Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mum's Nyonya Cuisine, Penang

For a Peranakan haven like Penang, it can be surprisingly difficult to get good Peranakan food.  As my uncle said, "home food is best".
So Penang Peranakan families don't go out that much and it is not so easy to find a good Peranakan restaurant in Penang!  Last year, we visited this interesting restaurant near our hotel, in Nordin Street with its unique home environment, genial host and personal demonstration by his mother.  This time round, we were fortunate to have a good, authentic nyonya meal at Mum's Nyonya Cuisine which my relatives took us to.

This is my third food post out of the three posts on this Penang trip, and actually I could go on since I've not really completely covered my hawker food experience (aside from the "Balik Pulau" laksa mention). But then, I've a few earlier posts on this subject from previous visits too, and it is getting a little bit same-same.  I have however put up the shots on my Penang album on Flickr - so if you are interested, do hop over to take a look for what I ate at Jelutong Market, Kimberly Street and the eternal favourite,  New Lane Coffee Shop.

But since I haven't that many restaurant reviews, I'm pleased to devote this post all to Mum's Nyonya Restaurant.  Many Singaporeans are confused by Penang nyonya food because it has marked differences from the Singapore-Malacca brand of Peranakan cuisine.  For example, the use of "assam" flavours rather than "lemak" flavours (its a question of degree; of course Penang food has coconut as well just less so) and the more extensive variety of herbs used.  The influences are Thai, rather than Indonesian (so buah keluak lovers, I am afraid that your favourite dish is not so common here), although some all time favourites like beef rendang find their way everywhere!

Anyway, this is a good place to enjoy the Penang specialities, such as the acar fish (see the recipe here) which is a deep fried fish in a vinegary sauce (which pickles it, hence the name "acar"), and Ju Hu Cha (Cuttlefish strips fried with turnip/carrot/mushroom and rolled in a lettuce leaf) etc.  I also was introduced to a new dish, ikan purut or a fish belly dish cooked with lots of herbs and vegetables.  It is a Penang specialty, which is rather fiddly to cook so it is not surprising that many restaurants don't serve it.  ( See a recipe for ikan purut here.)  These are indeed unique dishes which are not really served in the Singapore Nonya restaurants here, so please do give them a try when in Penang.  After all, what's the point of going to Penang and then trying to look for all the Singapore-style dishes!
Ju Hu Cha

Achar Fish

Ikan Purut

But every dish was yummy and I truly enjoyed the meal.  The slight let down was dessert - not much choice and quite unmemorable (I don't remember what I had and didn't take a photo, which just goes to show how unmemorable I found it).

Better than the food was the company.  The Singapore delegation and our Penang relatives filled two large tables of the little restaurant.  One of my Penang uncles told us little stories about our family during the meal.  How our distant relative, who had been expelled from Indonesia during Confrontation and went back to China, managed to find his way to Penang and to our family home in Malay Street.  Although it had been so many years since his last visit, he remembered the name of the street in Hokkien (apparently, it is called "Thai Gu Hang") and once there, he recognised the house.  He waited outside for some time till my uncle returned and finally he was able to reunite with this branch of the family.  Since then, my Penang relatives hosted a family reunion in Penang and also visited their family members in China.  Because some used to live in Indonesia, they speak some Bahasa and still retain their Hokkien (in addition to Mandarin).  So they are able to communicate with my relatives (who don't speak Mandarin, only English, Bahasa and Hokkien!)  According to my uncle, they remember his great-grandfather (my great-grandfather) very fondly due to the assistance he had rendered them in their times of need.

After dinner, we went back to the family house.  My sister and brother-in-law had never visited before so for them, it was indeed a special experience.  My uncle showed us the improvements he had made since his last visit (he is a self-taught home restorer) and it is indeed impressive to see the progress he makes each time we visit.  Indeed it is the chance to reconnect with our Penang relatives which make each visit back so special.

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