That tree on the Penang flag? It’s actually a betelnut pinang, but it seems to be the only thing on this island not associated with coconuts. I’ve learned to make coconut a part of my life here, and am much happier for it.
First of all, the coconut palms that sway near the sea, line Hollywood (er, Codrington) Avenue and shade our garden make for a perfect tropical backdrop. They are gorgeous, and not too dangerous with regular care of a gardener and his tree climbing skills. My kids love to play with the little ones that fall down, and we’ve sprouted and planted some out on Gurney drive. Escape even has a coconut tree climbing contest. The prize? A fresh coconut.
Is there anything more refreshing than ice cold fresh young coconut in a shell? It’s my favorite hawker beverage to order, is 100% natural and helps replace all those electrolytes you sweated out walking over to the hawker. If you like having your own at home, invest in a 20RM parang from the hardware shop, and get “shaved” pandan coconuts from the drive-thru vendor on Abu Siti (you’ll know him by the bandana) and store in the fridge up to 2 weeks. A personal favorite is the ice-blended coconut from the Tropical Fruit Farm juice bar along Waterfall Rd toward the Botanical Garden. Mmmm…
The old coconuts have a place too. Each morning at the market, the flesh is ground and squeezed to extract the coconut milk, or santan, that make the curry, nasi lemak and siam laksa world go round. This milk so so fresh and delicious, be sure to use it that day. It doesn’t keep long. If you can’t make a trip for the fresh stuff, every grocery store has a huge selection of boxed and powdered milk to use at your leisure at home. The fresh dessicated coconut from the same market stall can be stored in the freezer for your baking needs.
What else coconut? Desserts of course! A key discovery on my first trip to Penang was the local kaya, coconut custard jam sold wherever bread is (personal favorite is the homemade kaya from Continental Bakery on Nagore St). Kaya also fills pao and is served alongside nyonya blue rice kueh. Many kueh use coconut with glutinous rice to make their sweet treats, and black rice soup with salted coconut milk is to die for! I’ve also been impressed with the coconut-milk ice cream alternatives. The stand that used to be in the basement of Gurney has an outlet on Armenian St, selling ice blocks and gelatos for all dairy sensitive or vegan tastes.
I’ve converted a good portion of my cooking to stable and delicious coconut oil, available in all the organic shops and sections of grocery stores. Bonus: liquid at room temp in tropical weather! It’s also amazing as a beauty product (removes even waterproof makeup in a flash), and hair treatment. My husband swears its antibiotic, and takes it by the Tablespoon as a tonic when he feels something coming on.
AH, the blessed coconut. I will miss thee.