As I stood on that curb listening to the sounds of downtown San Francisco, underneath a lightly cloudy blue sky and a warm sun, it struck me that I have a mission.
In the interest of public service,
I will explore the world of street food,
and share it with you.
(The experience that is, not the food. Sample distribution would be a nightmare.)
To sample every street food vendor in the Bay Area is a lofty goal to be sure, and I hear Portland has street carts. I want to see if this proliferance of American street food exists beyond the Pacific West. I hope it does.
I walked down the street, holding a folded cone of crispy deliciousness in hand, with a bright future of crepes, tacos, tamales, soups, noodles, and fruit shakes ahead of me.
Up on the earlier side to go to dim sum again, and was much busier. We sat in the street with Penny, and talked about Bali’s attitudes towards women. We got the egg custards today, and they were the best we’ve ever had. Went back to the 75, where we called into DYC’s house warming party. We were two heads on a wall in Berkeley, a video call from 16 hours in the future.
This was the beginning of my journal entry from Oct. 24th, just four months ago. We’d arrived in Penang a few days earlier, having taken an overnight “VIP” bus from Malacca that dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. We finally talked down a taxi driver who was genuinely helpful, and after saying that we could not afford his friend’s hotel, promptly took us to the Travellers Lodge, better known as simply ‘the 75‘.
The first thing that any Malaysian guidebook or traveler will tell you about Penang is that it is a food-lover’s paradise. Most of its culinary delights are found in Georgetown, on the northeast corner of the island. Our Chinatown guesthouse was conveniently situated near Little India, with the best that both worlds had to offer within easy walking distance.
Our introduction to real Indian food in Singapore only wet our appetite for more. On our first night, we found ourselves in the most upscale of Indian restaurants, as evidenced by their enclosed air-conditioned dining room and sizzling brownie sundae dessert. While the food was certainly very good by American standards, it wasn’t until we discovered a little hole in the wall a couple of nights later that our bar for Indian food was forever raised. Lured by a streetside dosai-maker, a tout pulled us into the waiting arms of Krsna where the chicken and potato dosai was crispy and flavorful.
Lest you think we limited ourselves to just Indian food, fear not. Not only did we enjoy dim sum almost every morning at the same restaurant with a fellow traveler, but we sampled our way around town, from one street cart to another. Our favorite vendor may have been the one on Kimberley Street that would serve up char koay teow to order. We watched as his practiced hands fed the coals and cooked up a stir fry in 49 seconds.
Then there’s ais kacang. On top of scoops of grass jelly threads, sweet corn, red beans, and palm fruit, build a mountain of shaved ice in a bowl. Then drizzle root beer and bubble gum syrups over it, and finally, a ladleful of evaporated milk. It’s actually pretty awesome. So wonderful, in fact, that it inspired an idea for a Burning Man art project, as you can see from the diagram in my notebook.
While Georgetown may not be the prettiest of destinations, it has its charm, and it has decent lodging and great food, to be had for a bargain. You can even catch Bollywood movies at the Veenai Odeon. We spent longer in town than we’d planned, deciding on where we were going next. Two weeks before the elections and Aung San Suu Kyi’s release , Burma seemed like a poor choice. The islands off the coast of peninsular Thailand seemed expensive. So after five days, we left Penang on two overnight trains to Laos, in the middle of which we cast our November election ballots electronically, from the internet room in the Bangkok station.