[Penang] Nyonya lunch at Winn's Cafe, Irrawadi Road

10-month-old Winn’s Cafe at Irrawadi Road is seriously pitching itself as a candidate for Best Nyonya Restaurant in Penang. In fact, many locals are looking for good alternatives to old stalwarts like Nyonya Breeze Desire (Straits Quay) and Perut Rumah (Jalan Bawasah) after standards of cooking deteriorated at both places. Finding good Nyonya food commercially in Penang has always been challenging - but that’s where Winn’s Cafe is a breath of fresh air, with its meticulously prepared and beautifully-plated dishes.

Irrawadi Road is lined with repurposed residential bungalows-turned-restaurants, and Winn’s Cafe is one of them:

The eatery offers both a la carte, as well as set meals, where a diner picks a main course, and it’ll be served with an appetiser platter consisting of tasting portions of 3-4 appetisers. We ordered to sets: one with Chicken Curry Kapitan, a Penang-Nyonya specialty dry curry made from fresh turmeric, galangal, oninos, garlic, lemongrass, chillis, and flavoured with tamarind juice and coconut milk. It’s served garnished with finely-julienned kaffir lime leaves.

The second set came with steamed Nyonya-style fish, where the spice mix is a light, almost fruity mix of fresh turmeric, ginger, onions and chillis. It’s pretty sourish-sweet.

The appetiser platters were colourful affairs, and consisted of a variety of well-known Penang-Nyonya food items:

  1. Lor bak, or 5-spiced meat rolls:
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  2. Cucur udang - Malay-style prawn fritters:

  3. Otak-otak - a spicy, custardy fish mousse.

  4. Jiu Hu Char, or shredded jicama cooked with dried cuttlefish. Winn’s Cafe does not use pork for this dish, so the signature porky flavours of this dish was missing.

  5. Nyonya achar - vegetable pickles.

Winn’s Cafe uses the local “bunga telang” flower for garnishing and also to tint its steamed rice blue.

One popular a la carte one-dish meal is the Nasi Ulam, or herbal rice - basically steamed rice flavoured with a variety of finely-chopped herbs and vegetables, toasted grated coconut, dried shrimps, and “sambal belacan” (chilli paste with fermented shrimp). It comes garnished with finely-julienned “daun kadok” (aromatic wild betel leaves) and pink torch ginger.

Desserts are:
6) “Bee koh moi”, which is the Penang term for “pulut hitam”, as the same dessert is known in other parts of Malaysia and also Singapore. This is black glutinous rice cooked with sugar and coconut milk. The Penang version also incorporates dried longan. It is served with additional lashings of fresh coconut milk.

  1. Sago with Gula Melaka. This is a classic Nyonya dessert which is also common in Singapore and Malacca, two other cities with a strong Nyonya tradition. Winn’s Cafe serves a terrific version - very fresh coconut milk, and high quality Gula Melaka syrup, with a deeply aromatic, smoky fragrance which one cannot find in lower grade Gula Melaka (palm sugar). It was better than any version I’d ever had in Singapore or Malacca.

Overall, Winn’s Cafe provides a pretty comprehensive menu which should please most of the finicky diners in Penang. It’s not perfect, but it gives a better account of itself than other Nyonya restaurants in town currently.

Address
Winn’s Cafe
2, Jalan Irrawaddi,
10050 George Town
Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 19-451 1631
Operating hours: 10am-3pm, 6pm-10pm, Monday-Saturday (Closed on Sundays).

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If I ate what I see you eating, I will be 300lbs soon. How do you do it? Very envious…

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I never finish everything on my plate - at the rate I’m ordering, it’ll be an impossibility to eat that much. :joy:

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I think it’s possible to finish everything (me and husband), but we can only eat 1 big meal a day and another tiny meal, and skip breakfast. That’s why I like reading klyeoh’s breakfast posts (what we had missed in our trip!), when we are travelling, 70% of the time, we just skipped it.

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Back to Winn’s two days ago. This time, we tried some new dishes.

  1. Salted fish curry. This is one of Penang-Nyonya cuisine’s quintessential dishes, cooked using salted fish bones, together with a mix of vegetables which include cabbage, long beans and eggplants. An Indian spice mix is used, with strong fenugreek accents. The gravy is enriched with coconut milk, which neutralises the saltiness from the fish quite a bit.

  1. Asam prawns. This is another typical Penang-Nyonya dish, almost impossibly easy to prepare and yet very tasty: shell-on prawns marinated in a mixture of tamarind pulp mixed with water, salt & sugar. The prawns are then pan-fried, turning them dark & glossy, extraordinarily aromatic, and with very assertive sour-sweet flavours. Perfect to go with steamed white rice.

  1. Duck with yam. This dish did not turn out the way I expected. Traditionally, duck with yam (this is actually Asian purple yam or taro) is very much a stew, but the version served at Winn’s turn out to be more soupy. The bone-in duck and thick slivers of yam are pretty well-cooked, but not really my preference.

  1. “Jiu Hu Char” - another common dish in the Penang-Nyonya cuisine repertoire: finely-julienned jicama or yambean, stir-fried with dried cuttlefish, onions and shitake mushrooms.

  1. “Nasi ulam” - the typical Penang-Nyonya rice salad dish, where cooked rice is mixed with finely-chopped herbs, toasted grated coconut raw onions and “sambal belacan”. Very tasty version here.

Winn’s Cafe can get pretty busy these days, as more people become aware of its offerings by word of mouth, so try and book ahead.

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

― Jonathan Gold