For local veteran getai entertainer Wang Lei, the Malaysian state of Penang isn't enticing merely due to its renowned old world charm but also because it is a food paradise.
"The cuisine in Penang is unbeatable," said the gangly 53-year-old in Mandarin, when M met up with him on Monday.
"You can walk along the streets, find any hawker stall and it's almost guaranteed that the dishes they serve will be downright amazing.
"Penang food definitely appeals to Singaporeans' tastes. It's fragrant and the flavours are just nice, not too rich."
A household name among heartlanders with his hilarious getai banter, Wang spent more than a month in Penang last year filming Malaysian comedy My Papa Rich, which is now showing here.
Wang stars as a down-and-out widowed chicken rice seller who is offered a brief chance to live life as a millionaire by his longtime friend Lin (Jack Neo).
Given how familiar Wang was with Malaysian food, it was apt that we were having lunch at Jurong Point's Malaysia Boleh! Food Court.
His affinity with Malaysia is set to continue. This year, the actor, who has three children aged between 22 and 31, will be in Ipoh for two months to shoot a new film.
We're having a feast today. There's lor bak (the Penang version of ngoh hiang), bean sprouts chicken, oyster omelette, char kway teow and popiah. Any favourites here?
Everything is delicious! Bean sprouts chicken is very famous in Ipoh. It's kind of like the city's signature. Similarly, in Kuala Lumpur, the bak kut teh is a must-try.
Oyster omelette is one of my favourites. The most important part about oyster omelette is of course the oysters, and I'm happy to see that the oysters here are huge.
I've known the bosses of Malaysia Boleh! Food Court for some time and I am aware that they bought the recipe for the lor bak directly from a 70-plus-year-old Penang hawker. It's so good. Overall, the dishes serving Penang fare here are as close to authentic as you can get.
In your view, what makes Malaysian fare stand out from the pack?
I think it's because Malaysian hawkers retain some of the old styles of cooking. For example, in Singapore now, char kway teow is mostly fried over a gas stove. In Penang, all the hawkers still use a charcoal stove.
At some places, they put a banana leaf under the char kway teow, which makes the dish even more appetising.
The chee cheong fun in Penang is special too. Instead of drizzling it with sweet sauce, Malaysian hawkers drizzle it with hae ko (prawn paste).
What is the most unique dish you've tried in Penang?
When I was filming My Papa Rich there, a Malaysian friend took me to a nondescript eatery where I tried a very special stewed dish. It was a whole black chicken stuffed inside pig stomach. The soup had a nice pepper taste.
You can never find it in Singapore. If I have the chance, I want to import the dish into Singapore.
After a long night of hosting and performing at getai shows, do you go for supper? Yes, I enjoy supper every night after work. After my getai shows, I love a big bowl of laksa. Sometimes I have wanton mee. Due to my age, I try to avoid deep-fried food. I used
to love fried stuff, but these days, I've cut down on my intake. I don't really like drinking soup, but my wife, who is Cantonese, has gradually influenced me to do this.
Do you have any quirks when it comes to eating?
Since I was a youngster, I cannot eat mixed economical rice out of a takeaway box. I just can't. I can eat when the dishes are laid out separately on the table, but not when everything is put into a box. That's the strangest part about me I guess.
I'm a quintessential "old Hokkien" and I must have rice for dinner. I don't know how to appreciate Western food at all. Once, my children took me to a Western-style buffet and I have to admit, I didn't like it.
Do you cook? Any speciality dishes?Not long ago, I learnt how to whip up cereal prawns from a hotel chef for a TV cooking programme. It was a great experience and my prawns received praise from my relatives. As for simple home-cooked food, I can do fried rice pretty well.
This article was first published on March 11, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.