[Penang] Nyonya lunch at Auntie Gaik Lean's

Auntie Gaik Lean on Bishop Street is one of the two Nyonya restaurants in George Town’s banking district - the other one is My Nyonya Favourites on Penang Street just a couple of minutes’ walk way, run by 3 alumnus of the old Nyonya Breeze at Abu Siti Lane.

Auntie Gaik Lean is a feisty, very self-opinionated Nyonya lady who’s very particular about the way each Nyonya dish is to be prepared. Her restaurant occupies a large double shop-lot on Bishop Street which used to house a jewellery store. Lunch-time will see large office crowds coming in for their chilli fix, as most of Auntie Gaik Lean’s Nyonya dishes pack quite a spicy punch.

Our lunch today:

  1. Popiah chee (deep-fried spring rolls) and lor bak (5-spiced meat rolls).

  1. Sambal petai (stink-beans) with shrimps. Very spicy version here!

  1. Chicken Curry Kapitan - Penang-Nyonya cuisine’s standard bearer: a spicy dry chicken curry redolent of lemongrass, galangal, belacan (shrimp paste) and kaffir lime leaves. The version here is one of the best commercially-available renditions I’d tried in Penang. Suffice to say, labour-intensive Nyonya dishes are best savoured at home - but for those of us who don’t have Nyonya friends who’d invite us home for a meal, one from a Nyonya restaurant would have to do, even though they tend to be pale imitations of the real thing. The same can be said of Singaporean and Malaccan Nyonya restaurants.

  1. Jiu Hu Char - this is another typical Penang-Nyonya dish of finely-cut jicama (Asian turnip) with finely-julienned dried cuttlefish, shitake mushroom and chicken (Auntie Gaik Lean don’t serve pork). It’s usually served with lettuce leaves as wraps and sambal belacan on the side to add a spike of chilli heat.

Pretty decent Nyonya dishes here. Certainly cannot be compared to home preparations, but the one I tried food here here certainly tasted better than at my recent lunch at Nyonya Breeze Desire @ Straits Quay, oft-quoted by Penangites as having the “best” Nyonya food in Penang at the moment. But the meal I had at Nyonya Breeze Desire then was god-awful - two young chefs in the kitchen, and they don’t seem able to understand the nuances of Nyonya cookery, let alone churn out decent renditions.

Address
Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery
No.1, Bishop Street
10200 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6012-449 2121
Operating hours: 11am-2.30pm, 6pm-9.30pm, Mon-Sat.

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It was a nice lunch Peter thank you. Good to meet up with you again. A pity about them not having otak otak. I prefer the Penang style to any other kind and loved it at Mamas. Still I enjoyed all the dished particularly the Jiu Hu Char.

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I do like Penang otak-otak, too - although my favourite type is Singapore-style otak-otak, the sort which Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant in Joo Chiat Place, Singapore, does best.

I wondered if Auntie Gaik Lean herself still cooks in the kitchen of her namesake restaurant. I was told that she’s pretty meticulous and a stickler for traditional cooking methods. But some dishes we had during this visit didn’t taste “quite right”, and I very much suspect that it was cooked by someone else.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold