Nasi lemak – coconut rice with chilli anchovies and peanuts
Whenever my parents visit me in Singapore, there’s always a line-up of peranakan food. My grandmother was nonya, and my mother craves the food she grew up with in Penang. There are a handful of Malaysian restaurants in Sydney, but there isn’t the demand for Sydney to import a few of the spices and herbs that you need to make it authentically Penang cuisine.
Today I took them to the Kings Hotel where there is a Penang buffet – so not just Malaysian, which encompasses Malay, nonya, maybe even Indian – this is pure nonya food. And what a spread it is. It’s not the most glamourous places to eat – the hotel looks a bit dated from the newer hotels, but the food is so good, I visibly watched my mum eat herself into a stupor.
The variety on offer is huge and the buffet-style means you can sample a little of everything.
chee cheong fan
I started with chee cheong fan, steamed rice rolls, topped with a simple drizzle of sesame oil, hoisin sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. The rice rolls were thin and slipped easily down your throat. Deliciously simple. Simply delicious.
Penang otak – steamed golden snapper in coconut custard
This was followed by nonya otak. Otak is fish with herbs in a curried coconut broth that is steamed in a banana leaf. It’s been so long since I’ve had otak this way – in Singapore it’s barbequed and the end result is a lot more fishcake-like rather than custard in texture. When it’s steamed, it turns out as a delicate piece of heaven.
Penang asam laksa
There was also Penang laksa available. Again, this differs from the more popular laksa that is made with curry and coconut cream, with the stock made from mackerel and tamarind, so it is clear(ish) and has a distinguishing sour taste. The fish is first poached and then flaked and the stock includes lemongrass, galangal, chilli, pineapple, mint, thinly sliced onion, sweet prawn paste and the pink bud of the ginger flower. It’s one dish that the very mention of which can make my sister salivate on demand and very rare to find. Needless to say that was a favourite on our table.
Selection of nonya kueh
Too many other dishes followed, including Penang Hokkien mee soup, which was topped off with fried bits of pork lard (sounds awful, tastes wonderful), acar, a salad of cucumber, carrots and cabbage pickled in aromatic spices and vinegar and then tossed in crushed peanuts and of course nonya kueh, traditional nonya dessert cakes, made authentically and made with the perfect balance of sweet and savoury. A perfect way to end a perfect afternoon of nonya delights.
All in all, highly recommended for hard-core Peranakan devotees.
Copthorne King’s Hotel Singapore
Princess Terrace Cafe
403 Havelock Road
Tel: 65 6733 0011