Most of us will agree that when it comes to food, nothing beats home-cooked meals. Even Nyonya food, a cuisine that scores with many Malaysians, has its restrictions.
It is for this reason that the people behind Penang Village, a house of Nyonya specialties in the city, took a closer look at their menu and decided to add a few more familiar home-cooked dishes to it, but with a difference.
Co-owner and head chef C.G.Tang said seafood specialities, common in Nyonya homes, were not readily available in restaurants. Hence, he has come out with eight new seafood dishes and three appetizers.
Some come straight out of the Tang family cookbook while others are his own creations. Tang's grandmother and mother's cooking was a great influence to him. Nyonya food was usually common at the dinner table, though the Tangs were not of Nyonya heritage.
"I never realized that what we ate at home was not common in other Chinese homes," said the Penang-born Tang who grew up on favourites like Ju Hu Char, Lobak and Kiam Chai Beoy. Today, he has perfected these dishes at his restaurant. First to arrive at our table were a series of Nyonya salads, better known as kerabu. The Kerabu Jelly Fish is common, but not the Kerabu Pineapple Chicken and Kerabu Pomelo with Baby Crab.
These were intriguing in their looks and even better to eat. In particular, I enjoyed the crunchy taste of toasted sesame and groundnuts tossed in a mixture of plum sauce, home-made chilli sauce, garlic, onion, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir leaves, capsicum and bird's eye chilli. These were mingled with the sweetness of the pineapple pieces and taste of shredded chicken.
Western touch to local dishes Tang said some of his dishes had Western touches, like the sliced capsicum that adds crunch to the kerabu. Deep fried small crabs were mixed with chunks of pomelo fruit made for a nice change to the normal salad that accompanies most meals.
The ever-popular Pie-Tee was served with Chinese turnip mixture stuffed into deep-fried crunchy top hats. After these, came 11 main course items. Careful presentation has been given to each of Tang's dishes, as he believes food must also look good besides tasting good.
Co-owner Connie Su described the Steamed Seabass with Olive Vegetable Sauce as a healthy option because the fish was steamed with preserved mustard leaves and black olives that were soaked in olive oil. Tang said fish was usually steamed with soya sauce. "But, for a touch of difference, preserved vegetable and olive oil are used instead," he said.
Su recommended the Seafood Otak-Otak. Made with butterfish from New Zealand, the otak-otak was delicious and rich coconut milk, daun kadok, kaffir lime leaves, chilli, onion and garlic topped with prawns, mussels and squid. We were also served Stir-Fried Mantis Meat with Dried Chilli, Deepfried Garoupa with Nyonya Sauce, Curry Kapitan Chicken and Sotong Lemak Nenas.
"All our ingredients and sauces are prepared at a central kitchen, then distributed to our outlets in Desa Sri Hartamas and USJ so that our food tastes the same at all outlets," said Tang. The Soft Shell Crab with Kerabu Sauce, cooked with plum sauce, vinegar and spices, was easier to appreciate for this particular type of crustacean beats the hard-shelled ones. It is ideal as bites.
New Zealand Mussels in Fragrant Chilli Sauce with the mussels sitting on its shell are cooked with lemongrass, curry leaf, oyster sauce, bird's eye chilli, dried shrimps and black sauce. This dish is a favourite of Tonny Leow, another partner of Penang Village.
For those who did not like mussels, the kitchen would use lala instead, said Tang. Another dish with a Western influence was the White Prawn with Cheese Sauce that had a coating of Parmesan, evident on the prawn flesh, to give it a delightful creamy after taste.
Desserts were like going through a whole new course as Mango Ice, Honey Dew Ice, Rainbow Ice Kacang and Durian Chendol were, besides being mouth-watering finishes, each a mouthful too.
One is enough for two, but Su said their customers liked it so much, they would somehow finish it "single-handedly."