried bread stuffed with meat), I would say that this is one of the most popular Hainaese appetizers ever. Stuffed with meat, crab meat and a host of vegetables, the Choon Piah is traditionally served with a dish of Lea and Perrins sauce. Mmm mmm mmmmm, so good. As expected, it was really good. You can travel all over the world, but you must always return home to Penang to get the best Choon Piahs. Yeah, it's that good.
We also ordered the Braised Leg of Lamb. It was served with some steamed ladies finger (okra) on the side. Juicy and tender, it was pretty good. Also, it was marinated really well and it didn't have that gamey smell that sometimes comes along with lamb dishes. A nice well balanced dish.
Ahhh another Penang favorite, the Assam Prawns (jumbo shrimps marinated with tamarind). The prawns were really huge but unfortunately, the portion was really small. We only had one prawn each :( However, that one prawn really really good. We had to like eat really slow and savour it's yumminess! LOL! Man, I wished the portion was a lil bigger.
For our vegetable dish, we chose the Stuffed Tofu with Broccoli and Crabmeat Sauce. The tofu was stuffed with shrimps. A very light and tasty dish. A nice change from all the other 'heavy' dishes.
We had two choices for our curry dish. We could choose between the Assam Curry Fish (a spicy sourish kind of curry) or Lemak Curry Fish (coconut based, thus making it creamier). Both the curries would be yummy but we went with the Assam Curry because Penang is more well known for it's Nyonya style Assam Curries. The curry was awesome, with really fresh fish and vegetables (onions, tomatoes, okra, lemongrass..etc). It was also served with some fresh mint on top. Boy, it tasted so good with the steamed rice. Yummy!
On top of the set menu, we could choose to add on their house speciality, the Macaroni Pie (RM25 per pie). Their Chicken Pies are also really well known. You see, it's really difficult these days to find authentic Hainanese style Macaroni Pies. It was probably invented back during the colonial era by Hainanese cooks for the British officers and not many people know how to make them anymore. Therefore, if you can find a place that serves them, you HAVE to order it. So, we did! :D The kitchen somehow goofed up and we had to wait reallllllly long for it though. Was it worth it? Well, it was good but it wasn't exactly the Macaroni Pie that I remembered from my childhood. The top layer was the same but the filling was different. The filling in Hainanese Delights was more 'Asian inspired', where else the authentic ones were way creamier. I believe the last time I had really really good Macaroni Pie was in Hollywood Restaurant in Tanjung Bungah (it's long gone now) when I was a little girl. A little bit disappointed with the Macaroni Pie here.
For our dessert, they served us Ais Krim Potong..yay!! Another trip down memory lane. We used to buy this cheap ice cream sticks from the ice cream man on a bicycle after school. He would cut little bars of ice cream from a huge block and stick a skewer into it. Hence the name Ais Krim Potong (cut ice cream). The more popular flavors would be red bean, yam (taro), green bean, corn and durian (my fav!). Hainanese Delight served us some yam and durian ones :D Overall, I would say that the food was pretty awesome. Comfort food at it's best. The food in Hainanese Delights definitely brings you back to another era, to a time when the British ruled over Malaya but the Hainanese chefs ruled in the kitchen. The only downside is the price. The total bill came to RM185.85 (US$60) for four people! That's really expensive (especially since it's only for lunch), for Penang standards. Come to think of it, it's even expensive for KL. Oh well, I guess that's the price you have to pay for authentic comfort food these days.

Hainanese Delights - Penang, Malaysia
1926 Heritage Hotel
228 Burma Road,
10050 Georgetown,
Tel: (604) 226 1926
Hours: Open Tue-Sun 11:30am-3pm, 6pm-10pm

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