KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 — Two states in Malaysia that are synonymous with the unique Nyonya or Peranakan culture are Melaka and Penang.
It is a common assumption that both are homogenous; in fact only those well—informed are able to identify the differences between the Melaka Peranakan and Penang Peranakan. From language and attire to cuisine and ceremonies, the Peranakan community from Melaka differs quite significantly from their Penang brethren.
I won’t delve into details since that is better left to historians and experts.
Instead, my focus is on some of the best locations to savour delicious Nyonya food, particularly those within easy strolls of LRT and MRT stations.
Two restaurants that have been in the limelight in recent years are Lima Blas and Limapulo: Baba Can Cook!, each often mistaken for the other due to the similarity in their names. Another reason could be the fact that the proprietors of Limapulo: Baba Can Cook! were former partners at Lima Blas.
While Lima Blas has remained at its original spot in Jalan Mesui, Bukit Bintang (in addition to a newly opened branch at Sunway Velocity), Limapulo operates from Jalan Doraisamy. The former, however, recently went through a rebranding exercise and is now called Sedapnya. But loyal patrons still refer to it as Lima Blas.
Both Sedapnya and Limapulo offer similar, well-rounded selection of Malaccan-style Nyonya fare with affordably priced lunch specials. From RM9.90 onwards, patrons can enjoy a balanced meal of protein, fibre and carbohydrates. Selections includes ayam pongteh, chicken curry and fried chicken.
Rotating specials vary daily and the predominant favourites are Nyonya laksa and mee siam.
Their ala carte dishes cost between RM12 and RM40 and are available for both lunch and dinner. Walking into both outlets, be prepared to be swept by nostalgia, with vintage Peranakan decorative pieces and antique kitchenware displayed on the walls and in the dining area.
However, a notable difference between Limapulo and Sedapnya is that the latter has a bar!
Over at Makan House, you’ll get the best of Malaccan Peranakan, Portuguese and Kelantanese favourites under one roof. Here, you can have your Nyonya laksa alongside nasi kerabu, nasi lemak and baked fish.
This is in addition to a buffet spread of flavourful Peranakan and Portuguese dishes to satisfy the taste buds of diners.
I opted for the ala-carte menu and thanks to a friend’s recommendation, managed to sample an off-the-menu dish — prawns muliu — which turned out to be my favourite!
Muliu is an elusive Portuguese dish. The version that we had was prawns and aubergines cooked in coconut milk and spices. It was creamy, slightly spicy and absolutely lip—smacking.
The buah keluak chicken deserves a mention too, for it is another rare dish.
(For the uninitiated, buah keluak is a fruit that comes from a tree indigenous to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. The seeds of the keluak fruit are used in Malay, Indonesian as well as Peranakan cooking, after various processes of underground fermentation, soaking and cooking to leach the seeds of poisonous hydrocyanic acid.)
Most times this dish is served with empty shells with just a hint of keluak in the curry. Makan House’s version, however, comes with a whole chicken thigh with five pieces of keluak, generously filled with delicious black pulp. My advice? Dig out the pulp and mix it into the curry for better flavour. You might need to ask for nasi tambah! (more rice!)
Last but not least is a Penang-style Nyonya eatery. There are many Penang Nyonya restaurants in Klang Valley but shortlisting one within walking distance of any LRT/MRT stations was quite a challenge.
I’m a Penangite so Penang Nyonya food is close to my heart. Short of cooking it myself or making a trip up north, the food at Restoran Tanjung Bungah was more than satisfactory. The inchi kabin (deep fried chidren marinated with spices) was hands down a winner. The fiery sambal belacan, the kerabu paku-pakis and the joo hoo char were good too.
1. Sedapnya (formerly Lima Blas Restaurant)
15, Jalan Mesui, Off Jalan Nagasari, Kuala Lumpur.
LRT/MRT: Bukit Bintang
Distance: 400 metres
Operating hours: noon to midnight on weekdays (till 1am on Fridays and Saturdays). Closed on Sundays.
From the station: Take Exit F from MRT Bukit Bintang. Go straight on Jalan Sultan Ismail, turn left as you come to Jalan Berangan followed by a right turn into Jalan Angsoka. At the junction turn right into Jalan Nagasari and take the first left turn into Jalan Mesui.
2. Makan House
LRT/MRT: Bank Rakyat-Bangsar
Distance: 300 metres
Operating hours: 11am-10pm, daily except Mondays.
From the station: Exit the station towards Jalan Bangsar. Once you are on the ground level, turn left and walk following the traffic flow towards the petrol station. Makan House will be on your left just before Klinik Pergigian Bangsar.
3 Restoran Tanjung Bungah
LRT/MRT: Taman Bahagia
Distance: 850 metres
Operating hours: 11.30am-3pm, 6pm-10pm, daily
4. Limapulo: Baba Can Cook!
LRT/MRT: Dang Wangi
Distance: 550 metres
Operating hours: 7am to 2.30pm.