Food and I have been best buds since the beginning, there isn’t a story that exists in my childhood that includes “but I told her she had to at least try it once.” Five years ago, the unthinkable happens, on a beautiful Southern California day in my parents house while eating shrimp cocktail I break out in hives, everywhere. After a 21 year love affair with crab, lobster, oyster sauce, mussels ….. it was coming to an end, from that moment on I became highly allergic to shellfish. This presented quite the problem while I was planning my cruise throughout Southeast Asia. A healthy 50% of my motivations for traveling are stomach related.. I eat and drink my way through this world, shamelessly, and was not going to be deterred by a deadly allergy in foreign countries, I had to find a way…
*** Disclaimer: This is the point in the blog post where I mention I am far from any sort of qualified medical professional, and do not recommend being cavalier with life-threatening allergies ***
My vacation had one very important thing going for me, that helped tremendously when it came to eating – I was cruising. As mentioned on my Crystal Symphony post, I was traveling via cruise ship and they went above and beyond to accommodate my allergy. I was never more than 8 hours from a delicious meal on the ship so if I really did not feel comfortable with the food I would skip it and stare at my husband’s plate like your dog begging for scraps (it all looked SO good). Not wanting to miss out on an authentic food experience though I started a Google hunt. At first I was extremely discouraged, I ran into horror story after horror story of close call after close call and a few trips to emergency rooms that I did not want to replicate, it seemed impossible to have that hawker street food experience. The common thread with all of these horror stories I was reading were despite what seemed to be extensive research done online about eating with allergies prior to traveling, once “on the ground” these people were going at it alone, armed with note cards that had Google translated messages about allergies written on it, or were trying to communicate with language barriers. I knew I needed to find a local – enter stage right Terence Ooi from Food Tour Malaysia.
*** Second Disclaimer: Common in the travel industry, especially for travel consultants, I received an industry discount for this tour. This was given without any expectation of a review (good or bad), or even mention of being featured on my blog. The only thing that has influenced my review is the delicious… delicious Chendul I ate… ***
After reading various reviews and other blogs about Food Tour Malaysia I reached out to them, to see if they could assist me in arranging a private food tour while accommodating my allergy in either Penang, or Kuala Lumpur. After corresponding back and forth a few times I put down my deposit on a private half day food tour of Penang. The countdown to Penang begins as I start to browse more and more websites dreaming of hawker centers!
10 AM my husband Derek and I were picked up at the Penang cruise port by our wonderful guide Junie Goh. If you are going to do a food tour in Penang, ask for Junie – guides can make or break an experience I’ve had my fair share of good ones and bad ones, and I can tell you she is a “good one.”
We ate and ate…. and ate, we had breakfast, snacks, lunch, dessert and more snacks.It was a good thing we were starving, by the end of the tour we had eaten more than enough the entire day! I cannot stress enough how satisfied we were with all of the food we tried. During my correspondence, I mentioned how I did not want my shellfish-loving husband to miss out and would be okay “not eating” a portion of the tour. Being the friend/younger sister to vegans/vegetarians/gluten-free fad dieters etc. as well as being in the travel industry I’m flexible and understand sometimes the odd man out can get the short end of the stick when people are trying to “accommodate your needs.” This could not be further than the experience I received. Junie had arranged for alternate vegetarian options which would remain shellfish free for me to try so I didn’t have to skip a beat!
Not only were Derek and I belly’s very happy during our private food tour, it also included 2 quick stops to a Burmese and Thai Buddhist Temple as well as the Tan Jetty, one of the clan jetties in Penang. Junie was an excellent guide, explaining life in Penang, the food, culture stories of growing up – overall it was one of the best tours I have done throughout all my travels, and a truly seamless experience from the moment I was picked up. Another benefit of this tour is not only did I get to try all this delicious food, I did not have to worry about ordering, paying and making change etc. it kept things simple.
A full rundown of the food we got to try, for obvious reasons I did not have anything that mentioned shellfish, but my husband did.
1st stop – Pulau Tikus Market
Nyonya Kuih – Kuih Bingka ( yellow coloured made from tapioca), Kuih Lapis or Nine Tier Kuih (red, pink and white coloured consisting of nine layers), Seri Muka ( green pandan custard on top with glutinuous rice on bottom layer) and Huat Kuih (pink coloured usually used for festive occasions)
The Chinese pancake (Ban Chan Kuih) is crispy and cooked in hot pan, made of wheat flour dough with sprinkles of fine sugar, ground peanuts and corn
Nasi Ulam – a Nyonya dish with various types of herbs, dessicated coconut, salted fish, small onions and turmeric finely cut and mixed with cooked white rice
Char Koay Teow, flat noodles fried with garlic, seafood, eggs and bean sprouts
Penang Hokkien Mee – noodles cooked in a prawn base soup served with bean sprouts, slices of pork, boiled eggs, and shrimps
Economy Noodles – vegetarian noodles consisting of flat noodles and vermicelli like noodles fried with bean sprouts served with crispy bean curd strips
Putu Mayong – vermicelli like Indian food served with shaved coconut and brown sugar
2nd stop – Chendul –Dessert consists of shaved iced in a generous serving of fresh coconut milk, sweetened by palm sugar and topped with green pandan flavoured thin strips of green bean dough and stewed red beans
3rd Stop – Roast Chicken/ Roast Pork/Barbeque Pork – served with rice cooked with chicken stock and accompanied with chicken soup and sour mustard soup (Chop Suey)
4th stop – Tan Jetty
Ais Kacang – shaved ice served with sweet corn, herbal jelly, red beans, attap chee (palm tree fruit) with red syrup and root beer syrup topped with evaporated milk
Drinks – iced barley, iced local coffee, and Pegagar (green anti aging drink)
Tarts – Egg tarts and Coconut Tarts
Arranging a private food tour was the perfect compromise between experiencing the local flavor without exposing myself to too much risk with my allergy, next year when I go back to Asia, I’m going to be arranging a lot more! Let me know where you have done a food tour below.