Wednesday, May 23, 2012

10 Foods Americans Miss Most

Last month, CNN Go posted an article listing the 10 Foods Americans Miss Most While Abroad. Read original story here. Well, this is my response from Malaysia. Penang is supposedly the foodie heaven of Southeast Asia. I've fallen in love with Char Kway Teow, Roti Canai, and Curry Mee. But it's only human for an American gal to occasionally crave American food.

Mexican Food
Not surprisingly, it's really hard to find amazing Mexican food in Penang. As a Texas gal accustomed to having multiple taco stands to choose from, it's been difficult. One place recently opened up near me called Grumpiez Green Pepper, but my other choices are Chili's (barely mediocre) or the quesadillas at T.G.I.Friday's. The hand-down best Mexican restaurant in Malaysia is La Mexicana in Kuala Lumpur which is, unfortunately for me, a 4-hour drive away. It's kind of funny how my Texan expat friends seek out Mexican restaurants in Singapore, Chiang Mai, Beijing, and Siem Reap because the more metropolitan Asian cities have a better chance of serving up platters that are muy bueno.

I've actually been buying Old El Paso Taco Kits more often here than I ever did in the U.S. But since it's manufactured in Middlesex, England, how authentic can it be? The first time I ripped open the spice mix packet, I swear the aroma of curry wafted up to my nose.

How could I tell this was British?
Perhaps it was the phrases, "splash of oil,"
"brown the mince," and "lovely rich, tasty filling."
These are tacos that you eat with your pinkies up.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch (and other cereals)
Cereals aren't impossible to find, although you'll pay out the wazoo for American made ones. The few times we've seen Cinnamon Toast Crunch at the store, the kids have asked for it. Instead of my normal, "Too much sugar" response, I say, "Do you think we're the Rockefellers?" At US$8 for a box, it's now a luxury. The Kellogg's cereal is manufactured in Thailand, and Nestle is produced in the Philippines. These are the affordable cereals. And so far, we've only chipped one tooth eating it.

Along the same note, Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing is another little luxe item. I've only seen it on the shelves twice in the 10 months I've been in Penang, and it's US$7 for a medium sized bottle.

Chili Fries
I've never found chili fries in Penang, but it's no skin off my nose since I'm not a particular fan. I bet the Canadian version of this story lists Poutine in this spot.  UPDATE: I spotted Chili Cheese Fries on the menu of Morgenfield's at Gurney Paragon Mall.

Root Beer
A&W Root Beer is nowhere on the menu. However, you can find A&W Sarsaparilla. Maybe it's because Muslims can't consume alcohol, so A&W moved away from the word "beer". There's an A&W restaurant in the nearby mall where we can get root beer floats. Due to a slight misunderstanding even though everyone was speaking English, I accidentally upsized our entire order and got double scoops of ice cream. My kids thought I was awesome that day.

Proper Hamburgers
If you order a hamburger in Penang, chances are that you won't come away feeling like a glutton. That's a good thing. Burgers are actually reasonably sized. Getting a tasty, juicy chargrilled burger is difficult, although the Canteen at China House is one place in Penang to find them. Forget about making the perfect burger at home. For some reason, all the ground beef at the store is Weight Watchers Minced Beef which is code for "so low fat that you don't need to worry about grease flare ups."

One burger could daintily fit on the palm of my hand.

Rainforest Bakery makes bagels and offers free delivery. It's a delicious ring of doughy, chewy bread, but it is NOT a bagel. The outer crust is wrong, offering no resistance when biting in. At the high end grocery store, Cold Storage, I can sometimes find Bagels Forever made in Madison, Wisconsin in the freezer section. "Sometimes" is the operative word. When I get back to America, Panera Bread is high on my list of must-eat places. (Use this info to revile me if you consider yourself a true bagel connoisseur.)

Domino's delivers, even in Malaysia. What do you want? Tuna Extreme, Prawn Passion or Spicy Sambal? Don't worry. Pepperoni (beef or chicken) and Cheese are also options. You can actually get some good wood oven pizzas at a few Western places around town, so all is not lost.

Popcorn is definitely available in Penang. Cold Storage carries Orville Redenbacher or Paul Newman, but like the Cinnamon Toast Crunch, be prepared to pay the big bucks. At the movie theater, you have the choice of Salted, Lite n Sweet or Caramel. The concession stand is so cheap that each kid gets their own box. They also hear me say, "Wow, we could never afford to do this in America."

