Makansutra: Nonya flavours come alive at Ceki Nyonya Restaurant
Nonya flavours come alive at Ceki restaurant
It would be insane to lock yourself up at home amid the coronavirus situation and deprive yourself of a life.
I say stay alert, be wary and take all the necessary precautions - wash your hands, keep away from crowds and people who are unwell, and enjoy the outdoors.
And if you happen to be making a trip to Malaysia, fret not.
I was in Penang recently and there was no panic there, just some good old eating and shopping.
The only gamble to take is to be part of a feeding frenzy at Ceki Nyonya Restaurant, named after an old Nonya card game and located in the heart of town, just off Penang Road.
Most Nonya restaurants in Singapore and Malaysia are largely about the North Kelantan and Penang style with some Thai influences and very different from the Southern styles of Malacca and Singapore.
This is the first time I have come across a "combo-Nonya" restaurant.
A glance at the menu and I saw Singapore, Malacca and Penang. I spotted inchi kabin (Penang fried chicken with hints of coconut milk, turmeric, chilli and cumin) and the Singapore Nonya staple, ayam buah keluak.
The jiu hu char (from RM18, or S$6), a turnip and dried cuttlefish salad of sorts was such a great starter.
I wrapped it in lettuce and it was a crunchy fresh umami symphony in my mouth. A smudge of sambal enlivened it.
Next came the ikan asam pedas (market price).
It does not matter if it is red snapper or grouper (we had the former), but it is paramount that the fish is fresh or else the mint leaves and freshly-grated blue ginger flower bits over the spicy tangy curry will be in a sad state.
It came supremely fresh here, and the sharp, spicy-sour and aromatic dish (sans sugar) was a hit, with a bowl of steamed rice.
Then came the ugly-looking tau yew bak (RM22), braised dark soya sauce pork belly.
I have had many versions before, but I will remember this one.
The caramelised sauce flavour permeated the pork and the texture was soft and gummy.
Owner Francis Tee, who helms the kitchen while his wife Esther guards the front of the house, said: "You braise it over very low fire for a long, long time."
The recipes are from her family's heritage and adapted for Ceki.
They even serve up home-cooked dishes like tetae lemak (RM18), a rare, rich Nonya vegetable curry with sweet potatoes that was extremely comforting.
Another rarity from this kind of kitchen is perut ikan (RM22), a pickled fish stomach curry deepened with accents of pineapple and blue ginger flower with pea eggplants.
The conflation of flavours in this dish was perfectly confusing and yet so endearing.
There is a humble selection in the dessert section, but I was too full to try even the gandum or pengat. I will put that in my order when I next visit Penang.
Ceki Nyonya Restaurant
11A, Jalan Sri Bahari
George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Opens 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30pm to 9.30pm daily