Nyonya cuisine is one of the earliest example of fusion food evolved since the 1950’s when the Chinese traders decided to call Malaysia their home. In a foreign country where they could get limited supplies of what they were used to in China, they made use of ingredients available locally. Since then, they have introduced what we now call the Nyonya Cuisine, similarly known as Peranakan Cuisine, which is an amalgamation of Chinese cooking with local Malay ingredients and style.
These Chinese settlers were often found in Penang, Malacca and Singapore as these were the main ports back then. So as a Penangite, Nyonya food is pretty common to us but it is not ordinary for us non-Peranakans to be able to savour Nyonya food in the comforts of the ornate Nyonya home that has been in the family for generations.
As soon as I found out about Little Kitchen @ Nyonya, I jumped on the next opportunity to visit this restaurant that is set in the original Nyonya home of four generations. I had my sister make reservation for when I get home.
Here I am, at the entrance of the Nyonya home restaurant. If you noticed, there are two businesses written on the sign. The original business of the family is selling Bird’s Nest therefore, Birds Nest Heaven. Latter, Mr Loh opened this restaurant for his mum because her children has grown up, left home and was getting bored at home not being able to cook for a big family like she used to. So Mr Loh installed air-conditioning in the house, put up a sign and a homey Nyonya restaurant was set up.
This style of shop houses are referred to as Straits Eclectic Shophouses, built between the 1890’s to 1940’s. They are colourful and elaborately decorated and usually have three pairs of wooden shutter windows with decorative arches. The pillars and panels have ornate plaster decoration. These earlier shophouses were built by the more affluent Chinese settlers so they usually have very ornate decorations to show their status.
The wooden panel is to divide the space into two areas, the main room and the second room. The main room is where guests are held and during those times, the single girls are not allowed to be seen by guests and were usually in the second room or upstairs. The little holes on the wooden panel were where the girls will peek through to see the guests.
A variety of Nyonya kuih (big plate) and homemade pickles (small plate). Nyonya kuih is a type of sweet or savoury snacks usually eaten in between meals, like how the English have scones for afternoon tea.
We were served a variety of Nyonya kuih soon after we arrived to prevent hungry growls while we were busy listening to Mr Loh’s stories. Mr Loh (the host) treats all his customers like his guests. He was so kind to show us around his home and explain all there is to know about this place he call home.
Me and the head chef, Mr Loh’s mum who made us those delicious home-cooked Nyonya food
The beautiful pillar in the house
This day bed, as of majority of furnitures and items in this house are antiques that has lasted four generations. As Penang can get very hot and humid, the day bed was made out of wood and marbles to keep it nice and cool when sat or laid on. The flower decorations are made from carved mother of pearl.
Some of the fresh herbs
Ulam is a type of salad produced from the ‘ulam’ leaves. In the plate of salad above, it has a variety of fresh leaves served with raw baby aubergines, thickly sliced cucumber and mangoes which are to be eaten with the sambal (chilli paste) that came with it. The sambal belacan were divided into three levels of spiciness at; 10% chilli,40% chilli and 70% chilli. The 70% chilli sambal was too spicy and is one that blows your brains wide open so be careful. I suggest you start with the 10% chilli sambal.
Hong bak (pork cooked in fermented bean paste)
Ju Hu Char (Fried juliennes of yam bean with shredded cuttlefish)
Kari Kapitan Kay (Chicken Curry Kapitan)
Paku Heh Bee (Fern cooked with dried shrimp sambal)
“All the food are served in the original Nyonyaware passed down from generations. These chinaware are considered antique.”
Love the essence of this place, a home open up to guests. It is like hosting a dinner party everyday, in the comfort of their home that has been passed down for four generation.
No frowns, only smiles. Well, maybe slightly expensive but I think it is worth the experience.
Will I return?
I will definitely return for a homey nyonya meal and to visit the old lady chef and family and thank them for being a wonderful host. It is a great place to bring foreign guests to give them a feel of the Nyonya culture.