From a street-side hawker in Penang, these deep fried ham jing peng, which are deep fried buns with a sweet red bean paste as filling, are ready to go!

Deep fried bread sticks or youtiao and its variations such as the ham jimg pengs in the above picture are a simple treat in Southeast-Asia. They’re usually eaten at breakfast with a good cup of thick kopi-O (black coffee), but they can be enjoyed throughout the day as a finger food as well.

Fried bread sticks and fried buns with various fillings can most conveniently be found at hawker centers in Singapore and at street-side hawkers in Malaysia. They’re also found in other Asian countries such China, Philippines, Laos and Vietnam.

The lady with her street-side stall. Just behind her is the backstreet lane of several shophouses in Penang, Malaysia.

During my trip to Penang, Malaysia, late last year, I found some youtiao at a street-side hawker near the Pulau Tikus market. I stood and watched as the lady in a sky blue apron, expertly kneaded the dough into shape and dropped them gently one by one, into a wok filled with hot oil. She seemed to do this without effort, something of a testament perhaps, to the number of years she’s already been doing this.

Sesame seed dotted, deep fried bread in a wok.

Although standing in the open air at a street-side, the warmth and gaiety of the customer relations was evident at this youtiao stall. Regular customers of hers came and went as I stood waiting for my order and she chatted with them about the everyday happenings of life, how they were and what they were up to for the day.

I ordered four sticks of plain youtiaos, breadsticks without filling in them, to enjoy with a hot cup of milo (a malted chocolate drink) at a cozy coffeeshop filled with wooden tables and chairs, just 50 m from the hawker stall, across the street. As I’ve been to Penang a couple of times before as a little girl, sitting in the corner coffeeshop having youtiao for breakfast was a wonderfully nostalgic start to the day.

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