food

Jammy peanut butter

When you find a brand you like of something in Malaysia, due to poor supermarket stocking and purchasing, you may not find it next time, or ever again.  Thus there is a constant search for crisps, peanut butter etc., where I am always looking for replacements for the brands I like, but which I can no longer buy.

My requirements include glass packaging (as plastics may leak into the food), natural ingredients, and no nasty chemicals.

Now I have found a peanut butter that fulfills these, and is almost half the price of the previous brand that I can no longer purchase.

And it’s called “Jammy”.

unfinished blogs – no. 10 – Home made tomato paste

I’ve been writing this blog for three years this month, and have accumulated many partially written blogs that remain unpublished. I may as well just publish them as is, and if I ever feel inspired to finish any, do so later.

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January 22nd, 2013

First peel tomatoes:

So, boil water, and pour over tomatoes, leaving them for over a minute

Move tomatoes to a bowl and run cold water into the bowl so it overflows, cooling the tomatoes so you can peel them by hand.

Roughly cut them in half – or rip in half by hand and put into blender

Blend very quickly so it doesn’t become smooth

Put into pot, add rock salt chunks from Brittany (Jusco), bay leaves, dried basil, thyme, oregano, and simmer for 4 hours.  Turn off heat and stand overnight.  Simmer the next day again.

Cost of living in Penang in March 2014

Just to give you an idea of what it could cost to live in Penang on a monthly basis, where in March 2014  GBP£1 = RM5.4; USD$1 = RM3.2; AUD$1 = RM2.9

I wrote the same blog in November 2012, so prices (and sometimes quantities) from 16 months ago are in brackets to show the rise in prices.

Here is a site I recently found that is more comprehensive than my blog:

http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/city_result.jsp?country=Malaysia&city=George+Town 

When first here we lived for RM30 per day, plus rent.  Below gives more details of costs of a comfortable life.

Rent:
RM300 in a low-cost condo, with no facilities, and probably in a poor location in a badly maintained building.
RM2,500 for a three bedroom two bathroom condo of about 1,000 square feet, with pool, gym, parking space etc.  in a nice, reasonably maintained building.
And up for bigger, better appointed condos.
Houses, RM2,000 or more.

I think these prices have increased a bitsince I wrote them 16 months ago, but feel presently that the market is in a government induced slump.

Home ownership:
Condo: maintenance fees.
House: see tax section.

Utilities:
Electricity is metered, but water is a fixed charge, and you get gas delivered in canisters.

Electricity charges were recently substantially raised. We don’t yet know how much more this is actually costing us. The government charges comparatively more per kilowatt for more consumption, so the higher bands have increased substantially. I suspect at least a 20% higher bill.  It was about RM200 for electricity, using air cons when necessary, heating water for showers, lighting, TV etc. Expats report bills ranging for less than RM100 up to RM800, depending on their homes, and usage, of course. Our bill is very similar to that of the UK, but in the UK we lived in a two bedroom flat, with gas central heating, but, importantly, we were out of the flat working five days a week, which would have kept the bill much lower. Thus, electricity is costing us less here, even though it cannot be said to be cheap.

(UPDATE:  During very hot February we used the aircons more.  Our usage was 12% (kilowatt hours) more than the bill for December, but our bill was 27% more.

RM10 per month for gas. There is no town gas, so you have gas delivered in canisters, costing RM30  (RM27) or so for medium size canister. This has lasted us from about three months to about six months, depending on how much we ate in.

RM3  for water; it costs RM6 minimum per two months, and usually we only use the minimum. I use rainwater to water the plants where possible, because the plants seem to prefer it, but in the drier months use town water.

Currently a phone line and 4mbps ADSL Internet connection with Telekom Malaysia costs RM140 per month.  For 8mbps it costs RM160 per month.

Groceries:
RM1,200 per month (RM900) for groceries. There are supermarkets and markets for fruit and vegetables. But if we buy everything just from Tesco, this is an approximate figure, although prices are rising significantly.

Health Insurance:
RM560 for two of us for policies covering hospitalisation, taken out locally, but covering world-wide.  Visiting a doctor in a clinic used to cost around RM35 in this area, or in a hospital RM80 or more. Doctors’ prices were increased by 14.4% this week, with the previous price range for visiting a doctor’s clinic from RM10 – RM35, and the new range from RM30 to RM125.  This doesn’t appear to be 14.4% to me, but that’s what the newspaper reported. Here is a chart taken from The Star:

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Our insurance agent told us medical procedures are increasing in cost by 20% per annum, so at this rate very soon Malaysia will no longer be a low cost medical destination.

