Shoot, maybe we should have ordered that instead! (Click four arrows to enlarge to full screen.)
I suppose we've all, at some point in our respective dining-out histories, suffered from food envy, that nagging feeling that your neighbors ordered more skillfully than you did.
But until Dave showed me this sequence of photos I was under the impression that only we were uncouth enough to crane our necks after a server delivering a particularly tempting plate of food to a nearby table.
The dish in question is this, a beautiful silver pomfret 'Teochew style' -- steamed with tomatoes, black mushrooms, shredded pickled mustard, sour plums, and a few paper-thin slices of three-story pork, and served garnished with cilantro leaves and slivered scallion.
It's a dish we've eaten elsewhere, but never enjoyed as much as we did the full-on tart version lovingly prepared at Teik Seng in George Town, Penang. It epitomizes, we think, the restaurant's approach to every dish it serves: top-notch ingredients, no holds barred when it comes to flavorings.
(That bacon candy was, by the way, siew yoke or roasted pork, not barbecued pork as we'd thought. We continue to wonder how Teik Seng coaxed chewy stickiness from the dish, so different in taste and texture from another version served at a restaurant two blocks over.)
The morning of the day that we ate that fish we found the uncle who busses tables and delivers drinks at Teik Seng seated there behind a pile of French beans, carefully snipping the notched end off of each one. A few hours later we enjoyed those beans (they aren't on the menu; it pays to ask about specials before you order) stir-fried with garlic, minced and chopped pork (just a little bit of each, more for flavor than for protein), tiny dried shrimp, and a few fresh prawns. The crunch of the beans contrasted with the chew of the miniature crustaceans, while the freshness of crisp-tender beans balanced the meat's fat.
On other occasions we've enjoyed Teik Seng's prawns cooked with tamarind, candied and caramelized in spots but still strikingly sour, just the way we like them (I eat them heads, shells, and all);
ethereally light, nearly greaseless deep-fried squid, tender slices wrapped in crackly-crunchy cloaks;
and a mixture of seafood (the generically named 'sea bass', fish maw, crab, prawns, squid) stewed in a claypot, redolent of huatiao jiu (Chinese sweet 'yellow' rice wine) and juices seeped from the seafood.
Teik Seng's preparations -- such as this asam fish ('fish curry' on the menu, but it's your classic Penang-style spicy and tamarind-soured fish stew with tomatoes and okra; we love the gravy that's thick with bits of lemongrass and chili-hot enough to make us break out in a sweat)
and these potato leaves stir-fried with sambal belacan (chili sauce made with belacan, or shrimp paste) and plump, briny prawns
are not always pretty, but they do always leave us almost deliriously happy.
Until, that is, we get a look at what the folks at the next table are eating.
Kedai Makanan Teik Seng, Carnavon Street between Chulia and Campbell, George Town, Penang. 12 noon-2:30p and 5:30-8:30p. Closed on Tuesdays.