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.
What our set included:
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.
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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.