Friday, October 26, 2007

Diamond Bay Stopover

"When one realizes that his life is worthless he either commits suicide or travels."

Edward Dahlberg, American novelist and essayist

And the prodigal son returneth. The evening on the 4th day of the Great Penang Road Trip.

Yesterday, I ran into someone twice - someone I won't want to meet even once all year long if I can help it. Later that night in a dream, I live in the same house as him.

Not that that has anything to do with today's post.

Anyway, how many of you can immediately identify this landmark below on sight and tell me where in the world it's found?

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And yeap, it's leaning a little to the left. Hint: t'aint Pisa.

This Chinese pagoda-ish monument was built is 1885 by a then well-known contractor, Mr. Leong Choon Cheong along with another Ceylonese contractor whose name is lost to obscurity.

The purpose of its construction is to store water for the local inhabitants in case of droughts and fires, and it also serves as a public timepiece and for the descendants of those townsmen of yore to brag to out-of-towners about about how they have this cool tower that leans while the rest of us have boring, perfectly perpendicular ones. It's funny how bad architectural planning always ended up being a thing of pride for the natives.

I'll concede that the clock tower was indeed an impressive sight, standing alone in the middle of a vast town square and bordered in all directions by rows of charming, pre-war shophouses. I heard that it was leaning because of an underground stream that runs beneath the foundation but I have no assurance of that story's aunthenticity. It was well worth the detour from my North-South Highway route to swing by this town just to see this, in my opinion. Too bad it was already closed for the day when I got there.

Now, try to guess how many floors it has. Answer at bottom of post.

Oh yeah, for the rest of you that didn't know where this is - it's Teluk Intan, Perak, and that was the Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan. Since 1582, it was in this quaint little town that the rulers of Perak held court before Kuala Kangsar became the Bandar Di-Raja in 1877. Historically, Teluk Intan is the home to the Raja Muda of Perak - if you still remember that complex, pain-in-the-ass throne ascension system the state employed which we had to memorise back in our secondary school years. Aside that, here was also where Dato' Maharajalela, Raja Abdullah and other Malay chieftains met to plot J.W.W. Birch's pawnage.

The town was formerly known as Teluk Anson or Anson Bay, in honour of a British Officer and last Lieutenant-Governor of Penang, Major-General Sir Archibald Edward Harbord Anson who drew the plan of the modern township in 1882). Before that, it was known as Teluk Mak Intan, after a female Mandailing trader. These days, the Chinese community of Malaysia still refer to this place as "Ngon-Sun" (Cantonese) or "Ahn-Sun" (Mandarin) - corruptions of the town's colonial name.

All of the above - including the tower - weren't the reasons why I stopped by here.

My motivations was this;

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Yeah. This. The shop. Not Sze Yin.

Ngon-Sun's famous Heong Peng! It roughly translates to "fragrant biscuit" in English.

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Oodles and oodles of "Heong Peng".

Imagine a powdery, golden-brown bun with sesame seeds dotting its crispy surface - and even before you chow down on it, you can already detect a hint of coy sweetness nestled in its hidden core. Imagine taking a bite and the outer shell broke with a satisfying crunch, showering snowy, white flakes in all over your hands and lips (you'll need a broom after you're done, trust me). Suddenly, the crispy confection gave way to something soft - a sticky, syrupy concoction that is at once sweet and deliciously savoury - and the famed fragrance, imprisoned inside the bun, exploded brazenly on your tongue and palate. Imagine looking at where you bit and finding in delight that there is more of that incredible, gooey, deep-amber goodness from where it comes from... OMGOMGOMG O-M-G

Oh, I said imagine 'cos I don't have any pictures of them. I bought two big packets to bring back to Malacca and before I had a chance of photographing one, I have scoffed the lot.

Of course, the awesome Heong Peng wasn't the real reason I came to Teluk Intan.

This was;

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Old school indeed.

This is purportedly the most famous shop in town that produces the specialty cuisine Ngon-Sun Chee Cheong Fun. Inn Shan's Dad have been so kind as to have already bought some for us and had it ready at his house but I insisted on seeing the chee cheong fun mill for myself anyway.

You'll notice in the picture that there aren't any tables there. That's because you are only allowed to have the chee cheong fun to go. It's either take-away or go-away.

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Where are the Oompa-Loompas?

