Lychee Fanta and Roti Canai in Penang

21 Sep

By Patric Baird

The Malaysian island of Penang – famously a melting pot of religions and their various cuisines and, rather less famously, the place of my birth.

For the first time since departing as a six-month old baby, I found myself not only back on Penang, but outside the maternity hospital where I had been born exactly forty years ago, almost to the minute.

I thought it would be quite funny to make a pilgrimage to the actual spot where I took my very first breath of hot and humid air, but I suddenly felt strangely at home on the island after four decades of absence.

After spending a few nights in the capital city of Georgetown, staying at the colonial-style E&O hotel where I had also spent my last night in Penang as a mewling infant before my family boarded a boat back to Blighty, we relocated to Shangri-La’s fabulous Rasa Sayang beach resort at Batu Ferringhi (foreigner’s rock).

Days spent lazing by the hotel pool, or gazing over the Straits of Malacca were but ways of killing time before the sun finally set and Batu Ferrringhi’s main attraction, the Global Bay food court, opened for business (sadly since our Penang trip, the Global Bay was bulldozed to make way for a petrol station – a crime against culinary humanity!).

Even after dark, the heat and humidity were stifling and there were only so many cold bottles of Tiger that I could stomach.

I spotted my saviour from dehydration on a stall on our second visit to Global Bay – Lychee-flavoured Fanta.

Bear in mind that at the time of this discovery, I had only ever tasted orange and, much less often, lemon Fanta (too bitter for my tastes).

You either like lychees or love them.  Nothing else is acceptable in my book as they are clearly the fruit of the gods, with their delicate perfume and sweet taste.  Admittedly, they also look like diseased eyeballs.

Paired with another food court discovery, the roti canai (pronounced channi), the combination actually became the sole reason for a return trip to Penang several years later.

I had been advised by my big brother, well versed in Malaysian cuisine (having lived there until the ripe old age of six) to look out for roti canai as the experience, as he remembered it, was almost other-worldly.

Best, but inadequately, described as pancake-shaped bread fried in butter and offered as either a sweet or savoury option, I invariably chose both with curry sauce-dipped and fresh banana-filled rotis making up a two-course evening meal for the remainder of the trip.

Roti for dinner and roti for dessert, washed down by lychee Fanta – it may not be fine dining, but it was certainly fun dining.  And well worth waiting forty years for!

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