How low can you go?

In today’s atmosphere of endlessly increasing prices, PEGGY LOH is thrilled to find pockets of bargains on a visit to Penang

Low, low price laksa?
Low, low price laksa?
IN a steamy, crowded kopitiam in Jalan Penang, the fragrant aroma of freshly cooked food made my mouth water as I eagerly anticipated the joys of eating char kway teow, which ranks high on my must-eat list when in Penang.

When the hawker placed the plate on the table and hissed, “Nor kor peik,” I nearly fell off my chair!

My Hokkien vocabulary was very limited and I could barely figure that his words meant RM2.80!

I was too stunned to respond, so my cousin quickly paid him. Still pondering about the surprising low price, I extended my fingers to count off the digits in Hokkien and asked the others to confirm that “peik” means eight!

As I dug into the stirfried rice noodles, I was delighted to discover that the hawker had used a banana leaf to line the plate as this enhanced the dish’s smoky flavour. There were prawns, egg and vegetables and at such a low price, the dish simply tasted better.

This started us talking about how rare it is these days to find good food at such low prices.
Our reminiscing inevitably went back to childhood days where the owner of a provision shop next to grandpa’s house sold ais kacang in an enamel bowl for only five sen. And because we could use our own bowls for takeaways, we shrewdly brought bigger ones that he would fill with a large dollop of red-beans, heaped it with ice-shavings and flavoured with generous drizzles of rose syrup, gula melaka and evaporated milk! And charged only five sen still!

While this nostalgic story is best preserved as history, it fueled our desire to seek out more sumptuous food at even lower prices.  Later, when we went on a round-the-island drive, we steered clear of touristy food areas because this spells pricey!

My navigators gave me directions to drive to Air Hitam and a sudden downpour did not deter us from our relentless pursuit of low-priced good food.  We followed our noses and found the famous asam laksa stall outside the Air Hitam market.  A crowd of customers were seated at tables on the pavement, enjoying steaming bowls of noodles in a lip-smacking spicy-sour fish soup at only RM2.50 per bowl!

With a nice warm feeling in my stomach and lips throbbing from the spicy soup, we drove to Balik Pulau and wound our way along roads bordered by durian orchards.

There were many stalls selling fresh durians but I screeched to a stop at an “Eat Here” sign. I looked past a large drawing of a durian and zeroed in on a smaller sign that read “Laksa RM1”.  Wow! But my excitement was short-lived because it was closed. It’s just a small setback but it gives me good reason to return and check out this great deal!

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 18 August 2008

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