Malaysia: white coffee, salt chicken and some terrible food poisoning

After I had suggested to the girls (who had been looking after me exceptionally well for the three days I had been in Kuala Lumpur) that I would probably be heading north to an old British colonial island called Penang, they suggested an alternative which involved them driving me 2 hours north to food capital, 2nd biggest Malaysian city and Samanta’s hometown, Ipoh.  As I’d been having a great laugh with the girls this far I felt it would have been foolish to turn down such a kind offer so after my last night in Kuala Lumpur, Maggie and Samanta came to pick me up from my hostel and we were on the road north (Shirleen couldn’t come because of work commitments).

On arrival in Ipoh we headed for one of the local specialities: White Coffee.  Don’t let the name fool you though, the coffee was a dark as any I’d seen before;  the name originates from how the beans are roasted without sugar (converse to traditional Malaysian roasting) thus producing a slightly less-dark roast.  To be honest, not being a massive connoisseur, the coffee tasted no different to normal coffee, but was nonetheless good.  This was accompanied by some more lovely Chinese lunch treats such as chicken rice and a curry noodle dish, of which the name escapes me.

White coffee. It’s black:

That afternoon we headed to Samanta’s brother’s snazzy condo and I spent the afternoon giving Samanta a swimming lesson, and generally larking about in the pool.  With the weather being so humid and sticky, any time spent in the water was a welcome relief.

The pool rules stated only speedos for gents, so I cunningly tucked my shorts up exposing my white quads.  No-one cared about the rules so I just looked like a wally for a bit for no reason:

Samanta’s swimming lesson – kick those legs!

My legs including un-exposed quads 😉

The evening saw us eating another of the local specialities, the underwhelmingly named: salt chicken.  This delicious dish is simply produced by roasting the chicken in loads of salt which results in a super tasty, tender roasted chicken.  I could polish one of these off by myself quite easily and writing about it now makes me want to go back to Ipoh just to get another. After eating dinner with Samanta’s brother and his fiancée we spent the night at another of Samanta’s brother’s house.  The hospitality seemed to never end!

Chinese foodcourt at Ipoh:

Salt chicken held up by the hands of Maggie and Samanta with Samanta’s brother in the background:

The next day I had planned to get the bus to Penang as per my original plan and after a bit of umming and ahhing the girls decided they quite fancied a night in Penang too, so said they would drive me there, stay the night and leave the next day.

We arrived in Penang which is a fairly large island with colonial capital Georgetown.  This town is famous for (surprise surprise) food!  But also for the colonial architecture and being a party getaway spot for revelling Malaysians and tourists.  We checked into our hostel and went about getting some food.  As we had been stuffing our faces with oodles of Chinese food (natural as the girls are Malaysian Chinese) we decided for a bit of a change so we navigated to Little India.   We found a place that seemed to have a fair few local patrons and so decided to get some food there.  After eating I was introduced to Teh Tarik, which translates to ‘pulled tea’ and is a popular warm sweet tea made with condensed milk and poured several times from a great height from one receptacle to another to produce optimal flavour and temperature.  And it looks cool.

Walking around Penang we spotted this quaint Chinese temple with potentially the biggest-incense-sticks-ever burning outside:

Getting stuck into some Indian food.  Treated myself to two drinks, a glass of Lassi and a cup of Teh Tarik:

As it was Friday we decided to have a few drinks and head out to see what Penang had to offer.  We found ourselves in a place called Slippery Senoritas (!) and I was introduced to my first Asian show band.  These generally comprise several highly talented musicians who play note perfect covers of your favourite western pop/rock hits and are usually headed by a tiny girl with an absolutely belting voice.  They just don’t have cover bands like that over in the UK but I was soon to find they are all over the place in Asia, which is great!

The next day we headed for some brunch at a Chinese food court and then headed to the un-impressive beach.  Although the sand was nice and white and the sun was out, the water was very murky and a few metres in had a thick sludge on the seabed :s After Maggie and I had a dip to cool down we headed back to town, not before almost running a monkey down that darted across the road right infront of us!

I said my goodbyes to the  girls who had to return to their hometowns and it was at this point I started to feel a bit un-well.  A few hours later I was feverish and had no appetite and it was then that one of the clear signs of food poisoning really kicked in (no further details necessary ;)). I had planned maybe one more night in Penang before heading to the idyllic beach island of Langkawi near the border with Thailand but what ensued was the worst bout of food poisoning I’ve ever had, which kept me in bed for three days and nights.  During this time I could only drink water and occasionally a can of coke.  I was lucky that the hostel was set up really well for this horror scenario as they had superfast broadband so I managed to watch the second series of “Idiot Abroad” as well as several films and Match of the Day (1 and 2 :)), and also the dormitory beds had privacy curtains so I could hide myself away in my misery 😦

The culprit of the abomination which found its way into my belly was up for debate.  Contenders included the Indian food, the Chinese lunch or even the seawater, as I had spent quite a bit of time ducking and diving in the sea and no doubt had swallowed a bit of the shady liquid. We’ll never know but after three days lounging around I wanted to get out of Penang and not having enough time or energy to head further north to Langkawi and not wanting to risk a 4-5 hour bus journey back to KL I contacted Samanta who encouraged me to come and stay with her and her family back in Ipoh.

Leaving Penang on the Penang bridge with the high-rise condos of Georgetown in the distance.  The weather was good but my stomach was not:

So, feeling only about 50% I headed back to Ipoh sweating in semi-fever all the way and after encouragement from Samanta’s family slowly started to eat again.  The next day I was feeling notably better and the symptoms had subsided.   Still regaining my energy meant I was not totally distraught to see a huge thunderstorm roll-in; which kept us watching movies and eating salt chicken all afternoon 🙂

The next day and feeling almost back to full fitness I boarded the bus back to KL.  The food poisoning had been a real kick between the legs and worst of all had eaten up 4-5 days of my time in Malaysia.  As the bus took several hours I only arrived in KL late in the afternoon but Maggie soon arrived to take me to a special Dim Sum restaurant where, having recovered my appetite devoured several plates of tasty dumplings.  Afterwards we headed to a mall where we had planned to watch a movie, but as there was nothing good on, opted for a couple of games of ten-pin bowling.  The girls were truly dreadful at this and I didn’t hesitate to point this out :p  In comparison I was “Big” Ern McCracken but in reality only scraped over 100 points in each game.

I said my good-byes to the girls and after my last night in Malaysia caught the bus south to Singapore where a weekend with Magnus was awaiting me.  The girls had been absolutely amazing during my time in Malaysia and had sown unbridled hospitality and kindness.  I hope one day I can repay them.

The morning before my departure from KL I couldn’t resist one more portion of chicken rice:


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