[Penang, Malaysia] Nyonya dinner at Baba Phang, Sri Bahari Road

Baba Phang is one of a trio of rival Nyonya restaurants along Sri Bahari Road (besides Ceki and Bibik’s Kitchen). It’s been pretty resilient in facing the challenges posed by the constant pandemic lockdowns. Baba Phang opened back in Aug 2018, when tourism in Penang was booming, and it had a packed dining room on most nights. Today, it only does take-outs. Despite Malaysia loosening its SOPs recently, as nearly 80% of Penang’s population are fully-vaccinated, most eateries are still cautious about opening up for dining-in.

We ordered a take-out lunch set today from Baba Phang (MYR 158/US$38/£28) which they’d delivered pretty promptly - 20 minutes before the appointed delivery time at noon, actually.

Nyonya cooking actually lends itself well to take-outs as, unlike Chinese food, most dishes do not need to be served immediately after cooking. In fact, some Nyonya dishes tasted better when allowed to sit and settle for a while.

My only quibble was that need to plate all the dishes ourselves, and having to do all the washing after the meal. We hated eating out of take-out containers, so we always make sure our food has been properly transferred onto serving platters before we eat. :joy: :joy: :joy:

What our set included:

  1. Jiu hu har - braised, shredded jicama with cuttlefish & pork. This dish is a childhood favorite of mine. Commercial versions are never as good as home-cooked ones, as the dish needed to be prepared in small portions and entailed patient cutting: the jicama needed to be julienned by hand, rather than grated as most restaurants are wont to do. The version here was pretty okay, served with lettuce leaf wraps and sambal belacan on the side.

  1. Asam prawns - another personal favorite: caramelized shell-on prawns, given a pleasant acerbic lift using tamarind. It’s a classic Penang-Nyonya dish, never done as well in Singapore or Malacca, the other two bastions of Nyonya cooking in this region.
    Baba Phang rendition was intensely-flavored. The sweet-sour prawns were some of the stickiest, tastiest rendition I’d had of the dish here.

  1. Tau eu bak - this is the local Penang answer to Shanghainese dong po rou: soy-braised pork belly. The Penang version is more robust and toothsome, compared to its Shanghainese counterpart.

One of my dining companions pointed out that the dish was actually closer to another famous Shanghainese dish, the hong shao rou, or red-cooked pork. But I’d told her that Penang-Nyonya food culture has a dish called hong bak, which would be the counterpart of hong shao rou.
Whichever we chose to believe - these dishes all share one characteristic: they are all full of flavor and richly delicious, as only slow-cooked fatty pork belly can be!

  1. Stingray asam pedas - this is a classic Penang-Nyonya dish, where the layered textures of the stingray flesh, and its strong flavors complemented the assertive spicy-tangy asam pedas gravy perfectly.

  1. Kerabu kacang botol - one of the typical Penang-Nyonya salads: spicy, strongly aromatic from the use of local herbs, and spiked with spicy chilis and belacan (fermented shrimp paste). The centerpiece for this salad were the crunchy-fresh wing beans.

  2. Nasi ulam - another Penang-Nyonya classic: an aromatic rice salad replete with finely-chopped herbs. It gets its signature yellow hue from the addition of finely-shredded fresh turmeric root, and its floral aroma from pink torch ginger, wild betel leaves, Thai basil leaves and Vietnamese mint.

Baba Phang
17, Jalan Sri Bahari, 10050 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 14-741 9839
Opening hours: 11am-3pm, 6pm-10pm Mon, Tue, Thu-Sun. Closed on Wednesdays.


Entirely agree about transferring food from the delivery containers to your own dishes. It was something we are always very keen to do and particularly so during lockdown - transfer food, wash hands, etc.

I am a big fan of red cooked pork. Unfortunately, there’s now nowhere in Manchester’s Chinatown that offers it, as such. The Hunan Restaurant does serve “Chairman Mao’s red braised pork” which is a a take on hong shao rou. Unctuous might be the best word to describe it - and I reminded we’ve not been to the Hunan for a year or so.

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Oh yes, Mao apparently referred to it as “brain food”! And, yes, unctuous is indeed the word to describe it.

BTW, Lao Gan Ma made a guest appearance on my lunch table today. I put it there to test the reaction of my lunch guest. It worked - she pointed to it almost immediately after sitting down and said, “What’s that?!”

I don’t think prickly ash, one of the key ingredients in the sauce (and which had a weird taste and a mild “numbing” effect on one’s tongue) was very well-received by my guest. Her facial expression brought to mind Irene Adler’s reaction after drinking Moriarty’s tea.

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I really am going to have to try the Lao Gan Ma.

I’d venture to say that you won’t like it. :joy:

I certainly didn’t! But then, I never liked Sichuan peppercorns either - and those two spices are closely-related.

My daughter always gave me a hard time for transferring take-out food out of the containers and putting it in our own serving dishes. She said I was missing the whole point of takeout! So now I’ve succumbed to serving it out of the containers. There certainly are fewer dishes to wash, but I feel kind of weird doing it. Peer (daughter) pressure.


I’m OK with them. I couldnt get to grips with those big pieces of dried chilli that you get in Sichuan dishes - until someone here told me that they arent intended to be eaten. :grinning:

I know exactly how you must feel when I found out the same myself all those years ago.

My earliest experience with the “Sichuanese way of serving” was in Hong Kong - about 30 years ago - where they brought out a startling mound of dried whole chilis on a platter, with slivers of cooked fish studded on the pile here & there. I realized then & there that the gargantuan pile of dried chilis had to be meant for decorative/presentation purpose. “What a waste of so much chilis”, I remembered thinking then.

The younger generation are ever-so-practical.

One of my first jobs after I graduated was as an airline executive (Singapore Airlines, in my case). Through the years, I’d seen how younger passengers on long-haul flights would come dressed in comfortable, almost pajama-like outfits - a far cry from my grandfather’s days back in the 50s when he’d put on a tie, and women would wear silk dresses & pearl necklaces when they fly. :joy:


My late father in law worked foe British Airways. A perk of the job was a couple of free flights each year. The downside being that it was as a “stand by” passnenger so no guarantee of getting a seat. He always wore a jacket and tie, working to a correct assumption that, if he looked the part, it was possible to be upgraded to business class to get him on the flight. Worked a couple of times.