Tax:
RM0 if you are renting. The service charge for the condo is paid by the owner, as is any tax on the property. If you own a house, there is a land tax and a charge for the local council’s services, which amount to about RM500 per annum for both for a modest property. The Malaysian government plans to introduced a GST of initially 6% in April 2015.  This is being universally cheered by the media. Since the government seems to expect people/companies to act as their tax collectors without recompense, I assume the extra costs of this tax collecting and accounting will be passed on to the consumers, thus having a bigger than 6% impact.  The government has recently substantially increased capital gains taxes on property sales.  Now the tax is 30% for properties sold within 5 years, and 5% on properties sold during or after the sixth year. (Previously 15%, then 10%, and after 5 years 0%).

Petrol:
RM2.10 (1.90) per litre – I live centrally, so even when I drive it is only for about 10 minutes one way, so in a month I spend less than RM100 on petrol.

Car running costs:
Car service – about RM400 for a Japanese car to perhaps RM1,000 for a Mercedes. I only need it once a year as everything is close by in Penang, so I don’t drive many miles. Road tax depends on engine size – see this calculator. Some things are really cheap – puncture repair RM8, for example – with immediate and friendly service. Car insurance, of course, depends on the car value and your no claim discount.  RM2,000 per year for a medium size car, perhaps, with full no claim discount.

Parking:
RM0.40 (RM0.30)per half hour, and up, on Penang Island, for street parking by coupon (previously meter or with parking attendants). RM5 for parking all day, as a guideline. On weekdays it costs RM1 for three hours parking in Gurney Plaza, on weekends more. You can park free, too, in some supermarkets, on suburban streets, at some businesses.

Taxi:
I have heard that metered fares may double soon, but know no more.  If so, drivers will apparently “have to” use their meters.  It is so long since I caught a taxi I can’t update this figures from last time: RM10 for a short distance, RM15 for about 10 minutes drive, and up for longer. Taxis are supposed to be metered, but drivers usually prefer not to use meters and quote a price – which they usually won’t lower if you try to bargain.  Occasionally they will, though.  The quoted price and the metered price often work out similar, anyway, and I prefer the former. Pulau Tikus to the ferry terminal is RM15; Pulau Tikus to Queensbay Mall RM35. Pulau Tikus to airport RM55ish. Prices significantly higher between midnight and 6AM, and to the airport there is a special airport charge. Personally I think if you choose a regular taxi company, or several drivers you like, then you will find them honest and reliable, and have no problems.  But even picking taxis from the street I have found the drivers honest and mostly friendly – in Penang. As for KL, I hear the situation is different.

Public Transport:
The ferry to Butterworth is free; returning is RM1.20 as a foot passenger, RM7.70 for a car with passengers. Otherwise there are Rapid Penang buses and their site still says the minimum fare is RM1.40.  Beware of pickpockets – friends of mine have had things stolen on the bus. I would take nothing valuable, and only the money I needed, and not travel when the buses are full. There are few seats, so it’s likely you will have to stand. Neither are they reliable, and drivers often don’t speak English.  However, they are air-conditioned.

Wine:
Alcohol is highly taxed, and costs more than the UK, and far more than Europe.  One 320 ml (330ml) can of Carlsberg beer in a supermarket is RM7.49 (RM6) and up; a 700ml bottle of local vodka is RM23 (good for cocktails), a 700ml bottle of imported vodka about RM120; a 750 ml bottle of vintage wine bottled in country of origin from RM35 if you look around; 750ml sparkling wine from RM70 if on special; imported liqueurs generally well over RM100. Mixers like a 325ml Schweppes ginger ale and tonic water etc. cost about RM1.80 (RM1.50). Coke is now RM1.89.

Eating out:
Can be free, at some temples, or on festival days, where shops hand out food, and bottles of water.  Generally, eating out is cheap, but drinking alcohol out is expensive.  A 660ml bottle of local beer is around RM15 at a hawker centre – but noodles might cost you RM3. Of course western food in upmarket restaurants is far more expensive, and a small glass of wine could cost RM20 or more.  Nevertheless, expensive western style restaurants are good value for food if you compare the price to London, Paris, Sydney etc. Local cooking uses far too much sugar, and MSG, so eating out frequently, especially in cheap places like hawker centres,  over a longer period is probably not healthy, unless you are very selective.

Cinema:
From RM8 (RM7) at Gurney Mall. Yes, very affordable, and cinemas are quite empty weekdays, during the day. Senior discount, when one is over 55,  makes it RM1 less. Wednesdays are discount days, too – RM1 less, but seniors get no additional discount on that.

Cable TV:
I am not at all interested. This is the Malaysian provider.

Clubs:
You can join local clubs, such at The Penang Club, The Penang Swimming Club, the Penang Sports Club etc. You need to buy a membership, and then pay monthly dues, which are about RM12,000 and then RM165 monthly for the Penang Club; about RM25,000 membership fee for the Swimming Club; monthly fee appears to be RM45 per month according to their website; and RM15,000 and RM100 monthly for the Sports Club. You can sell the membership in the future, if you wish.

