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Nyonya cuisine is the a fusion of Chinese cooking and Malaysian ingredients, which occurred due to the extensive Chinese immigration to the Malacca Straits. The Peranakan (mixed Chinese/Malay or Baba-Nyonya) community has spread this distinctive cuisine throughout Malaysia, from Kuala Lumpur, to Penang and Melaka. Here are the 10 best restaurants to give it a try.
Specializing in the delectable snacks and treats of Nyonya cuisine, Nyonya Colors offers a range of premium homemade Nyonya Kueh desserts that come in every imaginable color. With branches throughout Malaysia, this is one of the most popular Nyonya restaurants. Alongside the sweet treats it also offers classic Nyonya dishes such as nasi lemak pandan, pulut panggang and nasi lemak pandan with chicken rendang.
Evoking a bygone era of early Chinese immigration to the Malacca straits, Kuala Lumpa’s Old China Café is based in the former guildhall of the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association. It retains many of the pre-World War II architectural and design motifs of the original structure. The owners of the Café seek to maintain the identity of Malay Chinese through cuisine. They celebrate the best of Nyonya traditions with dishes such as lemak nenas prawn with seafood cooked with pineapple slices in a laksa gravy and delectable desserts like Sago Gula Melaka and Bubur Cha-Cha.
Styled to look like a Malaccan shop house, of the sort that original Chinese immigrants to Malaysia would work and live in, Lima Blas is a trendy venue on the Nyonya dining scene. Its collection of bric-a-brac, including old typewriters, spice jars, ancient signboards and rusty equipment make for an authentically retro feel. The food, prepared by executive Chef Uncle John, focuses on southern Peranakan cooking and ranges from a first class laksa to a spicy sambal udang petai and a creamy cendol. Supremely stylish and endlessly nourishing, Lima Blas is one of the trendiest places to experience Nyonya food and atmosphere.
Lima Blas, 15 Jalan Mesui, Off Jalan Nagasari, 50200 Kuala Lumpur +60 3-2110 1289
The Tranquerah is imbued with an old world atmosphere, which makes for an enchanting and authentic dining experience. The focus in The Tranquerah is however firmly culinary, and it is renowned as one of the best restaurants in Petaling Jaya. The Nyonya celebrity chef, Florence Tan conceptualized the menu and recipes for the restaurant, which serves authentic Malacca Nyonya Cuisine. A few of their signature dishes are ayam buah keluak, ayam pongteh, gerang asam fish, udang masak lemak nenas, tamarind prawns, ltik tim soup and pai tee. All of which make a trip to Petaling Jaya more than worthwhile.
Sri Nyonya is a family run restaurant in Petaling Jaya which takes pride in the culinary traditions handed down from generation to generation within the Chinese Malay community, exemplified by their motto ‘how Ah Mah used to make it’. These traditions are celebrated in the extensive menu offered by Sri Nyonya, which includes specialties such as ju hu char, local turnip cooked with strips of dried cuttlefish, and ikan gulais tumis, fish slices in hot tamarind gravy.
Melaka, or Malacca as it was once known, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 alongside its Penang equivalent George Town. This honor came about due to the rich history of immigration in the Straits of Malacca, of which the Peranakan or Baba-Nyonya communities are a vital part. Amy Heritage Nyonya Cuisine keeps this history alive in a culinary sense, offering Melaka locals and visitors the best of Nyonya cuisine, from Tamarind prawns to cincaluk omelette and kuih koci.
Serving classic Nyonya in a rustic setting, Restaurant Atlantic 1 takes particular pride in its adherence to the traditions of Nyonya cooking. The restaurant’s approach to this intriguing cultural synthesis is to create visually stunning but simple dishes that burst with the flavor combinations that are so distinctively Nyonya. Highlights of the menu include blanched tender ladyfinger topped with sambal belacan chilies and pineapple fried rice, grainy rice fried with shrimp garnish and pineapple, chicken floss and cashew nuts served in a pineapple.
Penang’s distinctive Nyonya cuisine differs in small but vital ways from that of KL or Melaka. This is embodied in George Town’s Ivy’s Nyonya Cuisine. Ivy’s offers authentic Penang Nyonya, with an emphasis on fresh seafood and traditional homemade dishes. Delectable dishes such as nasi lemak and Assam prawns bring together the best of Malaysia flavors, Chinese techniques, and the freshest possible ingredients.
Another George Town favorite that evokes the traditions of the Chinese-Malay community, Mama’s Nyonya Cuisine has garnered an international reputation for its simple, hearty takes on classic Nyonya dishes. It has even hosted some famous faces, such as Jimmy Choo and Ang Lee, who have enjoyed Mama’s hospitality and cooking. Dishes like stir-fried sayur rumi with eggs, chili and prawns pack a powerful flavor punch, whilst their jiu hu char and chicken curry kapitan also come highly recommended.
Featuring authentic Peranakan food in an atmospheric setting, Hot Wok Nyonya & Local Cuisine Penang is one of the best places to sample the delights of this Chinese-Malay synthesis. The restaurant features authentic hawker food, and it uses the fruits of the sea to great effect, with dishes such as gulai tumis fish, wok curry fish head and teochew steamed fish.