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Penang Nyonya CNY Favourities at Café Malacca

This month, Café Malacca, perhaps the best Malaysian restaurant in Hong Kong, is celebrating Chinese New Year with a special offering of Penang Nyonya cuisine. The menu is a godsend to the large Malaysian and Singaporean expatriate community here who may think of Café Malacca as a culinary home-from-home during CNY. This is particularly true for those from Penang whose love and for home-made cooking is second to none. It is also an excellent way for Hong Kong locals to try out the much-touted Penang Nyonya cuisine.

Nyonya, or Peranakan cuisine, originated from the Peranakans, descendants of early Chinese immigrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Singapore, and Indonesia and then intermarried with local Malays. The food prepared by the women who were solely in charge of the kitchen combined southern Chinese, Malay and other cooking influences. The Peranakans are justly proud of their family heritage, with deep respect and love for their grandmothers and mothers. The old Malay word Nonya (also spelled Nyonya), a term of respect and affection for women of prominent social standing (part ‘madam’, part ‘auntie’), has come to refer to the cuisine of the Peranakans.

The menu served at Café Malacca is primarily Penang based Nyonya dishes, some available in Hong Kong for the first time – a real treat for foodies like us. Kerabu Prawns – a zesty and refreshing salad of prawn and cucumber slices tossed with sambal belachan, ginger flower and lime – is superb, as is Bakwan Kepiting – a crab and pork meatball soup with bamboo shoots akin to Lion’s Head Meatball.

Inchi Kabin, a Penang-style fried chicken marinated with spices and coconut milk, served with fried bread and special Worcestershire sauce dip, is finger-licking good. The bread is crunchy and tasty.

Also excellent is Assam Prawns, a unique Penang Nyonya dish in which prawns marinated in a tamarind paste are shallow fried. Jiu Hu Char, a lettuce wrap, is another beloved Nyonya dish – the filling is a mix of many shredded ingredients most importantly cuttlefish strips, yambean, carrots, mushrooms, cabbage and many others. Meanwhile, Kiam Chye Ark, a duck and pork leg soup with salted vegetable, ginkgo nuts and mushrooms is savoury and appetising, akin to a Hakka dish. Curry Kapitan, an aromatic Malaysian Nyonya chicken curry, mildly spiced with a thick semi-dry curry, named for its popularity with colonial British officers, is also excellent. Finally, Nyonya Chap Chye, a mixed vegetarian dish with cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, dried beancurd sheets, cloud ear fungus and glass noodles stewed in preserved bean paste, goes perfectly with rice.

Nyonya desserts are excellent too: we had Pulut Tatai – a glutinous rice cake coloured with blue pea flowers and topped with kaya, a coconut jam; Kuih Bingka – a baked tapioca cake; and Kuih Dadar – pandan crepe roll filled with grated coconut in palm sugar, all temptingly delicious.

At the meal’s conclusion, we were replete and content, a sure sign that the Penang Nyonya cuisine is yummy comfort food, done well.

We should mention that during Chinese New Year, Café Malacca is offering auspicious Lo Hei, served the traditional way. So be sure to stop by and indulge in an authentic and filling Penang Nyonya meal at Café Malacca. We promise you will come away totally sated.

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