NOW I don’t have to travel to Malacca for an authentic taste of Nyonya cuisine after discovering Classic Nyonya restaurant in Johor Baru. The restaurant, in Taman Sutera Utama, is easy to spot, distinguished by the pretty pink signboard showing the profile of a Nyonya with flowers in her siput sanggul (hair bun).
While chatting with proprietress Pang Siew Yen, I sense her passion for the cuisine and guess she must be Peranakan or Straits-born Chinese. But when I ask her if she is a nyonya, she swiftly replies, “No.”
Pang is Chinese of Hakka origin. Her grandfather sold beancurd from a pushcart and when she says they used to live at Jalan Ngee Heng, it struck a chord because my grandfather’s former house was also on that road!
Pang, a self-confessed foodie, used to compare the cooking methods between the Chinese and Peranakan community, and was fascinated by the intricacies of blending ingredients like buah keras (candlenut), buah keluak (seeds of the Kepayang tree), belacan (prawn paste), lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves to create flavours that are unique to their cuisine.
When Pang hooked up with her Baba friend Allan Wan, she turned her dream into reality last July with the opening of Classic Nyonya.
It serves authentic Nyonya food based on traditional family recipes.
“Thirty years ago, I didn’t even know what buah keras was!” declares Pang with a laugh. She has since discovered even more interesting ingredients that go into the preparation of well-loved recipes at the restaurant.
Their pictorial menu gives me an idea of what to expect, from appetisers to desserts. Servings are generous, even the ones marked Small.
Pang is aware that diners who are seeking Nyonya food have high expectations and this challenges her to stick to authentic recipes and serve food that truly pleases the palate. She is serious about the food they serve and for a more satisfying bite, she has created her own recipes for the crepe wrap for Nyonya Popia (RM6.80 for two) or fresh spring rolls, and the crispy top hats Pai Tee (RM10.40 for six).
While a lot of Nyonya dishes are spicy, diners who like it hotter are welcome to indicate their preferred spiciness when placing orders.
But Pang assures me that not all Nyonya dishes are spicy so everyone can enjoy mild items such as Lobak (RM14.70 for three rolls), Ayam Buah Keluak (RM24.10) and Itik Tim (RM24.20), a delicious Nyonya recipe duck soup.
I must admit I’m feeling rather greedy as I dig into classic favourites like Beef Rendang (RM24.10), Assam Pedas Fish (RM23.10), Lemak Nanas Prawns (RM31.50), Sambal Petai (RM25.20) and Steamed Ladies Fingers topped with sambal belacan (RM12.60).
The interesting range of flavours in these dishes are best savoured with steamed white rice. When the Lemak Nanas Prawns is served, the pineapple’s piquant fragrance wafts around in a delicious cloud that further stirs up my appetite. The Beef Rendang is so tender and full of flavour that it almost melts in my mouth!
A meal of Nyonya food is not complete without desserts such as Cendol (RM5.80) and Sago Gula Melaka (RM4.80). Desserts here are made with the right balance of fresh coconut milk, palm sugar and shaved ice that not only satisfies but also make me fall in love with Nyonya cuisine all over again.
CLASSIC NYONYA RESTAURANT
Where: 90, Ground Floor, Jalan Sutera Tanjung 8/4,
Taman Sutera Utama, 81300 Skudai, Johor
TEL: 07 - 5506767
HOURS: 11am to 10pm, weekday break 3pm to 5pm. Closed Wednesday.
FOOD: Nyonya or Peranakan cuisine
PICK: Beef Rendang, Lemak Nanas Prawns and refreshing Cendol
PAY: From RM5 to RM79 per dish
MOOD: Contemporary family restaurant
SERVICE: Efficient and unobtrusive
I SAY: Go give it a try