(Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia)
While wandering the bustling streets of the UNESCO World Heritage city: Georgetown, Penang- we walked from the (Chinese) Clan Jetties all the way to Little India; all while stuffing our faces with world-class food, taking pictures with some famous street art, observing the harmony of an Islamic mosque, Hindu temple, Buddhist temple, and Catholic church all on the same street, and eventually, ending up at the oldest “Toddy” shop on the island.
We strolled into a single room with a caged counter, a motorcycle parked inside, and three guys watching bootleg DVDs of old Baliwood films. Needless to say, I was instantly drawn into the vibe. I ordered two Toddies that came in, what looked like, the plastic mugs you could dig out of the bottom of a cereal box in the 90s and after a quick prompting to “have a seat boss” just passively reveled in surrounding laughter, a movie I didn’t understand with a 1970’s onomatopoeia fight scene, and a buzz that, at 10-22% abv (no one really knows apparently), came real.
Toddy- or Tuak- is a fermented palm wine. Palm juice is used for many, many non-alcoholic drinks in Malaysia, but in this case, the milky white substance is added to copious amounts of wild yeast strains- creating a tart, almost sour, refreshing wine that ferments in less than 24 hours and is only good to drink for about the same amount of time. I would liken the difference between Tuak and other palm or rice wines I’ve had to the difference between a citrusy wheat ale and a summer shandy: Slightly more sweet and a little sour.
When we got up to leave I expected to pay at least 9-12 Malay Ringits for the two which translates to 3- 4 USD. No, the total for both was 3 Ringits. 3 Ringits. If a .40$ mug of strong wine isn’t your idea of a good time, I’m not entirely sure I can refer to you as my friend. My only regret is that I would have liked to appreciate the nuances and differences between the Tauk at 9am, 12pm, 5pm, and 9pm, but I wouldn’t trade the overall experience for anything. It’s hard to rate a place like this using my normal rating scale, so this time I’ll just say- this is a 100%, must-do if you’re ever Malaysia.
‘Til next time- Sorakan!