3 Peranakan food gems in Penang

Curry laksa is a popular Peranakan spicy noodle soup. (istockphoto pic)

When you hear the word Peranakan, the first image that comes to mind would be a Malay-speaking hybrid community in the historic city of Melaka.

But the truth is, the Peranakan community exists far and wide in Malaysia, scattered in heritage coastal cities, while striving to preserve their culture.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Babas and Nyonya of Malaysia are homogeneous in culture, for the the community differs, even slightly, depending on the geography where they are located.

Many pre-war shophouses have been re-purposed as restaurants. (xiquinhosilva on VisualHunt pic)

One such strong Peranakan community can be found in Penang, where not just the Peranakan but a variety of other interesting communities can be found as well, including the Eurasians and the Jawi Pekan.

There are many differences between the Babas and Nyonyas of Penang when compared to their counterparts in the other states.

For one, while most of the members of the community in Melaka speak Malay as their first language, the Peranakans of Penang use a combination of Hokkien, Malay and English as their mother tongue, creating a creole of their own.

Another difference between the Peranakan is of course the food. While the Melaka Peranakan are heavily influenced by Malay and Indonesian styles of cooking, their Penang counterparts use more Thai-based ingredients such as lime, chilli, shrimp paste and tamarind.

When in Penang, it is always recommended to get a taste of the Peranakan food, not just for its scrumptiousness but also for its unique background.

Here is a list of Peranakan restaurants on the island of Penang.

Simple, elegant Nyonya flavours at Ivy’s Kitchen.

For that homely feeling – Ivy’s Kitchen

Nestled along the quiet street of Jalan Chow Thye, off busy Jalan Burma, Ivy’s Kitchen serves delectable Baba Nyonya cuisine in a no-frills homey establishment.

Unlike restaurants that are heavy-handed in pushing their themes, Ivy’s keeps it simple, elegant and most importantly Peranakan.

A family run business, it is easy to gauge where the restaurateurs priorities lie by simply looking at the menu: the food. The simple one-pager hosts just enough dishes for you to satisfy any Peranakan cravings and still keep you coming back for more.

The best part is, Ivy’s is truly a place for families. The idea is expressed everywhere, from the easy décor to the accommodating menu, which offers a variety of sets for groups of people. A must visit when in Penang with your family.

Highly recommended: Jiu Hu Char

Ivy’s Nyonya Cuisine
58, Jalan Chow Thye
George Town
10050, Pulau Pinang

The Tau Eu Bak is outstanding at Nyonya Breeze Desire.

Peranakan on the go – Nyonya Breeze Desire

One of more renowned Peranakan eateries north of George Town, Nyonya Breeze Desire is located in the Straits Quay Marina Mall. The extensive menu of Peranakan gems may be intimidating to first-timers but the staff here will clear your doubts.

Their location also makes it very convenient as patrons can shop at the outlets and dine after or vice versa. A word of caution – the place gets very crowded on the weekends during lunch and dinner so get there early!

Highly recommended:: Tau Eu Bak

Nyonya Breeze Desire
3A-1-7, Straits Quay
Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang
Seri Tanjung Pinang
10470 Tanjung Tokong
Pulau Pinang

Straits Chinese antiques fill Auntie Gaik Lean’s place.

Paying respect to the original – Auntie Gaik Lean’s

If you can fit in only one Peranakan restaurant in your Penang trip, then this is the one. Run by Auntie Gaik Lean, this grandiose diner occupies a colonial-era edifice where a jewellery store stood before.

The façade may fool you into thinking you are about to enter a Broadway show centred on the Peranakan; well, come to think of it you may not be far off. The director is Mrs Gaik Lean and the stars are her dishes.

The interior is nice and spacious, decorated with Straits Chinese antiques and other colonial era finishings. The menu, befitting the décor is just as impressive, again with a wide variety of Peranakan gems to choose from.

You may find Auntie Gaik Lean behind the cash register. Talk to her when paying, she’ll tell you more about the wonders of the Peranakan world.

Highly recommended: Chicken Curry Kapitan

Auntie Gaik Lean’s
1, Bishop Street
10200, Pulau pinang

This article first appeared in uppre.com