Night Market in Phuket

During the day, when you can feel each ray of the sun beating down on your shoulders and reflecting off the black pavement beneath your sandaled feet, Phuket is just way too hot to do much of anything, lest you go sunbathe by the pool or hang out under and umbrella on the beach. Even that is almost too hot to do.

But at night, when the sun goes down and the temperature along with it, street vendors, hawkers, bars, restaurants, and stores light up. Phuket comes alive at night.

Last year on our New Year’s trip to Phuket, I enjoyed a mean fried chicken from the local night market- one of the best fried chickens I’ve ever had. This year I strolled through the market again….

And not too surprisingly, I saw many of the same vendors as I did last time.

And though was verrrry tempted, because it was close to bedtime, I managed to get out of there empty handed (and empty bellied).

A Midday Snack

Wandering around the roads of Penang’s Chinatown, we found ourselves pooped out by mid-afternoon. Contemplating a message, or anything indoors, really, we encountered shop after shop advertising blind massages (yes, blind!), one shadier than the next. Nix that thought.

I secretly wanted to escape our exploring just to find a hot bowl of Laksa, despite the near 100-degree heat. Keeping my eyes and nose peeled for a hawker stand, I casually suggested finding a bite to eat, despite the odd 4:30pm hour. Luckily, the two boys agreed. Hooray! Foodie adventurer: 1. Tired boys: 0.

After ducking down some sidestreets, mostly empty (we found out the streets of Penang become raucous and lively just after dusk, after the sun goes down and the heat begins to evaporate from the black tar roads), we came across a couple of carts on the street selling thin lo mein noodles, pork jerky sandwiches, and thick rice noodles. Just down the street, I was happy to see a bustling garage of a food court.

Barrett and I became distracted by the carts that lined the street, with Barrett getting a Malaysian flat jerkey sandwich and me a paper-wrapped packet filled with thin fried spicy noodles. As we were bantering with the noodle man, whose mind was absolutely blown that the DiploMan could speak Chinese, our friend Gordon ran up to us like a little kid who just saw the tooth fairy. “They have a huge slab of fried bacon over there!” He pointed back behind us towards the food court.

I didn’t believe it. Bacon doesn’t really exist in Asia- at least, not in the capacity that it does in the states. Pork belly, certainly, is HUGE around these parts. But the curing/smoking/slicing of it doesn’t really happen.

My skepticism was partially defeated (I wish I could say it was fully defeated). Yes, there was a huge slab of bacon-looking meat that looked fried, hanging on a hook at a vendor cart. But it wasn’t quite the same as bacon- not cured or smoked or nearly as salty. But I was unable to resist the temptations of fatty port, so we ordered a couple orders over rice and an order of charsiu (traditional Chinese red-braised pork) over rice.

The orders took less than five minutes to come out. I watched as the “chef” behind the stand unhooked our slabs of meat and coarsely chopped them over a flimsy plastic plate prepped with a mound of rice. I realized this was less of a kitchen operation than it was a deli. Slicing meats and laying them over carbs- that’s a sandwich!


Our orders of meat and rice, along with our takeout packet of noodles purchased from down the street, were gobbled up in a snap. Seriously, probably eaten quicker than it’s taken you to read through this blog entry. Paired with a bottle of beer, it was the perfect 4:30pm snack on a hot Penang day.

I’ll take this over a blind massage, anyday.

Pick Mee!!!

As I mentioned in a previous post, the selection of food in Malaysia, though vast and varied, is undeniably centered around two starches: Rice (nasi) and noodles (mee).

After exploring Fort Cornwallis, we very happily stumbled upon a huge outdoor hawker stand completely shaded by some sort massive scrap metal overhang. After cruising each small cart and their respective offerings, it was pretty obvious that we were going to go for what was the most popular and simultaneously the most visually appealing- a generous pile of piping hot noodles tossed in a blood red grav y.

