Taste, in Words


Pictures can only show so much. Writing, documenting and reviewing food, on the other hand, provide a meatier takeaway.

Laparpo: Popularising Halal Food

Penang’s food-blogging scene abounds – naturally – with passionate subject-matter experts. Penang TuaPui and CK Lam are among the top go-to blogs to search for where and what to eat in Penang.

However, when it comes to halal food, there has been a vacuum – until now. Newcomers Laparpo has managed to draw huge attention in a short time by tapping into the niche market of halal food reviewing in Penang: it hit over 100,000 Facebook followers within ten months!

But what truly sets Laparpo apart is its colloquial style of writing: Laparpo writes in the local Penang dialect, using Penang Malay words such as “hang” (you), “awat” (why), “sur” (tasty) and “pi” (go). “It helps us stay close to our readers,” says Belon, one half of Laparpo. “There are no pretences, and it helps us to be likeable. But most importantly, we want to maintain our identity as Penangites, and that can be achieved through the use of local dialect. We may have popularised the word ‘sur’, which means ‘tasty’ in Penang dialect, because we used the word so much in our writing and videos.”

Laparpo found their niche reviewing halal food. (From left) Belon and Abu.

Laparpo was featured on local talk show Malaysia Hari Ini.

Belon and Abu teamed up in January 2017 to introduce halal Penang food to their readers. Their priority is in reviewing “unsung food” – a term Laparpo coined to describe obscure dishes. “When outstation travellers come to Penang, they want to eat at famous eateries such as Line Clear Nasi Kandar. There are plenty more places with equally tasty – if not better – nasi kandar. We also want to bring more attention to Penang’s halal dishes too – there’s more to Penang street food than char koay teow and laksa,” says Belon.

When asked about the challenges they face, Belon says that the act of reviewing food is challenging enough. “Food reviewing is subjective. The food might not be palatable for us, but for others, it’s great. For example, we did a review of a cake shop in Queensbay Mall. Customers were willing to wait in line for hours for the cake, so we thought it must be good. But it wasn’t good for us, we couldn’t understand the hype,” Abu says.

So then, how does Laparpo deliver a bad review?

“Usually, we do it as tactfully and as comically as possible to soften the blow. We are not in the business to offend people. As I said before, food reviewing is so subjective. But we are honest with our reviews, good or bad.”

Sometimes, Laparpo has to call it as it is. Recounting the time when they reviewed a mee udang restaurant in Teluk Kumbar, Belon says, “I think business owners forget that customer service is an integral part of food business. The mee udang was sub-par for us, but the poor customer service left a really bad taste in our mouths. We were treated rudely by an elderly person, whom we surmised was the owner. We did not even bother to ask.”

But the lack of hygiene was the final nail in the coffin on the duo’s foundering impression: “There were rats the size of cats running underneath tables, too. We were disgusted. Would you eat at such a place? I know I wouldn’t,” Abu says.

Laparpo’s honest reviews and colloquial personas are opening doors to various opportunities. Their most significant accomplishment to date was being featured on national TV, on the Malaysia Hari Ini talk show. “Moving forward, we aim to establish an alternative entertainment medium that includes but is not limited to food, travelling, drama, lifestyle and video logs. We are very enthusiastic about it,” says Belon.

Pearly Kee: A Work of Love

Known for their delicate kebayas and complicated kasut manik (beaded shoes), the nyonyas are committed to perfection. This commitment goes into their cooking, too. While Laparpo reviews, Pearly Kee documents – and teaches. A regular fixture at Pulau Tikus Market, where she can be seen leading wide-eyed tourists on informative tours, she is an expert on nyonya food.

Pearly Kee (far right) also teaches nyonya cooking from her home.

Kee insists on using fresh ingredients when she writes a recipe.

Kee is the author of A Nyonya Inheritance and Pearly’s Nyonya Pantry. “Nyonya cooking means so much to me. I write to keep the food and memories alive – I write as I remember the old favourites my late father, uncles and aunties loved,” Kee says.

She engages her readers by going beyond the visual description of the food, invoking other thoughts such as an appreciation for fresh ingredients and the benefit of hard work. “I realised when I started teaching ten years ago that most nyonya food uses fresh roots like turmeric, galangal, sand ginger and lemongrass.

Nyonya dishes such as lemak/em> laksa takes time and patience to make.

“When I was young, we always had the freshest ingredients – not by choice, though. We were not well off, so we grew our own vegetables and herbs and collected firewood for cooking. When there were not much leftovers for us, I would pick daun kaduk (wild peppers) and fry that with eggs for lunch.”

Apart from the freshness of the ingredients, nyonya food also derives its taste from the meticulous preparation. “Nyonya cooking is hard and can never be made easy, even with the help of modern-day appliances and ready-made pastes. When I write a recipe, I make sure to remind readers to chop or slice an ingredient as finely as they can if the recipe calls for it. I also will not use readymade pastes in my recipes – my readers are taught to grind fresh chillies from scratch for the chilli paste. It tastes better with sweat!” Kee jokes.

Today, Kee has found success as a food writer. Her book, Pearly’s Nyonya Pantry, won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Chinese Cookbook. “One of my dreams was to win a Gourmand award, although never in my wildest dreams did I think this would come true. It was such a proud moment for me to represent Malaysian and nyonya cuisine!”

Through her writing, Kee has been approached by home cooks, professional chefs and restaurateurs. “Many restaurateurs come for cooking lessons as they feel that my recipes are workable for their restaurants. It is a huge honour. Last year I worked with Frankenberg, one of the world’s largest airline catering companies based in Germany, to create an in-flight nyonya menu for their clients.

“Soon, people from all over the world will enjoy nyonya food 50,000 feet in the air. That’s an accomplishment for me, for the nyonya community and Malaysia,” Kee beams with pride.

Emilia Ismail is a freelance writer, and snot wiper and bedtime story narrator for her two-year-old son. Her works can be found in The Star, Penang Monthly and most recently, Eksentrika.

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