How do Malaysian Chinese raise their children?

- Penang, Malaysia: Asia's culinary belly button

The second stop on their family trip around the world takes Poppendiecks - Inforadio editor Jörg, his wife Kerstin and daughter Thandi (5) to the Malaysian island of Penang. There is the best and most diverse food in Asia, they say: Influences from Chinese, Indian and Arabic cuisine have come together here. Together the Poppendiecks tell how they tasted it.

Kerstin: Those who travel need luck. Sounds like a calendar saying, but it's true. And we're lucky. In Penang, the country's independence is celebrated on our first day of travel - and we are right in the middle of it. In the big parade in front of the town hall of Georgetown, the island's capital, groups of schoolchildren, the fire brigade, the military and many others march with us who we cannot recognize in a hurry.

Jörg: The whole thing reminds me of May 1st in the GDR when I had to march through Premnitz in Brandenburg with my school class. But there is hardly a better way to immerse yourself in the country and watch the people standing by the roadside with flags.

You don't notice here and now that there are conflicts between the individual ethnic groups in Malaysia. Everyone is marching happily. Even the army flew in jets over the old town of Georgetown. What a spectacle! Thandi thought it was great. At my request, we fled to an air-conditioned café after two hours.


  • Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio

    The Poppendiecks in Malaysia

Kerstin: We chose Penang as our travel destination because friends recommended the island to us. And for two reasons: Here you can experience the diversity of peoples and history of Malaysia in a small space. Penang was once a British trading post on the Strait of Malacca, a strait between Malaysia and Sumatra. The island was on the spice route and was a bustling trading center. That's why Europeans, Chinese, Indians and Arabs have moved here and stayed here over the years.

Jörg: And what they have brought with them is their regional cuisine. Georgetown today has a reputation for serving the best and most diverse cuisine in Asia. And then we come to the second reason to travel - the food. Most of the food here is on the street. Hawkers sell their food in food stalls. We don't want to miss that. However, the three of us are a demanding mix: I like to eat, but can't tolerate anything spicy. Kerstin has little desire for adventure and Thandi is a five-year-old who prefers to eat pasta with ketchup. That's why we bought a bottle of ketchup in Penang as a precaution. In case we don't find anything.

  • Georgetown: old temple meets new temple | Image: Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio
  • Independence Day is celebrated in Georgetown on August 31st. | Image: Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio
  • The children also celebrate. | Image: Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio
  • Breakfast at an Indian coffee shop in Georgetown. Frothing milk in a different way. | Image: Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio
  • A Chinese breakfast restaurant. There is a large Chinese community in Penang. | Image: Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio
  • In Georgetown, people like to cook and eat outside, and they often do so. | Image: Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio
  • There are street cooks on every corner ... | Image: Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio
  • ... which are called "Hawker" here. | Image: Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio
  • Jörg eats Assam Laksa. Probably the most popular food in Penang. In any case, the people here are particularly proud of this dish. | Image: Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio
  • At the Wonderfood Museum in Georgetown. You are proud of the local cuisine! | Image: Jörg Poppendieck, rbb Inforadio

Kerstin: We are on our way in the Indian quarter of the old town of Georgetown, on a food tour. Jessi is our guide. She is 63, born in Penang and the first thing she tells us: Everything is eaten in Penang at any time of the day. For breakfast we had poori, deep-fried Indian bread and chutneys: "You can always eat this. If you eat it in the morning, you simply call it breakfast. If you eat it at noon, you call it lunch. You. You You can also eat it in the evening. Whenever you want. It's more about what you feel like when you get up in the morning. My ancestors are from India. But that doesn't mean I need an Indian breakfast. I could have a Chinese one too , or a Malaysian meal. I want to be honest. When we eat, we're usually not really hungry at all. We see or smell something and then just want to eat it. That's why the food stalls are so full. When I'm at a pancake stand When I come by, I sometimes just stop even though I'm not hungry and get one, simply because I feel like it and the hawker is just good. We live to eat. "

Jörg: An unadorned, white-tiled room with plastic tables and chairs is the second stop on our culinary journey through downtown Georgetown. We are now in the Chinese quarter. Here we try Char Kway Tiau. One of the most famous dishes in Penang: noodles fried in lard in a wok with dark soy sauce, bean sprouts, mussels, shrimp, spicy Chinese sausage. A no-go for Thandi. She is filling her stomach with Chinese pancakes.

"You should have more of the pancakes, Thandi. You are in Penang. We were born here to eat," says Jessi. "Because of our history and all the immigrants from China and India, we have all cultures and their cuisines under one roof. We call it Malaysian cuisine, but I don't know if it can really be called authentic Malaysian cuisine. We're just happy that all the people are here. We don't have to go to China or India for Chinese or Indian food. "

Kerstin: But like Berlin, Georgetown is also a city in transition. Countless skyscrapers have been built around the historic old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And the associated malls - air-conditioned consumer temples. They are quite pleasant to relax after a tour of the old town - but at the same time they are a stark contrast to the food stalls on the streets. For me, the food stalls are more authentic, where people cook on a hot wok in scorching heat, as well as in heavy rain.

Jörg: Jessi tells us that while the people of Penang love street food, the job of a hawker is no longer very popular. She fears that the food scene will change in the coming years. Simply because the Hawkers 'children are no longer taking on their parents' jobs as they used to be. According to Jessi, they no longer feel like doing the strenuous and unprofitable job.

I spoke to Lim Oon about this. He cooked our fried noodles. Lim is 35 years old and told me how tough the job is: "In the beginning it was really tough. People complained about our food. We saw it as an experience and worked hard to become good and famous hawkers . "

Lim cooks Char Kway Teow. It's fried noodles with pork, chilli, prawns and soy sauce. He describes his life as a hawker as challenging: "Life is hard. Now, for example, it's raining heavily. We hardly have any guests. Many stay in their hotels or go to shopping malls. People are too lazy to come to us." Then there is hardly anything going on. In addition, we have to get up very early, around 4 am, to prepare our ingredients. The prawns have to be peeled. If you are still asleep, we have been up for a long time and are preparing everything. "

After such a long day at work, of course, he also has to eat, says Lim: "I eat rice that I cooked myself. With steamed fish or with chicken or vegetables. Or just fruit. Sometimes I'm just lazy and lazy. Then I visit Colleagues and eat with them. Sometimes Malaysian, sometimes Chinese or Indian. "

Kerstin: After visiting Koch Oon (Uhn) we move on. The best at the very end, says Jessi. Assam Laksa. The people of Penang are particularly proud of this. Assam Laksa is a spicy, hot noodle soup that is typical of Malaysia's cuisine. Chinese immigrants brought them here and added Malay elements to them. A great example of Penang's fusion cuisine. Assam Laksa is prepared with broth, shrimp paste, fresh mackerel, chilli, pineapple, cucumber, mint from Vietnam and spring onions.

"Be careful and don't bite the chiles," warns Jessi. "It's also not easy to eat because the rice noodles are round and not flat ..."

Kerstin: And so it was. It was tasty. Even if I needed the gentle pressure from Jessi and Jörg to try it. We wandered through Penang with Jessi for seven hours, tasted dishes in countless small cookshops and can now understand why everything in Penang revolves around food. The people here are proud that Georgetown is now a Unesco World Heritage Site - but they are even more proud of their cuisine.

Jörg: And rightly so. The variety, the intensity, the love and enthusiasm that is put into the dishes here. Just great! Thandi, our 5-year-old daughter, could certainly have imagined more beautiful things than moving from cookshop to cookshop for hours. In the end, she was always through and happy to jump into a pool.

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