WHEN Steven Chong named his restaurant Real Penang, he knew that the food would have to live up to his customers’ discerning palates.
“Any Penangite who walks in would say to me that they would be the judge and I would have to prove my claim.
“Luckily, I have not had any complaints, ” laughed Chong. Founded by Bukit Mertajam-born Chong and his wife Jocelyn, the year-old restaurant in Publika, Kuala Lumpur, is drawing a steady stream of diners who enjoy his version of authentic Penang Peranakan food.
Although Chong was not formally trained, the 64-year-old has been cooking for family and friends for more than four decades. With recipes handed down by his great- grandmother, Chong hopes to introduce and revive these family dishes.
“Penang food is not just the asam laksa, char kuey teow or pasembur. There are plenty of dishes that may not be as popular and unfortunately, slowly fading away. “This is mostly because these dishes require time and effort to prepare, which not many restaurants are willing to do, ” he explained.
The tau u bak (braised pork in soy sauce) for example, requires four to five hours of slow simmer to prepare. He uses large pork belly pieces which are braised in good quality soy sauce with dried oysters.
The pork is then sliced and served with hard-boiled egg and mushrooms. With the slow braising, the sauce presented that umami flavour in the tender pork that still held its shape.
Another favourite is the jiu hu char and lo bak, served with homemade pai tee shells and sambal belacan.This is also a tedious dish to prepare as it requires finely cutting the jicama before it is stir-fried with dried scallops. Chong said using graters or mandolin slicer would not work as the strands were too fine and you would end up with mushy shredded jicama.
“While we used to slice it by hand, we now use a special slicing machine to achieve the desired size without shredding it, ” he explained.
The dish is also served with fresh lettuce leaves which can be used to wrap the jiu hu char. The pai tee deserves a mention as they were thin and crunchy and not too oily. One of the must-haves at the restaurant is the Nyonya-style Fish Head Curry.
Chong uses grouper fish, instead of the typical red snapper, as he finds the meat sweeter and more able to hold its shape during cooking. Plenty of brinjal, long beans, tofu pok (deep-fried fluffy tofu) and okra complete the dish. Interestingly, the dish is served with fried salted fish, garlic and dried chillies.
The salted fish, sourced from a fishing village in Sandakan, was softer than the typical version. It enhances the curry flavour without overwhelming it, while the garlic and chillies add some heat to the otherwise mild dish.
Real Penang has an extensive menu with dishes such as Braised Pork Knuckle in Sweet Sour Spicy Sauce, Bitter Gourd with Salted Egg Yolk and House Special Prawns. The latter includes Chong’s own twist to the recipe – evaporated milk to give added depth to the sauce. To cool things down after the heavy meal, opt for their homemade cendol or ice kacang.
REAL PENANG, A2-1-6, Publika Solaris Dutamas, 1 Jalan Dutamas 1, Kuala Lumpur. (Tel:03-6411 5283). Business hours: 11.30am to 3pm, 6.30pm to 10pm (Daily). Non-halal.
This is the writer’s personal observation and not an endorsement by StarMetro.