Anyway, if you're familiar with the delicacy, you'll know that it's basically a rice noodle roll (with the term 'noodle' defined in its utmost looseness here). It's prepared from a viscous white mixture of rice flour and water poured over a cloth draped over a specialised, flat-panned steamer. After the batter solidifies, the resulting fluffy white rice cake is scraped from the cloth and rolled. Fillings ranges from prawns, pork and vegetables, and they are added to the rice batter in the steamer if so desired. The dish can be served with a variety of sauces - whichever tickles your fancy. It's an admirably customizable cuisine.

When I was younger, I always ta pow a packet every night from the food court near my house and I have watched the cooking process nigh a thousand times. No matter how many times I've seen and eaten it elsewhere, I would never have expected this;

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What the fuck is this?

Yeap, that's the famous Ngon-Sun Chee Cheong Fun. And no, it wasn't burnt or anything. Those dark brown pocks on the usually pure white noodle rolls were bits of sengkuang (or pickled chinese turnip or yam bean) and dried shrimp steamed into the mix. As a further 'fuck you' to conventions, it's served with slices of sour pickled green chili instead of a sauce.

It's awesome.


Forgive my enthusiasm. That usually happen when I discover a new mix of flavours I didn't think is possible. Maybe it's just the novelty of it but I attacked and finished two whole packets on my own, and would have gone on to my third if I haven't decided (in spite of the protests from my stomach and the other organs staffing my gut) to save it for my aunt in KL, whose house I was going to put up a night in later. Gallant is I, indeed.

Sze Yin and I said goodbye to Inn Shan and left Teluk Intan for KL late in the evening. I dropped Sze Yin at her house in Subang and I, in turn, headed to my aunt's place in Bandar Sri Damansara. And they all live happily ever after. The end.

P.S. The answer is 3 (not counting the water tank at the top). Neat optical illusion, right? Tell me honestly now; how many of you got it right?

Is relieved that it's finally all wrapped up,
k0k s3n w4i

Other posts in my Great Penang Road Trip series:


InnShan said...

OMG! k0k travel series finally comes to an end. Fuiyo, u did your homework on TI history. Well, we did it in our secondary school PMR history project.

kinda cool. proud to be a ti dude.
next time when i go back, i tapao cheecheongfun for u la...just remind me!~ hehe

Dr.Vishaal Bhat said...

Only 3?

k0k s3n w4i said...

Yeah, when we're in the Malaccan campus - you must bring back some after every time you go back to Teluk Intan. I shall reward you greatly for that :D

@dr.vishaal bhat
I didn't believe it at first too. Try counting the doors.

Anonymous said...


Hup Aik bakes their Heong Peng early in the morning. They come out of the oven by 930, and about 1030-ish would have cooled down to D PERFECT temperature. On the outside, it's incredibly crispy. And what flows out instantly melts in your mouth, still hot. Man that's the best part weih. It's a totally different experience all together... the cooled, ready packed ones and those fresh from the oven. You HAVE to come again. I'll take u.

Hahaha and I really love what you wrote on the pride and glory of TA; Liew Kee's chee cheung fun. Casey didn't like it. Whatever. I grew up having chee cheung fun for supper.

Yer do come again. Shame I wasn't around when you went to TA...

Anonymous said...

BY the way, according to the "see thao poh" of HupAik, people of TA ONLY eats heong peng fresh from the oven. The packed ones are mainly for tourists.

Well that's what my mother says lar.. cos she is one of those paranoid TA people.

k0k s3n w4i said...

@kit sze
Where were you when I came?
I'll come by if I'm ever going up to Ipoh again, haha. Wait scratch that! I'm definitely coming again for hot heong peng! We only live once xD
And you're my chee cheong fun sister! I grew up with the stuff too - but with the normal sort, of course. Gosh, think of all the TA chee cheong fun I could have eaten instead.
Casey's a Penangite. They are always so snobbish when it comes to food, hmph.

Anonymous said...

I was in KL for a dental appointment. DANG!! PLEASE come again. I'm extending an invitation that comes with all the hot heong pengs that u can eat. We'll go to Ipoh too for some Hor fun and nga choy kai.

Apparently Penang has the best tau sah peah. Some shop called Heem Heah or some similar sounding hokkien names. I plan to go sample some the next time we go back.

k0k s3n w4i said...

@kit sze
Throw in all the free Chee Cheong Fun I can eat as well and I'll consider it xD.
We bought a few boxes of tau sah peah (biskut tambun) between us too. I finished all of them before I came back to India. Buy me a couple of boxes when you go, k! I show you all the best Malaccan eats in return - even the ones we don't tell outsiders about :D

Anonymous said...

*Deal* You got yourself free flow of CCF