So, as you can see, many prices are increasing substantially, with more to come, and this is before the introduction of a GST, which will further increase prices.

Did I forget anything important?  Let me know if I did, and I will add the details if I know them, or can find them out.

Queensbay Mall foray July 2013 – Melonpan, Habanero, Starbucks,

Today I headed off to the distant shores of Queensbay Mall. Well, it’s not all that far, but my average drive here takes 10 minutes, and to Queensbay it’s 20 minutes in light traffic. So I am not there all that often.

On the food front, I was disappointed today. Thrice.

Firstly, I discovered Melonpan had disappeared. Perhaps they relocated. But their Facebook page seems also to have gone, and I didn’t find them on the Internet.  I liked the occasional melonpan.

Secondly, I thought I would try Habanero’s Estofado Steak.

steak

steak ad prominently displayed on right

The illustration made it look good.

estofado

Estofado illustration

But actually, it is strips of steak in a taco, burrito etc. instead of chicken or fish.

tacos

tacos

Unfortunately it was not really to my taste. They appeared to put only two small strips per taco, but an awful lot of lettuce.  And perhaps my choices of ingredients was poor: no rice, everything else, sour cream, chipolte sauce. But the taste was very lemony, and didn’t go with the sour cream.

I didn’t photograph the menu, but prices seem to have risen since earlier in the year. I’ll check next time, because generally I have enjoyed my meals there.

Oh well, I’ll head down to Starbucks on the ground floor, which was being renovated on my last visit. Hopefully it’s nicer. But no – it is more cramped.

Starbucks is more cramped

Starbucks is more cramped

My favourite spot was under where the big “Starbucks” is. They’ve enclosed it! Before there were armchairs and tables there. I couldn’t really find a comfortable spot.

I had my coffee elsewhere.

Avoiding MSG – incorporating – Eating out in Penang without MSG – May 2013 update

MAY 2013 UPDATE

The original article is below. This is an ongoing topic, because as people become more aware of the harm this substance does, more products and more restaurants avoid its use.

I had a chat with the chef at E & O yesterday, and he said that that he is avoiding the use of MSG. However, MSG is apparently in the chicken stock they use, so some dishes – such as the pea soup that they were serving that day – would actually have MSG in them.

I managed to overcome an addiction – no, too strong a word – a desire to eat potato crisps, because of the MSG they started to put in them. It was hard to find any brands without MSG.  A quick check the other day in Tesco yielded the following: Mackies of Scotland crisps – 150g packet for RM13.50; Tyrells (from England) 150g RM13.90 – had no MSG. I didn’t check every other brand this time, but in the past I had, so I suspect all the other brands still have MSG.  You have to pay around an extra RM10 to avoid this poison, in other words.

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Monosodium Glutimate, a neuro-toxin, is an oft-used ingredient in Chinese, Malay and other local dishes.

“Monosodium Glutamate, better known as MSG, is a form of concentrated salt added to foods to enhance the flavor. This salt version of glutamic acid is an amino acid the body can produce on its own, but the MSG we find on store shelves is processed and comes from fermented sugar beets. Because this kind of MSG is processed, it can cause many adverse reactions, including skin rashes, itching, hives, nausea, vomiting, migraine headaches, asthma, heart irregularities, depression and even seizures.”

 
If you unaware of the effects of MSG, and what products contain it, please read the source article.
 
MSG appears naturally in many foods, such as tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage but this is not at all harmful.
 
I notice that very slowly restaurants are appearing which claim to add no MSG, but there are very few.  A search on the web, like “Penang restaurants no msg” will bring up a few.
 
For example, the Indian restaurant I at at the other day, d’Tandoor Restaurant, adds no MSG to their dishes.
 
Depending on how sensitive your body is, you may be able to get away with eating some added MSG, but I avoid it as much as I possibly can.
 
 

Post-election inflation?

I don’t know if there is any connection between the election being over, and prices rising, but rising they appear to be. Just a few examples:

Old Town White Coffee’s set breakfast – my favourite choice is suddenly up 25% in price.

Bread History’s cakes seem to have suddenly risen by at least a similar percentage.

And while not exactly a price rise, Telekom Malaysia has changed the billing sequence so that the present bill is 50% more than usual – and thus they have exacted payment in advance for their service, and are holding our money.

When establishments increase their prices so much, I may not cease to be a customer, but usually instead of being a regular customer I only purchase infrequently.  As far as I am concerned, I have a very elastic demand, so their income from me drops dramatically.  Several years ago I used to be a regular at Old Town for coffee, but they raised their price a lot, and since then it was really only their set breakfasts that were attractive – but now they have raised this price, I am not sure anymore.

