3-week-old Ceki is the latest addition to Penang’s burgeoning Nyonya restaurant scene. Competition on Sri Bahari Road is stiff, besides two other Nyonya restaurants - one-year-old Bibik’s Kitchen and half-year-old Baba Phang - it also has to contend with long-established Goh Swee Kee Teochew Restaurant (吳瑞記菜館) which has been operating there for more than two decades (and before that in Transfer Road for just about as long) and also the very popular Foong Wei Heong (风味小食馆) which is famous for its braised pig’s trotter for the past decade-and-a-half.
Ceki is fronted by Esther Tan, whose husband, Francis Tee, does all the cooking based upon heirloom Penang-Nyonya recipes passed down by Esther’s grandmother.
What we had for lunch here:
Tau yu bak - a braised pork dish of Hokkien origin, but very popular in Penang even in Nyonya restaurants. The version here is one of the best we’d had commercially in town: the meat was caramelised but not too sweet, and still retained its juiciness - highly recommended, although we couldn’t quite understand why the form tofu cubes were not braised together with the pork belly pieces, but cooked separately before being assembled together on the serving dish.
Inchi kabin - chicken pieces marinated overnight in spices and coconut creme, then crisp-fried to order. Done very well here.
Perut ikan - the classic Penang-Nyonya fish maw-vegetable stew, replete with various types of herbs and vegetables, cooked with preserved fish maw and shrimps. The version here also included coconut milk for an added richness - rarer to find, but authentic all the same. Very tasty.
Otak-otak - the Penang-Nyonya-style which has a texture closer to Thai hor mok than the form Malacca or Singapore-style Nyonya otak-otak. The rendition is rich, though not as strongly spiced as I’d expected.
Sambal goreng - despite its name, this quirkily-named Penang-Nyonya dish does not contain any sambal (chili paste), but consisted of shrimps, lemongrass, coconut milk, shallots, garlic and belacan (fermented shrimp paste). The pale-coloured dish is usually served garnished with toasted cashewnuts. The version here is very tasty compared to the tepid versions I’d had elsewhere in town.
6) Bubur cha cha - this dessert of sweet potatoes, cassava and taro cooked in coconut milk and Gula Melaka (palm sugar), scented by pandanus, was freshly-cooked and well-balanced in its flavours.
Bee koh moi - also known as pulut hitam in Malacca and Singapore, it’s black glutinous rice cooked in palm sugar, and topped with coconut creme before serving.
Overall, Ceki holds its own against its rivals with distinctly lighter and fresher renditions which I much prefer.
Ceki Nyonya Restaurant
11-A, Jalan Sri Bahari
Tel: +6011 1051 7976
Opening hours: 11am-2.30pm, 5.30pm-9.30pm daily.