Penang isn't Europe. You can readily get ice with your drinks here. Of course, it's so bloody hot that it will melt in 10 seconds, and the condensation sluicing off your glass will convince you that it's leaking. I'm so seasoned that I drink iced juices from outside hawker stalls without fear of getting the runs. (Can you hear me furiously knocking on wood?)

Free Ketchup Packets
The fast food places will include packets in your takeaway (that's "to go" for us Americans). Look carefully, though. There's a good chance that you're squirting Chili Sauce instead of Tomato Ketchup on your fries.

Squirty and red. It's delicious, but it ain't ketchup.

How can I tell that the guy who wrote the original CNN Go post isn't a Texan? Barbeque is nowhere on his list.

This post is part of Foodie Tuesday on Inside Journeys. Check it out for more delicious inspiration.


  1. Hahahaha! My husband would never survive without his daily Mexican food intake. . . or his daily BBQ meals. I couldn't imagine paying $8 for a box of cereal. Yikes!

    1. I brought back liquid smoke to make BBQ. That would make your guy so sad. I'm envious whenever I read on FB that you have your smoker going.

    2. where u find liquid smoke in malaysia?

    3. I haven't found any in Penang, so I had to bring it with me from Texas.

  2. You need to come to KL for some shopping. My husband is a huge cereal eater so we're always buying it. CTC is usually on the shelf and is 20 MYR. Life and the like are 12.

    1. I think I'll leave my kids behind in Penang when I drive to KL to make more room for groceries. Oh, I should hit up the IKEA while I'm there, too. Have I really reached the point where I fantasize about grocery shopping?

    2. Don't worry, I have the same dream of going to KL for some grocery shopping! We might have to make a plan to go in August after the kids go back to school.

  3. I love the Domino's pizza flavors you have there. Holy cow on the price of cereal and Hidden Valley -some things we take for granted here. I don't know what I'd do without Mexican food. I'd probably miss that as much as you miss BBQ.

    1. I like Mexican food in California. It's much lighter than TexMex.

  4. I'm not from the US but I lived in South America long enough to miss awesome Mexican food and bagels. Yet to find either that equally satisfies here.

    1. I didn't know South America had bagels. I'll really miss Malay food when I go home for good. Even if I learn the recipes, I suspect I still won't be able to pull off really good laksa or char kway teow. There's supposedly one Malay restaurant in Houston that I'll have to try.

  5. Domino's pizza certainly gets my vote. Best delivery as well.

  6. $8 for a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch?! Sounds like you need a care package from the U.S. :-) The "mexican" food and bagels seem to need some help, but I have to say, I LOVE chili sauce!

  7. Penang is missing a good brunch place. Just the other day, I was thinking of IHOP.

    Habanero at Queensbay has hard shell tacos but the filling's a miss unfortunately.

    Ben's has a good grilled cheese sandwich.

    From my knowledge, the beef is usually from Australia. No offence Australian cows, but USA grade A beef is where it's at.

    Marshall's near Giant on Burmah Lane is a burgers only joint. Guess you could give that a try. Can't vouch if it tastes good though, being a herbivore and all. ;)

  8. A little late but welcome to Penang!

  9. I have many of the same issues in Korea. The Mexican in Daejeon is lousy at the best of times. There's one that I like in Seoul, but the prices make me ill! I don't eat cereal, but sometimes have a look at the prices, and clutch my wallet. Korean pizza is crap...think corn and potato...enough said! Although, I have to say the western food situation has improved a lot in the past 13 years!

  10. Well we are in week 2 in Greece and I just today mentioned a 'tuna fish sandwich' which of course I could make as they have canned tuna but it was 5-euro a can, and they have Heilmans Mayonnaise and I am certain that because they have ketchup, etc. I could find pickles. . .but somehow as you say it just wouldn't quite be the same. I laughed though at your cereal prices -- we pay $6US for a box of cereal back in the Seattle suburbs so your's didn't sound that outlandish! Great post!

  11. Hahahaha, Mexican food made in England, A&W Sarsaparilla but no root beer and $8 cereal - wow! I'll have to send you a care package, Michele.

    Can you imagine me trying to find Jamaican food in Malaysia? I've heard of a few restaurants in Beijing but I often wonder how good the food is. I still remember having to bring back food from home when I first left home.

    A friend who just moved to the UK always asks for Adobo seasoning and aspirins.

    Thanks for linking up this week, Michele.

  12. Grumpiez Green pepper here come try our Taco Tuesday 3 tacos hard or soft chicken or beef 18 Rm


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