Monday, April 01, 2013

Penang Road Cendol

It was a hot blazing afternoon in Penang. We were thirsty and tired, and we wanted some local makan. Someone in the car mentioned Penang Road cendol. We all drooled at the tempting idea. But we were not sure how to get there. My wife faintly remembered the route. We used Komtar as the landmark and drove through the maddening traffic. 

We finally entered Jalan Penang. We drove along it but could not find a place to park. The cendol stall was enticingly just on our right. So near yet so far. We drove a little further and turned left into Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong. Komtar Walk was on our right. Opposite on our left was a big car park. In spite of the peak hour, the car park was relatively empty. It was heaven sent. We parked and walked a short distant back to Penang Road.

We went inside Joo Hooi Cafe. This so-called "cafe" was really an old run-down coffee shop. It was everything that you wouldn't want to be in. It was old, dirty, crowded, cramped, noisy, and stuffy - by no means a conducive place. But if you are willing to bear with such "trivial" discomforts, you can get some real good makan there.

Although the building was old and somewhat dilapidated, it was in a way quite unique and had its own character. Like this air-well in the ceiling that extended up to the floor above.

We were lucky to get a ready table. After claiming our territory, I went outside to look for cendol.

There were actually 2 competing cendol stalls. I was told both were equally good. The stalls were actually not on Penang Road. They were in a side lane named Lebuh Keng Kwee. It was a crazy place. The lane was hardly 20 feet wide. Beside the food stalls, bicycles, motorbikes and cars squeeze their way past pedestrians and loitering people.

The stall just outside Joo Hooi Cafe sold Teochew cendol. I was intrigued. Was there such a thing as "Teochew cendol"? Anyway, this stall was by far the more popular of the two. There was a long queue and they were doing a roaring business.

The opposite stall, on the other hand, was quiet and deserted.

I ordered 5 bowls from the Teochew stall. The lady asked me if we wanted them inside the coffee shop. I answered in the affirmative. She busily told me they would deliver to us and that it was RM2.50 per bowl. But your signboard said RM2.00. She told me in Hokkien "Eat outside RM2.00. Eat inside RM2.50". Eh? They charge 50 sens per bowl just to deliver the cendol into the coffee shop?

No wonder, people were slurping their bowls outside!

I later found out Joo Hooi Cafe levied a surcharge of 50 sens for outside drinks.

The cendol lived up to its fame and popularity. It was very good. The green cendol was fresh and soft. The santan (coconut milk) was rich and creamy. The gula melaka (brown sugar) blended into the santan perfectly. The added red beans were large, sweet and soft. The shaved ice was not too much as to dilute the goodness of the cendol. Yet it was cold and very refreshing.

We ordered some makan-makan from the stalls in the shop. The char koay teow lady was extremely busy. So we had to try her. We had to wait quite awhile before our plates were delivered to us.

And she certainly did not disappoint. Her CKT was very superior. It was one of the better CKT I had eaten - one of those that Penang is so famous for. There were 2 or 3 large shrimps and some nice see-hum (cockles). The egg was distinct - not mushily fried into the noodles . The servings were not big. But the aroma was. And what an aroma. I can still smell the goodness of it. But I only wished she had been more generous with the taugeh (bean sprouts). It is after all, a cheap ingredient. We shared a couple of plates and ended up ordering a couple more.

The assam laksa was credible, though not as great as the CKT. The fish in the gravy was genuine - generous flakes of ikan kembong. The taste was full - enough assam and enough pedas. Again we ordered seconds.

We had a small plate of lobak. For the uninitiated, Penang lobak is a selection of deep-fried stuffs with a variety of meat rolls, prawn fritters, fried tofu, etc. The lobak here was perhaps the least of the food we had that day. Still it wasn't bad at all. But we were more into the CKT and the laksa.

Sated, we walked back to our car and re-joined the crazy traffic. But it was well worth the effort. We had a wonderful afternoon snack. We will definitely return for more.

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