I was at one time crazy over “Little Nyonya – 小娘惹”, a Singaporean TV series being aired on our local channel some time last year. The storyline was based on the lives of a large Peranakan (Baba Nyonya) family during the 30’s where traditions and cuisines played important roles in their daily affairs. What impressed me most were not the great performances by the artistes nor the beautiful arrays of fine dining wares or building architectures but the tedious food preparation time each Nyonya (female) would spend in the kitchen to ascertain that their Baba (male) would be well taken care of. In this modern era, most of the olden methods of using the batu giling (granite grinder) or batu tumbuk (granite mortar and pestle) to get the best flavors and textures out of the many spices available were gradually replaced by the convenience and speedy processing time of the electric blenders. Part of this cooking tradition might be gone but the recipes for these delicious Nyonya cuisines still remained in our generation. One of the restaurants which are real keen in preserving the taste of the good old days is Nyonya Breeze, located right in the heart of Georgetown, Penang.
The first dish that was served to us was the tedious dish which required much patience in slicing, cutting and chopping of herbs and ingredients – the Nasi Ulam (RM7.00). This healthy dish contained many raw jungle herbs (basically about 6-8 types but different races would have other different add-ons) tossed with cold-down steamed rice plus toasted grated coconut (kerisik), dried shrimps, toasted belacan powder, fried salted fish and other raw spices. You can check out more in detail from my Nasi Ulam recipe here. What was served at Nyonya Breeze was nice, considering that it was meant for commercial consumption. However, some further enhancements could have pep up the taste more. For example, each rice grain could have been a bit more moist and soft to avoid having such dryness in the overall dish. Sliced shallots should be used instead of big onions for that extra spiciness. Dried shrimps and fried salted fish could have been added more generously to bring out the combined fragrance and saltiness in the dish.
Sambal Goreng (RM14.40 small, RM19.20 large), a deceiving name for a dish that looked rather pale white minus the red color of pounded chilies got us dumbfounded. It was not spicy and the dish had thumbs up from everyone. The unique fragrance emitted from the eggplant and prawn dish clearly shown the existence of lemongrass and thick coconut milk with a trace of some tamarind juice, belacan and blended spices, colored by a few chili slices and garnished with fried garlic and cashew nuts. Simply delicious!
Note: The Indonesian version might add in some deep fried bean curd cubes and tempe (fermented soybean).
Next on the line up was the Heh Ya Kay Char Bak (RM12.00 small, RM16.80 large – stir fry pork belly slices with fermented krill aka cincalok). Cincalok is actually the fermentation of small shrimps (krill) in salt and rice. What I expected was a dish with the signature saltiness from the cincalok but was presented with one in an overpowering sweetness. I guessed the chef should have added a bit more of the cincalok and reduced the sugar usage for a healthier dish.
There was also the Inche Kabin (RM12.00 small, RM16.80 large) served with some prawn crackers. The Inche Kabin is actually a type of Nyonya deep fried chicken. Some families would marinate their choice chicken pieces with just Worcestershire Sauce (Lea & Perrins) plus some chili or curry powder. Some would add in turmeric powder for that extra spiciness or even some ginger juice to tenderize the meat. Overall, the end result would still be a plate of juicy and crispy fried chicken. The restaurant did a good job here in ascertain the crispiness of the chicken while maintaining the golden brown color of the chicken. As for the taste, it would need more hours of marinating as the chicken pieces were not flavorful enough for my liking. This dish was served with “Ang Mo Tao Ewe” aka Worcestershire sauce and sliced red chilies.
Note: The secret to a crispier fried chicken lies in double frying the chicken pieces in low fire. Dip the fried chicken pieces in the existing marinate for a second time and deep fry it again. You have to make sure your timing right to avoid overcooking the meat. Secondly, you can make your own dipping sauce for future usage if you have the time. It needed the brewing some first grade soy sauce with some mustard powder, cloves and cinnamon barks. For every 3 bottles of soy sauce, you would get only two bottles left after brewing and filtering the spices.
