Penang is noted for its variety of great food. This includes Chinese, Malay, and Indian cuisine, and the many different ways of cooking each one. As anyone not born here, but living here knows you can't find many foods that we were brought up with. Each of us expats, from many different countries, I am sure has a few favorite foods that we sometimes miss while living in Malaysia.
There are two food condiments that I am particularly fussy about. These are ketchup and mayonnaise. My ketchup, or as they call it here, tomato sauce, must be Heinz Ketchup. To me tomato sauce is what you use to make spaghetti sauce. There are local ketchups but they just don't do the job. I have to have Heinz with my french fries or I go without. One interesting thing which I have noticed here is how fish and chips are eaten by the locals. They put ketchup on the fish and dip the french fries in tartar sauce! Completely backwards for us Westerners. It is odd that in Malaysia, being a former British colony, malt vinegar is not popular. If I can't get Heinz I try for malt vinegar. Fortunately Heinz ketchup is commonly found in supermarkets here. The other condiment I must have is Hellman's Real Mayonnaise.This is somewhat less common. It is available in supermarkets carrying imported foods, but usually sells out quickly. The local brands of mayonnaise contain a lot of sugar and to me are unpalatable. If I have friends coming back from the US or the UK I always ask them to bring me a jar of Hellman's.
I sometimes get cravings for such things as buffalo wings and pizza, which are a bit difficult to find at times. Luckily TGI Friday's has excellent buffalo wings and is the only place where you can find them. Some places have what they call "buffalo wings" but they are simply deep fried wings smothered with sweet barbecue sauce. It is difficult to find really good pizza here too. I am used to eating great pizzas from Boston's Italian North End and New York and really miss not being able to have a good pizza. The best fast food pizza is Domino's, which tastes about the same as it does back home. There is also Pizza Hut pizza, which tastes nothing like it does back home. I would go without pizza, before I would eat that. There are local pizzas, but these are also made with barbecue sauce. Actually the best pizza I have have here is from the Hard Rock Hotel cafe and it is reasonably priced.
I grew up in a small city where there was a large Italian population and I also have Italian relatives. I then moved to Boston where once again there was a large Italian population with hundreds of great restaurants. I have not had any Italian food that can put a candle to what I am used to. The most common Italian food found here in Malaysia is spaghetti bolognaise, which is not too common in the US. At home it is made with tomato paste which my Italian friends say is the correct recipe, but is not used here. The first time I tried it here I not only did not like it, but I got ill as well. I have given up all hopes of finding a decent lasagna, manicotti or braciole!
I had some very close Greek friends in Boston, who used to treat me to some fantastic Greek dishes such as dolmathes, souvlaki and baklava. At times, especially around Greek Orthodox Easter I wish I could sit down to a traditional Greek feast. Unfortunately there are no Greek restaurants in Penang. I have, however found a couple of Middle Eastern restaurants that serve food close to Greek style food.
Another favorite of mine, Boston lobster, is available here but it costs a fortune. I have bought it frozen and cooked it myself, but I can't afford to make a habit of it. I have seen it on the menus of a couple of Chinese restaurants, but it once again is expensive and they insist on chopping it up and smothering it with soy sauce, which destroys the distinctive lobster taste. I don't find the local lobster to be all that good, even though it too is quite pricey. I also love cod, which is available, but it too is very expensive. I find some of the local fish just as good, so I don't miss it that much.
Other types of food which I cannot find here are Mexican, Cajun and Creole food. I can't even find the needed ingredients to cook it. I did hear that one of my favorite restaurants, Gusto Cafe, will soon be offering Mexican food. I also can't find a decent Italian sausage, either sweet or hot, anywhere in Penang. There are some okay German sausages that can be found, but as far as good breakfast sausages or polish sausages go, they are non existent.The sausages here are either tasteless or they all taste like cheaply made hot dogs.
Lastly one of my greatest weaknesses is chocolate cake. I have not found a really good rich chocolate cake in Malaysia. There are a number of good bakeries here in Penang, offering some pretty good cakes and baked goods, but their chocolate cakes just do not have a rich chocolate taste or texture. They are sort of a "light" version of chocolate cake. I have the same problem with trying to find a good apple pie. What I am going to have to do in regards to the chocolate cake, is what I did with the American style apple pie. I am going to make the cake myself, from scratch, not a mix.
I imagine every expat has an occasional craving for some comfort food from their homeland and they too wish they could find that food here. Hopefully in the future we will all be able to satisfy our food cravings by either finding the food at new restaurants or being able to buy the ingredients to make our favorite dishes.