Note: Folks, I have no idea why some paragraphs in this post appear underlined when I view it in Explorer but not when I view it in Firefox, or why the underline that appears in my Typepad screen refuses to be removed. But it's evening here in George Town, and time to walk the dog again, so I'll leave it be for now. In the meantime, any suggestions for fixes welcome.
In George Town our morning routine is like this: get up, grab the dog (we've been fortunate enough to be able to dog-sit for a friend whenever we're in town), and walk three blocks to Campbell Street Market.
Over the last couple of days I've been talking to alot of Penang-ites and other concerned folks about last year's UNESCO World Heritage designation and what it's meant for George Town. Everyone's got an opinion, and those opinions are all over the map.
I'll just say this: I'm glad for the UNESCO designation, if for no other reason than that it might mean Campbell Street Market has a fighting chance of surviving as a real wet market.
All over Asia inner-city markets are being closed to make way for development, or gussied up to the point that they resemble open-air Carrefours. Campbell Street Market is probably a shadow of its former self, but it's still a real live market. Housed in an attractive colonial-era structure modeled after Victorian-area markets in Britain, it boasts large seafood section, a busy poultry section, some dry goods vendors, and a few pork sellers.
If you walk by around 9p, when the market is otherwise deserted and the streets around are still and dark, you'll find a few butchers breaking down carcasses for the next day's sales. Occasionally a car pulls up to the curb, and out steps an in-the-know customer whose come to purchase a kilo or two of George Town's freshest meat.
In the mornings a good portion of the market's action happens on Carnavon Lane, which runs perpendicular to Campbell Street alongside one wall of the market. Lining the road are vegetables and fruit stalls, wrinkled old men selling fresh prawns and fish, an elderly lady hawking fish balls and five kinds of bean curd, and vendors standing behind displays of dried fish and prawns and fresh noodles.
Behind this row of vendors are four or five tables, placed snug up against the market's wall. They're always filled, and often their occupants are slurping up noodles in a soup that's tinted such a dark crimson that just looking at it nearly makes the back of your throat burn. It's always a temptation to stop for a bowlful -- but there's Dave, back on the corner with the dog, waiting for me and his bag of coffee.
Last week though, we got our chance. Walking by Campbell Street Market around 10:30 -- coffees long drunk, dog walked hours ago -- we were free to pull up a couple metal stools and sample the noodles we've been eyeing for the last four months.
The vendor advertises sup kari (coconut curry soup with noodles) and qing tang mian (clear noodle soup). What we'd been coveting, and what we ended up with, is actually a cross of the two: clear noodle soup with a splodge of red curry paste on top. The bigger the splodge, the hotter the dish.
There's sliced roast pork in there, and briny-fresh prawns with a little bit of crunch. The stock is light but meaty. And the curry paste -- well, it's fantastic: toasty flavored from roasted dried chilies, lightened with perhaps some lemon grass, spiked with garlic and ginger and given depth with maybe a few ground dried spices, fiery enough to bring a tingle to the lips but not so spicy as to overpower the porkiness of the stock. It delivers a shocking little burst of heat that quickly recedes. Didn't miss the coconut milk, not at all.
Eating at tables around us were trishaw drivers, housewives laden with plastic bags bursting vegetables, and a newspaper seller from across the way. Without Campbell Street Market to draw business, it's doubtful that this noodle seller would be here.
And so, for purely selfish reasons, I say 'Long may the UNESCO World Heritage designation stand.'
Noodle soup stall, next to Campbell Street Market, Carnavon Road almost at the corner of Campbell Street, George Town, Penang. Early morning till noon or 1pm-ish.