[Penang, Malaysia] Nyonya cuisine at Ceki, Sri Bahari Road

Ceki Nyonya Restaurant is one of a trio of relatively new Nyonya cuisine restaurants that have sprung up on the Sri Bahari Road dining precinct the past few months. The other two - Baba Phang and Bibik’s Kitchen - also offer about the same spread of Penang-Nyonya items as Ceki, but with subtle variances in cooking styles and recipes used.

Francis Tee, owner-chef of Ceki, is a self-taught cook who scoured his family’s heirloom recipes, many from the grandmother of his wife, Esther Tan, for some very good interpretations of Nyonya home-cooking dishes which he offered here.

Our lunch here consisted of:

  1. Inchi Kabin - this is a Penang-Nyonya classic of chicken pieces marinated overnite in spices and coconut milk, before being deep-fried to order and served crisp & hot, with prawn crackers and a saucer of Worcestershire sauce with cut, red chilis on the side as a dip.

  2. Perut Ikan - another Penang-Nyonya classic: fermented fish innards stewed in a strong, pungent, herbal, sour-sweet-spicy stew redolent of wild betel leaves (Malay: daun kadok), Vietnamese mint (Malay: daun kesum), mint and other aromatic leaves, sprinkled with pink torch-ginger, flavoured with pineapples & tamarind, and with eggplant, long beans and shrimps for extra textures.

  1. Tau Yu Bak - this is a common homecooked dish: soy-braised pork belly, which varies from one family to another. The Tee family’s rendition is thicker and sweeter than my own family’s. Their rendition also includes tofu, which most versions would not have. Tasty nonetheless.

  2. Nyonya Otak-otak - I rather disliked the version here as the spicy fish mousse was steamed in a bowl, instead of being wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, as is traditionally done. Tastewise, it was okay, though not the best around.

  3. Sambal Goreng - one of the Penang-Nyonya dishes that never failed to amaze me: there is no such equivalent in Malaccan or Singaporean-Nyonya cuisine and a strangely-named dish as, despite its name, there is no sambal or chilis in the dish, which consisted of shrimps. onion, cashewnuts and capsicums/peppers, enriched with coconut milk.

  4. Dessert: Pengat - a sweet Penang-Nyonya dessert, usually served warm, of sweet potatoes, taro and banana, cooked with coconut milk and palm sugar, scented with pandanus leaves.

Ceki’s rather eclectic decor reflected its Penang-Nyonya (Straits Chinese) heritage: traditional Chinese dining tables & chairs interpsersed with retro settees, framed antique kebaya, and Nyonya dinnerware.

Overall, I rather enjoyed the cooking at Ceki more than at the other Nyonya spots on the same stretch, but I have to stress that it’s purely personal as each Peranakan Baba or Nyonya have very specific taste preferences.

Address
CEKI Nyonya Restaurant (一枝娘惹餐厅)
11-A, Jalan Sri Bahari
10050 Georgetown, Penang
Tel: +601110517976
Opening hours: 11am-2.30pm, 5.30pm-9.30pm daily

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Hello, Peter.

Were the Cashews in the Sambal Goreng salted? Unsalted?

Toasted but unsalted.

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Back to the ever-dependable CEKI for lunch yesterday:

  1. Ikan Senangin (Threadfin) Gulai Tumis - Francis Tee, the co-owner/head chef of CEKI does a mean version, and so much tastier than the famous one at the now-defunct Sin Kheng Aun. Whereas Sin Kheng Aun’s version has a darker, light-brown gravy, CEKI’s version has the bright, vibrant colors of typical Penang-Nyonya dishes. The threadfin, cooked with okra, was fresh and very moist. The gravy was light yet tasty, with well-balanced spicy, sour and sweet flavors.

  2. Tau Yu Bak - CEKI’s “tau yu bak” has been much-talked-about - slow-simmered until the chunks of pork belly fat obtained a gelatinous, sticky consistency. Sinfully delicious. The light-tasting tofu pieces provided a counterpoint to the richly-flavored, soy-infused pork. This Penang-Hokkien dish shares the same origins as the thousand-year-old, Song dynasty Dongpo Pork and the Japanese Buta no Kakuni.

  3. Sambal Goreng - one of my favourite dishes to order here: crunchy prawns in a richly-flavoured stir-fry, replete with cashewnuts, and milky from the use of coconut creme.

  4. Eggs Belanda - this is a simple dish, usually home-cooked, so it’s quite a find when we saw it on CEKI’s menu - basically, fried eggs topped with a piquant, tamarind-inflected sauce, studded with onions, shallots and capsicum. Simple, comfort food.

  5. Jiu Hu Char - my fave dish here: finely-julienned jicama/yam bean, cooked with shitake mushrooms, carrots, dried cuttlefish and pork. Served with fresh Chinese lettuce leaves and a sambal belacan, it’s another Penang-Nyonya classic that’s now offered in Nyonya restaurants all over Malaysia.

Still my go-to place for Penang-Nyonya cuisine.

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