[Penang, Malaysia] Malay dinner at Viva Victoria

In the light of on-going travel restrictions due to the COVID pandemic which has pretty much obliterated international tourist arrivals into Penang, Viva Victoria (our erstwhile go-to spot for pizzas or pastas) has just revised its menu to emphasize local ethnic cuisines instead. Its new menu has an ambitious spread of Malay, Indian and Nyonya (Straits Chinese) curries - yes, curries! Donโ€™t get me wrong, I like curries, but a curry-centric menu, spanning 3 cultures?!

So, we popped down for dinner last night, to see what the new dishes would be like. Honestly, we were pretty skeptical if the different types of curry dishes could actually blend together when consumed at one seating.

Malay curries, for example, emphasize the use of fresh herbs and spices, e.g. fresh galangal rhizome, fresh turmeric root and leaves, torch ginger flowers, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and fermented shrimp paste (belacan). They tend to be lighter, spicier but not as strong-smelling as Indian curries.

Indian curries are relatively more assertive (read, strong smelling) than the curries from other ethnic groups in Malaysia/Singapore due to their heavy use of dried spices: cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, etc.

Nyonya or Straits-Chinese curries, on the other hand, are richer and more full-bodied - built initially upon Malay/Indonesian curries with their use of fresh herbs, but supplemented by the use of Indian dried spices. A lot of time, Nyonya curries are also enriched with coconut milk, used in larger quantities than in Malay curries, and almost non-existent in Tamil-Indian curries. Keralan-Indian curries, on the other hand, do use quite a bit of coconut milk.

For our dinner yesterday evening, we decided to concentrate mainly on the Malay section of its menu, so we donโ€™t have to worry about incompatibility of the dishes weโ€™re going to order.

  1. Beef Rendang - slow-cooked beef shin, with deep, spicy flavors, topped with finely-julienned kaffir lime leaves and pickled carrots. My fave dish for the evening.

  2. Ayam goreng berempah - spice-marinated chicken, deep-fried till crisp on the outside, but moist inside, These were delicious. The taste of fresh turmeric was dominant, the tasty chicken drumsticks were garnished with crisp-fried curry leaves and shallots before serving.

  3. Ikan bakar - seabass marinated in spicy chili paste, wrapped in banana leaves and barbecued. The banana leave wrap ensured the fish-meat remained moist.

  4. Sambal petai dan udang - stink-beans with shrimps, in a punchy chili-fermented shrimp paste.

  5. Sambal terung - I always liked this dish: twice-cooked aubergine, first fried, then cooked in a spicy-savory chili paste consisting of chilis, onions, garlic and sweet soy sauce (kicap manis).

Somehow, when we noticed the table next to ours ordering a banana leaf-wrapped parcel of biryani rice, we simply could not resist ordering the same, and broke our Malay-dishes-only rule for the evening:
6) Prawn biryani - so glad we broke our rule, for this dish was absolutely scrumptious: moist, flavorsome rice, with the prawn-flavored curry seeping through every grain of rice. The prawns were bouncy-fresh and sweet-fleshed.

  1. Since our foray into the menu has become somewhat of a free-for-all, we thought we might as well order the barramundi gulai tumis from the Nyonya section. Viva Victoriaโ€™s chef did an admirable job in interpreting the dish. It had all the requisite spicy-sweet-sour combination of Nyonya gulai tumis.

  2. South Indian prawn curry - we thoroughly enjoyed this dish: it has all the requisite strong flavors and aroma of a Tamilian prawn curry: spicy from the chilis, and sour from the use of tamarind. It did had the effect of muting the flavors from the Malay dishes, which was what we were afraid of doing in the first place. So, we probably should not have gone overboard with mixing our orders with cross-ethnic choices after all.

Totally enjoyed the evening - there were six of us in our party and, with the COVID SOPs still in place, we had to sit ourselves in 3 separate tables of two each - not too conducive for conversations, but I guess itโ€™s something we all had to get used to. We agreed that the food was pretty good - the head chef is Malay, Chef Shahril Abdul Manaf - so we did make the right decision to opt for the Malay section of the menu, as that may have been his specialty. :grin: :+1:

Address
Viva Victoria
169, Lebuh Victoria, 10300 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +604-261 0000
Opening hours: 12 noon to 10pm, Tue to Sun. Closed on Mondays.

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Our first meal out for 2021 was lunch at Viva Victoria today.

Started off with the usual Cappuccino of mushroom soup:

:small_orange_diamond: Mutton biryani, wrapped in banana leaves and steam-baked - one of the house specialties of having biryani rice (one has a choice of spiced chicken, mutton, prawn or vegetarian) wrapped in banana leaves and baked. The hot parcels are then delivered and opened tableside, allowing wafts of aromatic steam to tantalize the diners.
The curries here are gingery, with a careful balance of aromatic spices and just enough chilis to give the dish a hint of heat. The rice was short-grained, very short compared to the slender, elegant Basmati rice, but is equally aromatic and flavorful, and perfect for cooking biryanis. In South India/Tamil Nadu, the Thalassery biriyani is cooked using this type of rice, almost cous cous-like in appearance.

:small_orange_diamond:Barramundi gulai tumis - this is the classic Northern Malaysia spicy-sour dish, using the firm, white-fleshed Asian seabass. The thin gravy is tart from tamarind, perfumed with lemongrass, torch ginger and galangal. Okra is added towards the end. The version here is excellent.