Though it probably would have been best to find out what was in this juicy, savory looking blood red gravy, the smells and sights of the dish alone reeled us in. We went ahead and signaled three red saucy noodle dishes for our table- literally, signaled, as I frantically pointed to the dishes being served to other customers and held up three fingers and said, “mee” while enthusiastically nodding my head. Luckily there is more than one language that all foodies understand, and the man behind the stall understood the language I was using.

Waiting for our dish to arrive, I started to read the noticeably aged news clippings posted in the cart window, where I learned that we were about to eat a big pile of sweet-spicy-sour-savory cuttlefish noodles, made by a third generation Halal hawker.

Ahh, so that explained the odd phallic creature floating on the sign above the hawker stall.

We perched ourselves anxiously on a round formica table directly in front of the stall, and watched as streams of people filtered to and from the counter in a nonstop flow, requesting order after order of the same dish. The noodles were made in batches of 8 or 10 plates at a time, with one main chef at the helm of the open gas stove and two “sous” chefs garnishing plates, running orders, refilling the mise en place (if you will), and collecting money. There were no numbers given to customers, no names, no tickets- just a nod of acknowledgement after you placed your order and a quick shout to the head chef.

We watched as the chef vigorously chopped bunches of onions and greens for a quick saute in a huge wok that looked like had been used to make this dish for decades. He threw massive handfuls of noodles into the sizzling wok, cracked dozens of eggs taken from a tower of egg crates, and squirted and poured various sauces and oils like he was conducting a symphony. Chop, sizzle, Saute, saute, squirt, crack, saute, squirt, saute, squirt. Watching one…two….three batches of noodles go out to tables around us, I could not help but wonder how these men kept track of who ordered what. I must admit, I began to doubt that we kept our place in the noodle line, but I knew better than to approach these men who were endlessly making noodle dish after noodle dish.

But finally, we received our three orders of noodles piping hot- fresh out of the wok and delivered to us without any hesitation. Having waited for some time now, we too did not hesitate as we dug in to the steamy red pile of noodles in front of us. At first bite, I was a little taken aback by the fishiness of the squid that infiltrated the entire dish.

But after a couple more bites, the dish became better and better. Nuances of spiciness and sweetness and hints of sour and bites of cuttlefish seemed to become more and more distinct with each bite. Maybe we were hungry, maybe it really was great, maybe the anticipation took over or the cheap $1.30 price tag seemed to be true. But most likely, it was a combination of all of the above.


Sleepy Terengganu was a small town that offered a lot less than we thought. Compiled with the fact that it was an area of Malaysia still devoutly Muslim, there was not much for us to do on a boring Sunday afternoon.

Except of course, eat.

Hawker stalls are huge throughout Southeast Asia (they don’t really exist in the same capacity here in China), perhaps no place more popular than in Malaysia. Each Malay city seems to have its pockets of hawker stalls just as Los Angeles has its strip malls, New York has its parks, and Chicago has its rooftop farms. Local families and tourists alike were seen dining at these humble establishments, although this one seemed to get a little less fanfare than some of the other ones we visited.

After sitting down and getting our hands on some flimsy menus, this old man came and sat down with us. For about five minutes, he didn’t say a word, and proceeded to puff on a cigarette that didn’t seem to get any shorter. Finally after deep discussions over the translation of several meny items, he finally piped up saying “ikan, FISH.

So that proved it, somehow he worked at one of the hawkers, maybe he was a regular, who knows. He continued to help us through the menu, though his “translation” were probably not any better to what we could have figured out ourselves. A welcomed guest at first, we all soon realized he did not speak more than five words of English (rice, chicken, fish, soup, and yes).

Luckily breaking down a Malaysia menu is simpler than in other parts of the world. Like most meals that were had on our trip, our options consisted largely of different preparations of rice (Nasi) and noodles (Mee), various selections of friend chicken (ayam), or soups like Tom Yam. Naturally we kept our eyes peeled for goreng, meaning fried, as in fried rice and fried noodles.

And of course, we could not help but order a favorite dish of the trip: Nasi Goreng USA, or USA fried rice. Fried rice served with a fried egg on top and a side of soy sauced beef bacon and vegetables. The DiploMan got this for every other meal of his, I think.