Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The best chicken rice and another adventure

Good evening from Penang, Malaysia, after a very long but eventful day. The Travelife Magazine and Travelife TV teams are here now and there are so many Travelife people everywhere in this city that it's quite surreal, actually. This morning I walked into the restaurant for breakfast and I knew everyone in the room, in this foreign city; and every single one of them was concentrated on their tasks for the day for Travelife -- whether for the magazine or TV.


Then a couple of vans were parked outside our beautiful and historical hotel, Penang's best, waiting for the day to begin, and each one of them was a van marked for Travelife. The magazine and TV crews had separate itineraries for the most part, but everywhere we went, either the magazine had just finished a photo shoot or the TV crew had just done a segment. It was like Penang, this beautiful city full of heritage and culture, was overrun by Travelife.

Finally, it was a very strange but nice feeling to enter famous places in Penang and to see our own magazine in the lobby or in the manager's office, or being read by people at the entrance. Yes, June and Bernice, our two executive assistants on this Travelife trip, have been very conscientious about leaving copies of the magazine everywhere we want to be.


We did lots of wonderful things today, but for me the highlight was lunch at Penang's most famous chicken rice restaurant -- a pretty decent but casual restaurant in the outskirts of the city run by a family that had been doing so in the very same location since 1969.

In the morning we'd done a food trail tour, going through the city and checking out all the famous food stalls for hawker-type food and drinks like roti canai, chendol, and te tarik. We'd tasted bits and pieces along the way, especially as everyone very generously gave us lots of food to try when they saw our serious cameras trailing behind us.

But in spite of a morning of food samplings, we were still hungry. So when our guide asked us what we wanted to have for lunch, I said: "Take us to the best chicken rice place in town."

And this was how we found ourselves at the Fatty Loh Chicken Rice restaurant, talking to Mrs. Loh and her charming daughters, while her husband cheerily chopped up the chicken in front of us. The chicken rice here is really delicious, with a dash of two dark sauces and their special chicken chili paste; although Mrs. Loh only giggled when I asked her what went into the secret chicken sauce -- one of the dark sauces -- continuously boiling in a rice cooker on the counter.

The rice was very yellow and fragrant, and I had a peek at their giant rice cooker to see what went in with the rice. There was yellow ginger, a couple of scallions, a cup of sugar, chicken soup and a big spoonful of butter -- yes, butter; no wonder it's so good -- among other things.

In another corner of the kitchen was another perpetually boiling vat filled with a dark liquid and lots of herbs. I thought this was another secret herbal mixture to add to the chicken. "Oh no," Mrs. Loh said, "that's the mixture for our special cooling herbal tea."

Of course I wanted to try some of it, although from afar, the fragrance emitting from the vat was more like some undrinkable medicine. But when a big glass of this herbal tea arrived filled with chunks of ice, I just couldn't stop drinking it. It was so delicious, mixed with brown sugar, and the rice and chicken went so well with it.


After lunch, the day went by so quickly; and before we knew it, it was close to 8 PM and we were sitting in the courtyard of the Blue Mansion, admiring the symmetry of this beautiful villa and thinking about the dramatic story behind it, of a Chinese tycoon and his many wives. Night was falling, all was quiet and we were ready to call it a day.

I've been to Penang -- and to the Blue Mansion -- three times in the last 18 months; which makes it one of my most-visited cities after Istanbul and Tokyo. But somehow I never get tired of appreciating the beauty of the Blue Mansion, and I enjoy visiting it so much; even just sitting in the courtyard with a cup of tea is heavenly.

Today's visit was particularly heavenly because we had the place all to ourselves. It was already closed to the public except for Travelife. "It's sad to think we're leaving Penang tomorrow," I said to Miko, one of Travelife's editors, who was seated next to me in the courtyard. We're checking out at 7 AM tomorrow and headed to catch a flight out of Penang.

He nodded in agreement, and said: "What's next?"

I smiled. We've traveled together to so many cities around the world by now that I've lost track. Our last trip together for the magazine was Bangkok, if I remember right. Then I replied: "Another adventure, of course."

Just another day in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful, Travelife.

Join us in Italy this September.

with Margarita Fores
and the Embassy of Italy & Bacchus Epicerie
September 8 at Whitespace

Please call TRAVELIFE at 8138400/ 8922620
to reserve a limited seat

For reservations and information, please contact:
Bernice or Rachel at TRAVELIFE
813-8400/ 892-2620


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