The Kebaya @ 7 Terraces – Penang, Malaysia
Penang is also known for its amazingly rich Peranakan culture -Straits-born-chinese. Essentially they are Chinese who immigrated to the Indonesian archipelago during the British colonial era. They inter-married with the locals and are usually in the upper class of society as they were English educated back then. They are also known to be a tight knit community with deeply seated traditions and customs.
The cuisine is no exception, everything is basically Chinese food with a slight Indonesian flair and have their own Baba-Melayu names (a creole dialect of Malay). My boyfriend and I were delighted to come across The Kebaya right round the corner of our hostel. He’s never tried Peranakan food and I was eager to show him.
They serve a souped up version of Peranakan delights, it’s more of a fusion cuisine rather than a traditional restaurant. I’ve definitely been to more old-school places but The Kebaya was definitely the best meal we paid for on our Malaysian jaunt.
Being part of a hotel, the restaurant had typical Peranakan decor with heavy dark wood inlaid with mother of pearl and a marble top table. Right in the middle of the restaurant was a tok panjang–a long table meant for momentous occasions. I didn’t photograph it as there was a big family dinner taking place at that table that night. The menu comes in a set where you choose 1 dish from each course. The dishes are all sharing portion. Additional dishes that catch your fancy can also be added on to your set meal.
We…or rather I picked, the Pork Mantou (Kong Bak Pau), the Kueh Pie Tee, Lor Ark (braised duck), Sambal Goreng (stir-fried veggies) and the Pandan Creme Brulee for dessert. He added on the Tang Yuan (ondeh ondeh balls in coconut milk).
The pork was soft and nicely braised in dark sauce and sandwiched between a pillow soft bun, a lovely start to the meal. The second starter which was the Kueh Pie Tee – vegetables and shrimp encased in a fried “tart” shell, dipped in the accompanying Thai chilli sauce that was a nice sweet complement.
My favourite part of the meal was definitely the Lor Ark. The difference between this one from The Kebaya and traditional braised ducks shows in the prep work. The duck was oven roasted for a crispy skin and then soaked in a dark sauce gravy with apricots and orange slices. A sort of Duck a l’orange inspired braised duck. Incredibly addictive. The Sambal Goreng disappointed me a little as I expected the traditional Malay dish with tempeh and long beans, instead I got a dish full of sweet peas, which I dislike.
The final dessert comprised a pandan flavoured creme brulee and “tang yuan”- not the traditional Chinese Winter Solstice snack, but rather Peranakan ondeh-ondeh kueh filled with molasses soaking in a soup of coconut milk. The desserts, as with most Asian/Malay desserts are a little bit too sweet and rich for me, but this is how much my boyfriend enjoyed the creme brulee. In 36 seconds.
The ondeh-ondeh came in shades of bright blue and was an interesting take on the Chinese dumpling dessert. I don’t digest coconut milk well so I didn’t really eat this one.
Visit www.7terraces.com for more information.