A word of advice: If you're in Penang, and you're watching your weight, do not hook up with this woman. Don't let her petite frame fool you; she'll run you ragged and shoot your diet to hell (albeit deliciously so) all in the short space of one afternoon.
We met up with Bee after a full morning of research (read: eating) for an article on a local food tradition. We'd started the day with kerabu beehoon and moved on to all manner of snacks and small bites, starting slowly and picking up speed (and bulk) as noon approached. After a two-hour break we felt almost ourselves again. Then the whirlwind and font of local knowledge that is Bee arrived at our hotel. The next few hours would seriously challenge our commitment to culinary exploration.
After stopping at one of Bee's favorite shops for a snack that, at her behest, suddenly turned into a full, dinner-sized meal (and a fine one at that), we moved on in search of mee goreng (fried noodles). Mission accomplished, our bellies begged us to call it a day. Bee would hear none of it.
'You've got to try pasembur. I've been eating it everyday since I got home.'
Bee favors three spots for Chinese-style pasembur, a melange of fresh and cooked ingredients doused in a sweetish sauce that is rarely found outside of Penang. The first was closed. Respite! The second, too - shut tight. Our stomachs breathed a sigh of relief. The third, a stall at the hawker center opposite the Batu Lanchang wet market, was open. Groan.
Thankfully, the dish is, as Bee described, a relatively light one. The vendor - who was recently visited by a crew from Malaysia's 'Ho Chiak' food show - starts by piling on a plate strips of cucumber and jicama, chopped firm tofu, bean sprouts, crispy shrimp crackers, and squares of chewy fried fritters. On top go a couple of generous spoonfuls of a 'gravy' made from sweet potatoes and (we suspect) plum sauce, mixed with chili sauce, sesame seeds, and chopped peanuts. The lot is crowned with a few ruffled pieces of jellyfish.
The result is a winner, crispy and crunchy and fresh-tasting, with a just a little bit of dietary evil (in the form of those deep-fried prawn crackers) thrown in. We'd probably opt for more chili next time, to better balance the sweetness of the sauce. If you're going to go overboard - and really, in the gastronomic paradise that is Penang, is there any other way to eat? - this snack-sized dish heavy on the good-for-you ingredients is the one to do it with.
Pasembur stall, Batu Lanchang food court (opposite the afternoon wet market), Penang. Afternoons.