There is so much competition in Penang in the food and beverage industry, I wouldn’t have thought that the loss of business through dramatic price rises would actually lead to an increased profit.  Coffee Island, of which I was a customer until their dramatic prices rises of February 2012, had been extremely popular.  Other factors may also have been involved, but their business quickly collapsed thereafter.  Then it became a moderately busy hawker centre for a while, and is now a Thai restaurant / hawker centre.  The business they lost never returned.

Well, there is always somewhere new to try, even in such a small island such as this. And that’s what I do. I move on to somewhere else in response.

 

 

Fish and Chips in Malaysia

It’s nice to have fish and chips occasionally, but where in Malaysia can one get something nice? I thought I’d gradually try the offerings available when I find them. So, this blog is not yet too informative, but I’ll update it over time as I try different places.

I rarely find chips that I like. Unless they are made directly from potatoes I don’t want to eat them.  Frozen or reconsituted and shaped into chips – no thanks. If possible I swap them for salad or something else.

Scarborough Fish ‘n Chips

So far, my favourite is Scarborough Fish ‘n Chips, on the north coast of Langkawi, at Tanjung Rhu.  You have a choice of fish, all of which are nice, tartare sauce (ask for more if you need it), and nice chips. The atmosphere on the beach, the duty free beer and wine, also help make it nice there.  Just show up, no reservation necessary.

English style fish and chips

English style fish and chips – Scarborough Fish ‘n Chips, Langkawi

Kopitam Classic White Coffee

The other day in Gurney Plaza, I noticed that a chain coffee shop, Kopitam Classic White Coffee had fish and chips.  You had a choice of sauces – black pepper sauce, BBQ sauce or their own sauce.

Kopitan Classic fish and chips.

Kopitan Classic fish and chips, Gurney Plaza

The fish was Dory, and was nice.  Their sauce was a kind of sweet curry sauce, and was quite nice. The chips weren’t nice, and I left them, and the vegetables seemed sourced from a can or the frozen cabinet. The red sauce was a normal commercial chilli sauce.  The price, before tax and service charge was RM10.50 for the dish, so not too bad, and the service friendly.

170-B1-37 & 38 Plaza Gurney,

Persiaran Gurney, 10250 Pulau Pinang

04-2282770

Blue Reef Fish & Chips, Straits Quay

2013-03-15 12.44.03s
REVIEW

Somehow I seem to have a fish and chips craving this week. We’d heard that Blue Reef in Straits Quays served good meals at a reasonable price, so today we went for lunch. The menu is the same whatever time of day, except they have happy hour offerings.

inside looking toward the marina

inside looking toward the marina

the view you can see, more or less - that the camera can't capture

the view you can see, more or less – that the camera can’t capture

One really good thing is that they have an Australian kind of BYO (Bring Your Own) policy on wine, and no corkage charge. This doesn’t apply to beer, spirits, or champagne (a kind of wine, of course). And they kindly offered an ice bucket for our white wine, to keep it cool, before I asked.

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ice bucket

There are six menu pages, but I only photographed three, shown below.

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We availed ourselves of the weekday lunch promotion, which includes soup of the day, garlic toast and a diabetes inducing iced peach tea.
soup and iced peach tea

soup and iced peach tea

The soup was a fish soup, and of sufficient volume. The garlic toast was sliced bread, toasted with a hint of garlic, so one bite was sufficient. And the iced peach tea was so sweet my teeth threatened to dissolve if I had more than one sip. But, the soup was nice, so the lunch special was worth it, for RM1.
Soon after the main course was delivered. I had ordered the seasonal fish in beer batter, with hollandaise sauce.
seasonal fish in beer batter, with hollandaise sauce

seasonal fish in beer batter, with hollandaise sauce

This was very good, although the batter was a little too thick in places.
Mrs Tropical Expat ordered Prawn, Calamari & Chips – which to tell the truth she didn’t enjoy as it didn’t have much flavour.
2013-03-15 13.08.54s
The serving volume was good for all dishes.
The staff were friendly and helpful, and it was a pleasant spot to be. While we were there it was quite popular, and people were coming and dining and going. And being able to have a couple of glasses of white wine with the meal without the usual expensive prices for it was great.
Disappointments? Mrs Tropical Expat’s main course.
SERVICE: Friendly, helpful and fast
DECOR: Pleasant – with a view of the marina from many tables
FOOD: Tasty (for mine, anyway) and good volume
PRICE: Reasonable
ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS: The usual – proper glasses, crockery and cutlery

Blue Reef Fish & Chips Restaurant

Location: Straits Quay – 3A-G-20, Block A, ground floor; 3A-G-20 Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, 10470 Penang,

Phone: 016 4059182

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bluereef.fnc

Opening hours: 11:00AM – 10:00PM every day except Mondays.

Wi-Fi: forgot to ask

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