Makansutra: Nonya Bong back with a bang
Pioneer generation cook back with vengeance
Before meeting Jeffrey Chia, I had not come across any stall that offered serious Nonya fare in a chap chye png (economy rice) setting.
By serious, I mean there were rarely seen items like hati babi bungkus, ayam buah keluak, itek tim and even the ultra-rare tohay (meats stewed in wine lees), all of which could be found at his now-defunct Nonya Bong kopitiam stall at Balestier Road.
Chia left the scene 12 years ago with a frustrated tone, saying: "These people always complain and ask why my chap chye rice is so expensive."
Nonya fare, because of its complexity, has never been "chap chye rice" cheap.
He took a hiatus and ventured into a catering business, but the 68-year-old pioneer generation cook is back with renewed vigour.
He now operates from his home kitchen at Choa Chu Kang, offering private dining sessions, as well as takeaway and delivery services.
He doesn't just do common and predictable Nonya fare.
First up, his Ayam Buah Keluak came with both chicken and pork in the same serving. He does it sans minced meat mixed into the black nut, and the spicy and earthy flavour shines through.
He is very light-handed in his use of salt for most of his dishes.
Then the reddish tohay came a-calling and his little touch of lending accents of cincalok and belacan to this wine lees chicken (and pork) stew is so refreshing.
It tastes nothing like the Hakka version, and I liked how he used two meats.
"It gives more texture and tastes," Chia said.
Even his chap chye was done home-style - you'll see more ingredients.
I also loved his Hati Babi Bungkus. These ketumbar or coriander marinated fried liver balls wrapped in pig's caul were a rare delight. He served them with his own achar, and I will be back for more.
This old chef is so stubborn, he even insists on making and frying his own kueh pie tee cups in his glassed-up home kitchen.
This starter is a must-order if you plan to book a private dinner session.
His Assam Prawns were rendered with belacan, coconut milk and tamarind, a combination that brought so much out of the fried butterfly prawns.
When the dessert arrived, I suddenly realised this once-common item had been quietly disappearing from menus.
The mount of sago pearls, smoothened with egg white, was doused with fresh coconut milk and gula melaka, transporting me back to a lost era.
Chia also offers Penang Nonya items like Ayam Kapitan (Nyonya chicken curry) and Jiu Hu Char (turnip with stir-fried cuttlefish), as well as "omakase" set meals from $50 a person (8 dishes) to $100 (18 dishes).
You can bring your own tingkat for a pick-up service or order online from Facebook (NonyaBong The Peranakan) or WhatsApp 9619-1949.