Assam Pedas Ikan Selah (RM16.80) was also served. Fresh and chubby ikan selah (yellowtail scads) were used in this moderately spiced sweet and sour dish. This taste of the soup was almost similar to that of the Penang Nyonya Laksa but with a more prominent sourness from the sliced pineapple. The ladies would surely love this dish.
We were also served with Pee Hu Char (RM8.40 small, RM12.00 large & RM2.40 for additional lettuce to wrap in). The distinctive differences between this dish and its sister, Jiu Hu Char, lied in the cutting of the vegetables and usage of the dry seafood. The latter would be in strips, a bit moist and using Jiu Hu Si (cuttlefish strips) whereas every ingredient in the Pee Hu Char would in cubes, a bit dry and using deep fried sole fish (pee hu). The ingredients included pork slices, jicama (sengkuang), carrots, cabbages, onions, Shitake mushrooms and of course the boss of the dish, dried sole fish. What lacked in this dish here were the standard thickness and size cutting of the vegetables and the scarcity of the deep fried dried sole fish cubes. The vegetables should have been a bit smaller in size with equal thickness. It was obvious that they have been using a “kitchen helper” to slice them in a hurry as the vegetables were too thin for bites, especially for this dish. Moreover, the deep fried dried sole fish were chopped into too tiny bits and not sufficient enough for me to taste their presence. Although it’s understandable that dried sole fish fillets are rather expensive in this region, I would suggest that they are cut in bigger cubes sizes. After all, that’s the name of the dish and we should enjoy it as it is instead of having some stir fry vegetable cubes.
I also did request for an additional Nyonya-style Mee Sua Tao (RM6.00, additional crab meat at RM2.40) to try out their ala carte menu. The dish had some mee sua (salted wheat flour vermicelli) cooked in a broth like soup with some sliced pork, prawns and fuzzy melon/squash (毛瓜/mo kua). Although it did look healthy but it was a bit too bland for my liking. I suspected that they were not using thick stock (上湯) to add more flavors into the dish. I guess my home cooked Mee Sua Tao recipe would be a bit too much to ask for. 😛
As for dessert, we had Seh Liu Chi (RM2.50), a pomegranate flavored jelly served in ice with jackfruit cubes and coconut milk. This much forgotten colorful Nyonya dessert once dominated the dessert scene when I was a kid until more and more of the fusion desserts came into the scene during the 90’s. As for me, I would prefer Cendol instead as it gave more flavors and bites. Moreover, this dessert would be better if served on shaved ice instead of ice cubes.
As for beverages, you can try out their hot or cold Ginger Tea (RM2.00/RM2.20), Nutmeg Juice (RM2.00/RM2.20), or Chrysanthemum Tea (RM1.30/RM1.40).
Overall, the food served here can be much better with a bit more adjustments in the recipes. Moreover, from the point of a seasoned diner, I felt that they should look into the availability of certain dishes and desserts for more options.
If you are coming from Traders Hotel/Komtar along Jalan Magazine, you would reach a traffic light (Jalan Magazine/Jalan Penang/Jalan Macalister). Drive all the way straight into Jalan Macaslister. You would see Menara UMNO on your right next to Jalan Zainal Abidin. Drive on until you see Red Rock Hotel on your right. Turn right into Lorong Abu Siti. About 50m away on your left, you would see the single storey restaurant (directly opposite Red Rock Commercial Centre).
Name: NYONYA BREEZE
Address: 50, Lorong Abu Siti, 10400 Penang, West Malaysia.
Contact: 604-227 9646
11.30am-2.30pm (lunch), 6.30pm-10.00pm (dinner)
Closed every Tuesday except public holidays
GPS: 5.417325, 100.323079
Ambience: 7.5/10 (1-4 cheap, 5-7 average, 8-10 classy)
Food Choices: 7/10 (1-4 limited, 5-7 average, 8-10 many choices)
Taste: 7.5/10 (1-4 tasteless, 5-7 average, 8-10 excellent)
Pricing: 7.5/10 (1-4 cheap, 5-7 average, 8-10 expensive)
Service: 8/10 (1-4 bad, 5-7 average, 8-10 excellent)