:small_orange_diamond:Ayam masak merah - a very tasty spicy, chili-hot Malay dish. Another excellent rendition here.

:small_orange_diamond: Nangka Kapitan - the vegetarian version of a Nyonya dish which is usually cooked using chicken meat. Itโ€™s a lighter version using unripe jackfruit, which has a soft, starchy texture.

:small_orange_diamond: Chicken Varuval - this is an assertive South Indian dry-ish chicken curry, known for its explosive heat. The dish originates from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, and known for its seriously chili-spicy cooking. The version here is slightly milder, but still packed quite a bite.

:small_orange_diamond: Nasi tomato - slightly tart, scented rice, to accompany the curried dishes.

Itโ€™s a good start to the new year.

Wishing all Hungry Onioners a Happy New Year, stay safe and happy feasting.

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Whatโ€™s with the mushroom soup everywhere? Legacy of colonialism? A dining fad from the 70s thatโ€™s persisted to this day?

Had it this morning at OO White Coffee Waterfall and it was delish but seemed out of place with CKT and nasi lemak :slight_smile:

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Day 63 of the Movement Control Order (MCO) 3.0 Lockdown, and 482 days since MCO began in Malaysia on 18 Mar 2020.

Lunch today were take-outs from Viva Victoria: its chicken biryani and mutton biryani lunch-packs. Both items came with very good cucumber-yoghurt raita, and a spicy gravy/sauce (which we ignored).

Both the curried chicken and curried mutton were subtly-spiced, so as not to overwhelm the aromatic biryani rice.

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Day 67 of the Malaysian MCO 3.0 Lockdown. 486 days since MCO began on 18 Mar 2020.

Lunch today was the Nasi Lemak lunch set, offered by Viva Victoria only during weekends. It consisted of: ayam goreng berempah (spiced fried chicken), ikan sumbat (fish stuffed with a spicy chili-onion filling), crayfish sambal, hard-boiled egg and sambal udang (spiced shrimps). Crisp-fried ikan bilis (anchovies) and groundnuts provided an additional textural crunch to the dish.

The quality of the ingredients, and the subtle approach to spicing here elevated the ubiquitous dish to a whole new level of deliciousness altogether.

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More take-outs as Malaysia has yet to lift its ban on dining-in at restaurants after more than 2 months of lockdown. Our dinner order this evening were a couple of really good biryani sets from Viva Victoria.

The special weekend biryani sets: one with ๐œ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ซ๐ข๐ž๐ ๐ฌ๐ฅ๐ข๐ฉ๐ฉ๐ž๐ซ ๐ฅ๐จ๐›๐ฌ๐ญ๐ž๐ซ (MYR 28/ US$6.62/ ยฃ4.80) as its centerpiece, and the other with a ๐ฅ๐š๐ซ๐ ๐ž ๐œ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ซ๐ข๐ž๐ ๐ฉ๐ซ๐š๐ฐ๐ง (RM25/ US$5.90/ ยฃ4.30) - came with an amazing array of tasty side-dishes: a very well-marinated ๐Ÿ๐ซ๐ข๐ž๐ ๐›๐š๐ซ๐ซ๐š๐ฆ๐ฎ๐ง๐๐ข, so tasty that it stays on in your mind long after the meal; an assertive ๐‚๐ก๐ž๐ญ๐ญ๐ข๐ง๐š๐ ๐œ๐ก๐ข๐œ๐ค๐ž๐ง ๐œ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ซ๐ฒ which is aromatic, richly-spiced but not overwhelmingly so; a Sino-Indian marriage-made-in-heaven ๐ฌ๐š๐ฆ๐›๐š๐ฅ ๐ญ๐š๐ฎ ๐ค๐ฎ๐š, where the tofuโ€™s neutral flavor complements the stab of chili deliciousness from the sambal perfectly; the lovely crunch from the ๐ญ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ฆ๐ž๐ซ๐ข๐œ ๐œ๐š๐›๐›๐š๐ ๐ž; the soothing tangy-sweetness from the cool, refreshing ๐œ๐ฎ๐œ๐ฎ๐ฆ๐›๐ž๐ซ & ๐จ๐ง๐ข๐จ๐ง ๐ซ๐š๐ข๐ญ๐š which was, to be honest, was one of my favorite taste discoveries for the year (I could never get enough of it!); and a light, ultra-crisp ๐ฉ๐š๐ฉ๐š๐๐ฎ๐ฆ.

It was literally a ๐’๐ฎ๐ง๐๐š๐ฒ ๐œ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ซ๐ฒ ๐ญ๐ข๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐ข๐ง ๐ฅ๐ฎ๐ง๐œ๐ก in a box! To get any better, you need to go to the Tiffin Room at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore!

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496 days since MCO began on 18 Mar 2020, and Day 77 of the current MCO 3.0 Lockdown.

Afternoon tea today was ๐†๐ฎ๐ฅ๐š๐ข ๐€๐ฒ๐š๐ฆ ๐Œ๐š๐ฌ๐š๐ค ๐‘๐ž๐›๐ฎ๐ง๐  (chicken curry with fresh bamboo shoots) by the talented Chef Shahril of ๐•๐ข๐ฏ๐š ๐•๐ข๐œ๐ญ๐จ๐ซ๐ข๐š.

I had it with โ€œroti canaiโ€ (Indian flatbread). Decadent!
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