Curry for Breakfast? Bruce Loves Penang. [BIMT20]

June 10, 2009 at 6:35 pm

After a subpar stay at a hotel just outside of the KL airport which shall remain nameless (grungy room, malfunctioning AC and moths the size of HOLY EXPLETIVE!), we headed to the airport at the crack of dawn to catch the first morning flight to Penang. The flight was quick n’ easy, and we met with our friend Azhar, a Penang native who’d volunteered to guide us around his home state.

On the roads of Penang!

On the roads of Penang!

Penang was the place we’d spent the most time reading about prior to the trip, and we were determined to make the most of our time there. Penang’s an island state with a reputation for gorgeous beaches and fantastic curry.

Before checking into our hotel, Azhar suggested that we grab breakfast at a hole in the wall he knew in the heart of Georgetown, the state capital.

The hole in the wall turned out to not even have a wall. Set up in a dingy alley between two buildings were a series of seemingly makeshift stalls, pots and tables, which made up Line Clear – “nasi kandar” being the name for the curried rice dishes which Penang is famous for, and “line clear” being the Malay equivalent of “all good” or “good to go”.

Welcome to Curry Heaven...

Welcome to Curry Heaven...

Azhar explained that Line Clear was open 24 hours a day, and had been serving a fanatically loyal base of Penangites for almost fifty years. Spices were imported from India and prepared under a veil of secrecy. Pictures of Malay celebrities with the proprietors lined adorned the walls of the buildings Line Clear was sandwiched between. We ordered a variety of curries at Azhar’s suggestion and waited for the food with glasses of Malaysia’s famous “teh tarik” or pulled tea.

Ian ate nasi kandar, which was…well, I’ll let him explain in his own words.

Ian says…
Nasi Kandar is essentially a curry buffet. You get your plate of rice, and pick out what types of curries you’d like to have with it along with other side dishes like fried chicken, squid, beef, hard-boiled eggs, okra and much more. They pile it on high and let you have at it.

Fish curry first!

Fish curry first!

And have at it I did. Normally I’m a one curry man – but in Penang I was willing to take a walk on the wild side. I bombarded my tongue with fish, beef and chicken curries and blindsided it with BBQ squid, grilled okra and fried chicken. Mmm…

I stare my meal down before I devour it - it's a ritualistic thing.

I stare my meal down before I devour it - it's a ritualistic thing.

Fried chicken and curry…now THAT’s a winning combination.

I opted for roti canai, a much simpler dish: curry sauce served on a piece of soft roti bread. I’d had plenty of roti canai of varying quality back home, but the whiffs I’d caught from the bubbling pots of curry at the front of Line Clear had piqued my interest and I was keen to experience Line Clear’s signature curry in as pure a form as possible, undiluted by secondary ingredients and flavours.

I cut a piece of the roti with my knife, scooped up a healthy dollop of the curry with it, and took my first bite.

Bruce's brain on Penang curry

Bruce's brain on Penang curry

This was the only stock image we could find which could even vaguely approximate what was going on in my head during that first bite.

Let me back up a bit. I love curry.

I don’t consider myself a gourmand by any stretch, but when it comes to food, I live for curry. Curry-based dishes easily make up half of the food I cook for myself (and given how spicy I like it it’s usually only myself who eats it), and I’m constantly striving to refine my curry preparation techniques. I’m always eating curry at restaurants, be they Thai, Indian or Malay, either looking for inspirations for new ways to cook the stuff at home, or just to partake in the sheer bliss that is a perfectly balanced blend of spices rolling across the tongue.

Red, yellow, green, doesn’t matter: I love curry, full stop.

Pots of spicy, delicious manna

Pots of spicy, delicious manna

So, when I tell you that the plate of roti canai I had at Line Clear was the best curry I’ve ever eaten in my life, don’t take that endorsement lightly. Me saying “best curry I’ve eaten” isn’t like me saying “best Jack Black movie I saw this year”. It’s more like “most gorgeous sunset I’ve seen”, “most heartwrenching Maria Callas aria I’ve ever heard”, or “most beautiful Rimbaud poem I’ve ever read”.

Oh sweet bowls of heaven...how I long for thee

Oh sweet bowls of heaven...how I long for thee

I was forced to keep my baser instincts in check and refrain from ravaging the plate like a raccoon on garbage day. For while I was experiencing a transcendently blissful culinary sensation, a deep sadness began to well within. I knew that this moment was, in all likelihood, the peak of my curry-eating life. I could never replicate such an expressive palette of flavours in my own kitchen. I could never hope to find such a fiery yet smooth taste in the restaurants I haunted back home.

This was as good as curry could get, and I had to savour every bite. I fought to keep back the tears and ordered a second plate, just as delicious as the first.

We left the table all too soon for me, but we still had a full day of sight-seeing in Penang ahead of us. When I went to pay the bill I realised that each plate of roti canai had only cost 80 sens, or about one Canadian quarter, a price which would only buy me a fraction of a papadam at any curry house back home.

The sadness won out and I howled like a lonely wolf cub.

Tags: , , ,

2 Responses

  1. Sheila says:

    Recent surveys in Malaysia show that Roti Canai is our top breakfast, followed by Nasi Lemak, Tosai(another Indian delicacy served with curry) and of course we eat it all accompanied by our fave teh tarik ! hehehe

  2. whoyadaddy says:

    curry curry and more curry taste so good i could SLAP ya moma LOL

Leave a Reply