[Penang, Malaysia] Home-cooking during the COVID-19 Lockdown

Kurtos kalacs is also pretty popular in Penang, with a few local brands. The most successful one is Rollney.

1 Like

Our only chimney cakes came from visiting:

1 Like

Yesterday, attempted another Southern-Nyonya/Straits Chinese classic" Udang Geram Asam - spicy-sour prawns. I used a 1974 recipe by Mrs Lee Chin Koon in her ground-breaking, eponymously-named Mrs Lee’s Cookbook (she’s the mother of Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore and its first Prime Minister).

“Geram” means irresistible in our Baba-Malay patois (“asam” is the Malay word for tamarind), and “geram asam” refers to one’s irresistible pull towards tamarind-flavoured food, which is traditionally served to stimulate one’s appetite.

The spice mix or “rempah” included 20 small, purple onions or shallots, fresh turmeric root, fresh galangal, fresh lemongrass stalks, candlenuts, belacan (fermented shrimp paste) and red chilis (not shown in the picture).

The blended spice mix was sautéed till fragrant, before 4 cups of tamarind-flavoured water were added. Bring to boil and add the prawns, tomatoes and pineapple chunks.

Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve hot with steamed white rice.


And your evaluation of the dish?

It’s excellent - even though it’s a Southern-Nyonya dish in the culinary traditions of Malacca and Singapore, it has a lot of similarities with the Northern-Nyonya/Penang’s Asam Pedas. One of the main differences I could see was the absence of candlenuts in Northern-Nyonya/Penang cooking.

1 Like

Today, I made Babi Chin, which is a Southern-Nyonya (typical of Singapore and Malacca) braised pork stew that’s a variation of the more common Babi Pongteh. The recipe is exactly the same as for Babi Pongteh, except that Babi Chin will also include coriander powder.

Northern-Nyonya (Penang) cuisine does not have Babi Chin in its repertoire, although it has a close cousin called Hong Bak, a pork stew cooked with a spice mix called “Rempah Chin”. But this typical Penang rempah mix would also include “cekur” (lesser galangal, Indon: kencur), besides the usual coriander powder and taucheo. I’d never grown to like cekur, so Penang Hong Bak is not on my list of things to try and cook. :joy:

NOTE: Penang’s “Hong Bak” is a totally different dish from the Kelantanese-Chinese “Hong Bak” which uses copious amounts of star-anise, and flavoured with garlic, gula nira/palm sugar and dark soy sauce.

Babi Chin has an assertive savoury-sweet flavour, and is best served with steamed white rice. Because of the slow-simmering process, the pork has that melt-in-the-mouth sous vide-like texture.


Kiam cheye ark? I did it. Lasted 3 different meals, each time with some more things added to it (ie tomatoes, cauliflower, fresh turmeric, potatoes etc).

I did not use any seasoning. The ingredients provided all the taste.


Btw, how do you actually eat this dish? I immediately think of noodles, as in noodle soup. But I think it’s supposed to be eaten as part of a meal alongside a bunch of other dishes. We ate it with freekeh (don’t usually have rice in the house), drank the broth in a separate bowl, all the solid bits on a plate with chilli sauce for dipping.


Your kiam chye ark looked pretty good!

It’s usually served with steamed white rice, alongside a few more dishes on the table as well - stir-fried meats or vegetables.

We also sometimes add a splash of brandy to the soup!

1 Like


I see some people do use (dried) shiitake in the broth. Is it common or depends on the family? I would try that next time.

1 Like

That depends on the family, but I’d encountered that many times in various homes. Pre-soak the shitake to rehydrate it, then pour away the water, as you wouldn’t want the taste/scent of shitake to affect the “kiam chye ark” soup (a mushroomy component is not part of one’s “kiam chye ark” experience, traditionally. :joy:).

When I saw dried shiitake I thought the taste would clash. Sour does not go with dried shiitake, which is very intense.

OK, I shall not use any in my next Kiam chye ark.

1 Like

Got a bunch of these mini books by a Singaporean publisher, in HCMC, Vietnam of all places. I have culled half, now only these left (and Hong Kong one upstairs). Will purge all four save for Nyonya Favourites.

I was a novice cook back in early Y2K so these books were very nice.

During my search for Kiam Chye Ark I came across Itek Tim, which is more or less exactly the same. Aren’t they really the same thing and the subgroups have different names for this same dish?

Recipe index. I want to challenge myself soon.

1 Like

Yes, the two are more or less the same dish. Kiam chye ark is the Northern-Nyonya term used (as Penang and Perak Nyonyas converse mainly in Hokkien), whereas Itik tim is the Southern-Nyonya term (used in Malacca and Singapore) where the lingua franca is Baba-Malay, a pidgin form of the Malay language, where Hokkien words are incorporated.

1 Like

Thanks for the explanation! It’s a delicious soup.

1 Like

Ugh, Malaysia has gone into a new one-month partial lockdown again, from Nov 9 to Dec 6: and 8 out of its 11 states in West Malaysia, including Penang where I am, are affected. The empty streets of George Town today looked like the studio set of Westworld after all the guests had left.

Dusted off one of my cookbooks this morning to prepare lunch. I decided to make nasi kunyit (steamed sticky rice with coconut milk & turmeric), with its usual accompaniment: Nyonya chicken curry.

The recipe calls for the use of fresh banana leaves, to be layered on top of the steamer, to hold the sticky rice during the cooking process. But my neighborhood grocery store only sells its banana leaves in bundles large enough for me to build a thatched hut! I only needed a table placemat-sized one to fit into my steamer, so I just used foil instead. :frowning_face:
The sticky rice was steamed with fresh pandan leaves (cut into 3-inch lengths), whole peppercorns, and coconut cream. Halfway through the steaming process (after 20 minutes or so), I would add sweetened and slightly salted coconut milk into the rice grains, fluff them, and steam for another 20 minutes.

The rice came out okay, but the flavours were far from what I had hoped to achieve - need to tinker with the recipe further.

Cooking the Nyonya chicken and potato curry was a piece of cake for me - having been cooking it regularly for the last 40 years or so. Nyonya chicken curry is based upon South Indian curries, but enriched with coconut milk (a South-east Asian touch), and made sweeter with the use of copious amounts of caramelized small red onions. We also add a couple of lemongrass stalks for that Thai-influenced fragrance which is so essential for our Nyonya curries. Hard-boiled eggs are optional, but most families here would have them when serving chicken curry with yellow sticky rice.

Nasi kunyit with Nyonya chicken curry is actually a celebratory dish, usually served when one’s new-born baby is one-month-old.


Looks good to me, even though I probably can’t eat it (coconut milk and curry).

I made the duck soup again because didn’t know what else to do with all the salted plums. Any more ideas?

Here we are in the middle of a 4 week partial “lockdown” and enhanced partial “lockdown” in hard-hit areas of the country. Infections have been dropping steadily daily.

Keep safe and enjoy cooking again, Peter.

Have you steamed fish, Teochew-style, with salted plums?

It’s also a partial lockdown here, but some of the SOPs are tricky - for example, only two persons allowed in a vehicle, and they must be from the same household; and diners in a restaurant needed to be 1 metre (3 1/3 feet) from each other, etc.

Penang has had zero COVID-19 for most of last month, but numbers have risen to between 25 to 35 new cases daily for the past 2 weeks, and the authorities here have gotten real nervous.

The fish dish has more or less the same ingredients. Will try that next time.


1 Like

I had skate wings, one of my favourite “fish”.



Lovely. That looked simply fabulous! :yum: :+1:

1 Like