Nyonya Su Pei Private Dining | GEORGE TOWN, PENANG

Nyonya Su Pei Private Dining | GEORGE TOWN, PENANG

Tropical Spice Garden hosted us to the recent Meet the Chef’s event during Penang International Food Fest 2017. We sampled a beautiful Nyonya course dinner with a detailed narration of the culture and cuisine. This privilege gave us a peek into the schooling of the Peranakan or Straits Born Chinese Nyonya daughter-in-law by the Matriarch.


Nyonya Su Pei is the wife of the eldest son, Baba Jerry.  Su Pei who is not born a Peranakan had to endure the demanding and exacting principles that a Peranakan mother (the Matriarch of the family) would teach her daughter.

The common traits of a Nyonya are her fastidiousness about certain cultural practices, and her pride in cooking and meticulous sewing. When a Nyonya sews, she embroiders elaborate kebaya tops and intricate beaded slippers!


The pride of the Peranakan culture is found in the kitchen. The cuisine’s distinct and complexity of taste is achieved by finding perfect balance of taste.

The five taste of Nyonya food has notes of salty, sweet, sour, spicy and fragrance, beautifully layered.

Good colour, freshness of ingredients and bold flavours of crushed toasted spices are the standard bench mark for good flavouring.

Each process is traditionally made by hand and requires hours of laborious preparation.

The life of a Nyonya revolves around mastering these skill sets where everything is homemade and hand made. Hours are spent using a mortar and pestle to pound, crush and grind, chillis, shallots and spices for the daily cooking.

A smiling woman in a black top turns toward camera. Woman is identified as Nyonya Su Pei
Nyonya Su Pei is preparing some ulam (herbs) for fine slicing. Photo: Jerry Kong

Have you seen an old Nyonya eat? She tastes a tiny morsel and rolls it around in her mouth, tasting the flavour with her tongue.

All Nyonyas are trained in the same manner, however the secrets of cooking lies with the Matriarch. Only the favoured Nyonya is taught the nuances and finer points in seasoning. They are able to replicate traditional recipes accurately.

The dishes prepared by Nyonya Su Pei are comfort foods. The dishes are simple staples that are eaten daily in a Peranakan family.

Special dishes that are cooked for festivities and prayers that are more complex and requires days of preparation.


Pineapple | Citrus | Chili | Pounded Spices | Herbs
The bright, colourful and fragrant Nonya pineapple salad is a fine balance of taste.

Photo shows a white bowl in a pineapple shell with a pineapple salad with herbs prepared in Nyonya style. Photo: Doris Lim
The Kerabu Ong Lai has the best mouth-watering colour combo. Photo: Doris Lim

Sweet Potato | Potato Leaves | Coconut Milk | Spices
The sweet potato cubes and leaves are cooked in a peppery spicy and rich creamy santan based soup.

Photo shows a white bowl with three cooked prawns, sweet potato and sweet potato leaves in a reddish curry.
Sweet potato with the leaves is cooked in a delicious soup with prawns and coconut milk. Photo: Jerry Kong

Fish Stew | Sour | Spicy | Fruity
This hot spicy soup is made with whole fish and has a spicy sour and peppery taste.

Photo shows a black clay pot with green herb leaves floating above a red tamarind based Nyonya fish soup.
The aromatics used in the Assam Pelai makes a beautiful green garnish against the red sour tamarind based fish soup. Photo: Jerry Kong

Chicken | Potatoes | Coconut Milk | Spices
The mark of a great Gulai Kay is the layer of oil on top. This is achievable from a slow method of frying the ground wet spices until the oil breaks.

Photo show a white bowl with curry chicken and potatoes a d a plate of mint leaves on the right.
A beautiful gulai has a thin layer of oil that normally separates in curries after the spices are fried. Photo: Doris Lim

Black Glutinous Rice | Sugar | Coconut Milk
A sweet porridge dessert made with black glutinous rice, water, sugar, and topped with slightly salted thick coconut crème.

Photo shows a white bowl against a white background and black purplish glutinous rice dessert with white coconut milk on top.
Best glutinous porridge is cooked until the glutinous rice grains open like a little flower. It is best served either hot or cold with thick coconut milk. Photo: Jerry Kong

Nyonya Su Pei’s ability to replicate the authentic balance of taste is honed from sheer hard work, patience and fortitude.

Her years in the kitchen are now celebrated with her diners’ big smiles and empty plates.

I salute you, Nyonya Su Pei.

Nyonya Su Pei Private Dining | Facebook
2, Lebuhraya Bodhi, 10400 George Town, Penang
Call: Baba Jerry 016-4106116
Business hours: Only Friday and Saturday dinner, reservation required.

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