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Nyonya Su Pei Private Dining, Penang

3 min read
Nyonya Su Pei

Nyonya Su Pei Private Dining, 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.

Who is Nyonya Su Pei?

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 intricately beaded slippers!

What is artisanal cuisine?

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

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

Good color, the freshness of ingredients and bold flavors of crushed toasted spices is the standard benchmark for good flavoring.

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 handmade. Hours are spent using a mortar and pestle to pound, crush and grind, chillis, shallots, and spices for the daily cooking.

Nyonya Su Pei
Nyonya Su Pei is preparing some ulam (herbs) for fine slicing. Photo: Jerry Kong

Let’s try the taste test!

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

All Nyonyas are trained in the same manner, however, the secrets of cooking lie with the Matriarch. Only the favored 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.

What is Kerabu Ong Lai?

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

Nyonya Su Pei
The Kerabu Ong Lai has the best mouth-watering color combo. Photo: Doris Lim

What is Huan Choo Heok Masak Lemak?

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.

Nyonya Su Pei
Sweet potato with the leaves is cooked in a delicious soup with prawns and coconut milk. Photo: Jerry Kong

Assam Pelai is not Laksa Soup

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

Nyonya Su Pei
The aromatics used in the Assam Pelai makes a beautiful green garnish against the red sour tamarind-based fish soup. Photo: Jerry Kong

How does a Nyonya cooks Gulai Kay?

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.

Nyonya Su Pei
A beautiful gulai has a thin layer of oil that normally separates in curries after the spices are fried. Photo: Doris Lim

Can glutinous rice be made into Bee Koh Moy?

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.

Nyonya Su Pei
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

The Review of Nyonya Su Pei Private Dining

Nyonya Su Pei has the 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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