Peranakan is a word you might have heard multiple times while traveling and visiting Malaysia, Singapore and Penang Island. Closely related to it are the terms nyonya and baba. In short: about 6 centuries ago the Chinese settled in Malacca and Singapore, 2 harbors that were important sea trades centers back then. There the Chinese community started to marry the Malay community, resulting in a mixed offspring called the Peranakan people. A Peranakan woman is called a nyonya, her Peranakan husband a baba.
Not only did their DNA mingle but also for instance their religion, language, way of dressing and cooking. The latter interests me a lot, no surprise. Nyonya cuisine is a fantastic mixture of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai, Indonesian and even Western influences, spices and techniques. Sure I want a bite of that apple.
Lonely Planet sends us to Nyonya Breeze. We take the bus #101 from Batu Ferringhi direction Georgetown and about 30 minutes later we get off at the bus stop on Jalan Macalister near the Red Rock Hotel. Lorong Abu Siti is a little further down the road on your left. We approach Nyonya Breeze and a waitress in green polo shirt and baseball cap (not very nyonya) hurries to open the door for us. We are seated at a small table and receive the menus.Nyonya Breeze is very clean, a bit sterile after dining in gawker centres for the last 4 weeks. It’s 7pm on a Friday evening. The large table in the middle is taken by a group of 9 and 2 other small tables in the corner are also occupied. It will never get busier than this during our upcoming dinner. Asian families mainly walk in. We are the only tourists.
I read on Tripadvisor that choosing from these Nyonya dishes is a quite difficult task. The menu is not extensive at all but almost every dish has something appealing. The description and pictures are a great help. Acar Hu (fish marinated in vinegar and turmeric with dried ginger and garlic), Nyonya Fried Rice (spicy fried rice with prawns and eggs), Kerabu Bok Nee (wood ear mushroom and shredded chicken with shallots, ginger flower, lime and samba belacan), Sambal Udang Petai (prawns and stink beans in a spicy gravy), Otak Otak (steamed spicy fish paste in kaduk leaves), Kari Bak Kut (spicy pork rib curry with potatoes), Inche Kabin (deep-fried chicken with prawn crackers and soy sauce), Jiu Hu Char (stir-fried cuttlefish, pork, turnip, carrot, cabbage, onion and mushrooms), Loh Bak (five spice seasoned pork rolls)… Most dishes can be ordered in small or large portions.
Iced Nutmeg Tea
After leafing through the menu the hubs picks out at least 6 favorites that pique his interest, I come up with an additional 4. We narrow it down to a mixture of 4 dishes (small portions) to start with.We order drinks: ice lemon tea (RM2,80) for the hubs, iced nutmeg tea (RM2,80) for me.The waitress scoops a generous portion of cooked rice (RM1 per person, ask as many refills as you want) from a large bowl onto our plates when our first order comes through.
So first up: Huan Chu Heok Masak Lemak (RM10) or young sweet potato leaves cooked in coconut milk with prawns and sweet potato. A steaming bowl of curry appears on our table. I dig into it and find big chunks of sweet potato, a good handful of green spinach-like leaves and 4 small prawns. We scoop it next to the rice, ladle the sweet and creamy curry on top and enjoy. This is good. Who would have thought potato leaves were so tasty?Now and then we dip our forks in the Acar Kiam Hu (RM5) or salted fish in vinegar and chili oil. This is a kind of pickled fish sambal or chutney, sometimes called nyonya XO sauce. It’s got bits of dried anchovy in it. Sharpens the appetite! I like it. The Kerabu Kacang Botol (RM8,50) is a cold salad made of sliced raw wing beans, shallots, prawns, roasted grated coconut, lime juice and sambal belacan or shrimp paste sambal. What a crunchy fresh salad! I bought wing beans at the Tesco last week and stir fried them for a minute to keep them crunchy but I had never thought of using them raw. That’s something to remember for next time. Great salad, this one is. And whenever there is shrimp paste, I fall for it. Last one up, a dish we were highly interested in: Eggs Belanda (RM1,80 per egg) or fried eggs in a sweet and sour tamarind gravy with onions.
That sounds like a power breakfast! The 2 fried eggs are served in a tangy tamarind soup, covered with mild chili pepper, onion and fried garlic. Woow, this is quite a surprise! Most mind-blowing dish so far. I made this dish at home afterwards, check out my recipe!The hubs orders a second glass of iced nutmeg tea now. Goes much better with this kind of food than the sweeter ice lemon tea. I’m still devouring that sweet and creamy potato curry sauce by the spoonful (can’t help it) while he is already leafing through the menu. We’ve had a great filling dinner so far but our curiosity asks for an extra bite.
Succulent Pork Belly
Hong Bak (RM15,60) for instance: pork belly and potatoes in a soy bean paste sauce (taucheo) and spices. The pork belly is succulently smooth, rich and fatty. Traditional spices in this dish are cekur root (aka Chinese ginger or lesser galangal root) and coriander seeds or powder. Do we taste nutmeg as well? Nice and flavorful stew but after the tamarind eggs this one tastes a bit bland. Pity.Last dish for today: Sambal Keow (RM8,60): deep-fried eggplant with chili sauce. The eggplant is soft and melts on your tongue. Nice in combination with the mildly spicy sambal sauce on top. Good ending. Gosh, now we’re full. This was a great introduction to nyonya cuisine! We agree we would definitely come back here to try some more dishes. We’ll see, we still have 3 weeks left here in Penang. Sounds like a hell of a lot of time but Penang is packed with recommended restaurants.
We ask for the check: RM61,80 (US$20) for a surprising nyonya dinner for 2. The Nyonya Breeze owner gives us directions to the nearest bus stop where we can catch the #101 bus back to Batu Ferringhi. Proves to be a 5 minute walk to Jalan Burma. The bus stop is in front of the NetCity internet café.
50 Lorong Abu Siti