KUALA LUMPUR: What comes to mind when you think of Peranakan food? Pai Tee with its crispy shells jammed with crunchy turnip? A bowl of spicy, creamy Nyonya laksa? Or chilled sago pudding drizzled with palm sugar syrup and coconut milk?
Drooling already? Fret not. Lima Pulo: Baba Can Cook along Jalan Doraisamy in Chow Kit is where you can sink your teeth into some pretty awesome authentic Peranakan food.
Located on The Row, the restaurant’s shabby chic decor will automatically transport you to the days of old Malaya with its worn-out looking wooden tables, stand fans of the 60s and black-and-white pictures of Peranakan families hanging on the wall.
Sitting at the counter is Tan Kim Chye, endearingly known to all as Uncle John, the man or “baba” behind Lima Pulo: Baba Can Cook.
FMT is told that all the Peranakan dishes served at Lima Pulo are Uncle John’s recipes that he has painstakingly perfected through the years.
At 78-years-old, Uncle John is full of life, occasionally laughing and joking with the customers, ensuring everyone leaves Lima Pulo with happy bellies and broad smiles.
Along with the charismatic actor, model and restaurateur Alan Yun, the pair established Lima Pulo eight years ago, with the aim of preserving the Nyonya legacy.
“My wife Florence Tan is a celebrity chef who has produced two books on Nyonya cuisine.
I’ve also observed my mum cooking in the kitchen and I’ve cooked since the age of six. I’m 78-years-old so I believe I do have authority on Nyonya cuisine because I have tasted Nyonya food for 78 years!” laughed Uncle John.
In fact, Uncle John’s Nyonya Laksa received the award for Best Curry Laksa in the Klang Valley in 2015.
He reveals that the most important secret to Nyonya cooking comes from four things – love, the determination to cook something nice, cooking with passion and most importantly, patience.
The restaurant’s name Lima Pulo is a direct reference to its address, while ‘Baba Can Cook’ refers to Uncle John himself, a contradiction to the long-held tradition of only Nyonya (female Peranakan) being the cooks of a household.
Being sensitive to the tough economic times affecting many Malaysians today, Lima Pulo offers RM9.90 lunch deals that are kind on the pocket. It’s something Uncle John prides himself on – the prices haven’t changed in eight years.
So, where does one start at Lima Pulo? FMT is told the crowd favourite is the non-alcoholic Peranakan Ale, a personal recipe of Uncle John’s made from ginger beer.
The signature dish of Lima Pulo is undoubtedly the Nyonya Laksa. Made without a hint of curry powder, the resulting gravy is still incredibly creamy with full-on spiciness. It’s no wonder it’s the talk of local foodies.
Due to the complexity in making the gravy, the Nyonya Laksa is only available on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Lovers of spice and all things nice will really find themselves at home here, and the Geram Asam is something that will certainly be up their alley.
With a thick and very spicy gravy which packs quite the kick, the Geram Asam is served with fresh stingray and crunchy okra. Having soaked in the gravy, every bite of the stingray and okra is likely to set your tongue ablaze with its bounty of spice.
On the lookout for something lighter or more fitting as a snack? The Pai Tee may be something you might find some interest in.
A fresh de-shelled prawn sits grandly atop each serving, and each Pai Tee is small enough to eat in one large bite. But small things come in big surprises and the Pai Tee has a crunchy shell filled with a tasty filling that is sure to delight anyone.
If you’re a fan of the stinky petai, rub your hands in glee as Lima Pulo’s Sambal Udang Petai has generous amounts of petai, fresh prawns and bell pepper. Dig into this dish with a plate of steaming hot rice and you will feel right at home.
Also, be sure to order yourself a serving of Lima Pulo’s Satay, which features deliciously marinated chicken skewers grilled to perfection.
The skewers themselves are worth eating on their own, but no satay is complete without its accompaniment of peanut sauce.
In this regard, the peanut sauce served is nothing short of excellent, with a certain sweetness derived from its unique ingredients of pineapple and bilimbi.
It’s simply impossible to leave Lima Pulo without trying their desserts. Start your way with the decadent Sago Gula Melaka, served in dainty little bowls. The magic of the sago surrounded by a moat of coconut milk and topped with authentic gula melaka will surely leave you wanting more.
Want something even more cooling to beat the city’s awful heat? The Nyonya Cendol that comes with a generous portion of shaved ice, green-shaped jellies, gula melaka and creamy coconut milk definitely does the trick.
If you are looking for an authentic Nyonya culinary experience in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, then don’t hesitate to head over to Limapulo for a time of good food and good cheer.
And don’t forget to wave hello to Uncle John!
Lima Pulo: Baba Can Cook
50, Jalan Doraisamy
50300 Kuala Lumpur
(Closed on Sunday)