Whenever we're up to Penang, which is more and more often these days, we lodge at a friend's house in George Town. And because part of the pleasure, for us, of being in Penang is ditching the car for a few days we tend to eat, shop, and hang out within a fairly circumscribed radius -- anywhere walkable within, say, 30 minutes.
Given the amount of time we've spent here over the last 2.5 years you'd think that would mean we've pretty much exhausted grazing possibilities. But no. Every stay, it seems, brings a new discovery.
Like this sweet soup, which its Chinese vendor calls simply "sago".
Sweet soups abound in Malaysia. There are Chinese-style sweet soups called tong sui, made with ingredients like peanuts, white fungus, lychees, and glutinous rice balls, and more Malay-ish sweet soups rich with coconut milk and palm sugar, such as bubur pulut hitam and bubur kacang hijau.
This sweet soup is an intriguing marriage of the two: sago pearls and chunks of softened sweet potato in a broth sweetened with brown sugar and strongly flavored with Chinese medicinal herbs, drizzled with coconut milk (squirted from a plastic squeeze bottle) just before serving. Half health tonic and half dessert, this soup bore an unmistakeable salty edge that made it strangely refreshing in the afternoon heat. A bit strange at first taste, but the sort of flavor combination that grows on you with every bite.
This discovery was serendipitous. There's no signage advertising the stall's presence, just a few tables set up underneath a plastic tarp and a couple of umbrellas in the yard of a tumbledown wooden house on Beach Street. The soup is served only on Tuesday afternoons. When we've journeyed up to Penang we've usually left on Sunday or Monday, and even when we're in town we're not often cruising treeless Beach Street at two in the afternoon, when the sun is high in the sky.
But fate or fortune brought Dave past this house one afternoon while he was shooting George Town for an upcoming article. He noticed the stall and we made a point of returning. It just happened to be Tuesday.
There are two other items on offer here -- a clear soup with beehoon (rice vermicelli) and choy sum (mustard) leaves, and a warm sweet ginger soup with taro and sweet potato that is so forcefully flavored with the rhizome that it almost burns the throat going down. (This is the soup I would want if I were suffering from a cold.)
This stall was started by the current vendor's father over 50 years ago. "You're so lucky to be here on a Tuesday!" a regular patron told us. We'd have to agree. After two bowls of sago (and a taste of the ginger soup) it was all we could do not to order a third.
Sweet soups and beehoon soup stall, Lebuh Pantai / Beach Street. Mon-Fri only from 2pm until the soups are gone. Herbal coconut sago soup Tuesdays only.