Sunday, December 12, 2010

Penang: Malaysian Food

I recently went with Wing Lau and Eddie Ngo to a Malaysian restaurant called Penang, located at 971 S. Glendora Ave, West Covina, CA 91790 (phone: 626-338-6138). Eddie is from Singapore and always speaks very highly about Malaysian cuisine. So he introduced Wing and I to this restaurant and we loved it. We ordered a number of items from the menu and then I added several items from their listed specials which were not on the menu. It turned out to be a very fun, very filling, lunch with most of the dishes being new to me. I ordered a lychee drink
which was nice and sweet and had four or five lychee in the glass. Then they brought us the first dish, Penang satay, which was marinated chicken on skewers,
charcoaled grilled, and served with a peanut dipping sauce. This is a traditional Malaysian dish. The chicken was moist and flavorful and the peanut sauce had a sweet element to it. Then we had curry puff, a pastry stuffed with chicken, potato and curry paste.
It reminded me quite a bit of a Cornish pasty, but the pastry was more moist and not quite as stiff. It is what I would envision as blue collar fare
and would make a nice filling lunch for someone working on a construction site. It was not fancy, not real spicy, but rib-sticking and good. Then we had kari ayam, pieces of chicken, with potatoes in a gravy of red curry and coconut mild curry.
The chicken is prepared in a way that is bone intensive. You either have to pick it up and gnaw on it, or spend time trying to pull the chicken off the bone with a knife and fork. We kind of get used to eating our boneless chicken and tend to forget that chicken is full of bones that can inconveniently get in the way of the meat. It was mild, but good. Then we got into the more exotic part of the menu which I was particularly excited about. We had ginger scallion duck.
It had a nice taste, but again the duck pieces were quite bony and required either using hands or significant knife and fork time. I liked the flavor, but was not wowed by the dish. Duck is one of my favorite foods, so I liked this, but would take quite a few other duck dishes I've had elsewhere over this one. The next dishes were really unusual and outstanding. Two of them were specials. One of the specials was deep fried quail.
The quail were lined up on the plate with a spicy dipping sauce.
I love quail. This was not my favorite way to eat quail, but it was unusual and the dipping sauce was nice.
I would recommend it to anyone who likes this sort of thing. The other special was soft shell crab which I've never had before. It was perhaps my favorite of all the dishes. The crab was cut up into pieces, breaded and cooked with scallions and peppers.
It had a little bit of  a kick to it, was still quite moist and had a very pleasant, mellow flavor.
I would order this again without question. Finally, a really outstanding dish that I need to take my family to try: pangan ikan, a bbq Chilean sea bass wrapped in a banana leaf. The fish came wrapped in the banana leaf and the presentation was fantastic.
Then they rolled back the banana leaf and exposed the fish smothered in sauce.
It looked amazing. The sea bass was very mild and moist and the chili sauce on it was very good.
I would have liked it even a little bit spicier, with a little more heat, but I killed my diet eating way more of this fish than I should have. I've got some other dishes on the menu scouted out and I'll be back. This is definitely a good place to get an introduction to Malaysian food.

Several weeks later, after a visit with Andrew in Los Angeles, I stopped at Penang for a late lunch on my way back home. I tried the roti canai which they recommended, a Malaysian crispy Indian style pancake served with curry chicken as a dipping sauce. The pancake was not what I expected. It was thin, had a glaze on it and was stringy, in the sense that it took some stretching and pulling to break pieces off. I enjoyed it plain, as well as with the curry dipping sauce, but it is probably not something I would order again - it did not wow me.
I also ordered another of their recommended dishes, the Penang char kway teow, stir fried flat rice noodles with shrimp, squid, bean sprouts, eggs, soy sauce and chili paste. I was a little disappointed with this dish. I love the Thai dish, drunken noodles, which are flat rice noodles. This was nothing like it. Perhaps it was the different textures of the bean sprouts and crunchy squid which I thought detracted from the nice noodles, but for whatever reason the combination did not work for me.
I did enjoy the last dish, curry striped sea bass with okra.  The presentation was fantastic. 
It was the whole fish covered in a beautiful curry sauce with large pieces of okra, eggplant and tomato and other garnishes. 
I think the fish was deep fried, as the flesh was scored in strips which made it easier to pull off. It was more cooked than I would prefer it, but I was startled by how much I really liked the okra and the eggplant. Judy absolutely hates okra, so I've not had much experience with it, but this was mild and worked very well with the curry sauce, as did the large chunks of eggplant. For me, besides the wonderful presentation of the whole fish, 
the greatness of the dish was the curry sauce and vegetables. If the fish had been less cooked, it would have been a real home run for me. 


  1. My weirdest meal in Malaysia a couple of weeks ago (actually in Penang, coincidentally) was duck tongue and chicken feet. Wished I had a few Cannons with me to share the experience...

  2. I wish I could have been with you to share the experience. I've not been to Malaysia. I've had chicken feet, but no duck tongue.