Nyonya delights

Now I don’t have to travel to Malacca for an authentic taste of Nyonya cuisine because l discovered the familiar flavours at Classic Nyonya restaurant in Johor Baru.

Charming Nyonya identity even on the cover of their menu
This restaurant in Taman Sutera Utama, is easy to spot, distinguished by the pretty pink signboard showing the profile of a Nyonya wearing flowers on her siput sanggul or hair bun.
Not Nyonya

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 had a business selling beancurd from a pushcart and when she says they used to live at Jalan Ngee Heng, it struck a familiar chord because my grandfather’s former house was also on that road!

A serving of crispy Pai Tee top hats
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 Classic Nyonya which serves authentic Nyonya food based on traditional family recipes.

“Thirty years ago, I didn’t even know what buah keras was!” declared Pang with a laugh.  She has since discovered more of such interesting ingredients that go into the preparation of well-loved recipes at the restaurant.

Tasty Nyonya

Pang Siew Yen helping to serve Itik Tim
Their pictorial menu gives me an idea of what to expect from appetizers to desserts.  Servings are generous and come in two sizes, small and big. 

Pang is aware that diners who are seeking Nyonya food, have high expectations and this gives her the challenge 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 created her own recipes for the crepe wrap for Nyonya Popia (RM6.80 for two) or fresh spring rolls and the crispy top hats for 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 tasting items like Lobak (RM14.70 for three rolls), Ayam Buah Keluak (RM24.10) and Itik Tim (RM24.20), a delicious Nyonya recipe duck soup.

Classic Favourites

Beef Rendang so tender and flavourful
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!

Cendol is a must-have dessert, served with the right balance of fresh coconut milk, palm sugar and shaved ice
A meal of Nyonya food is not complete without desserts like 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 make me fall in love with Nyonya cuisine all over again.

CLASSIC NYONYA RESTAURANT [Halal-sourced ingredients]
90, Ground Floor, Jalan Sutera Tanjung 8/4, Taman Sutera Utama, 81300 Skudai, Johor

TEL    607 – 5506767

HOURS Open 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

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 20 March 2017

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