It would be insane to lock yourself up in this coronavirus situation and deprive yourself of any life. I say, stay alert, be wary and take all the necessary precautions that you already know by now..wash the hands, stay away from crowds and people that don’t look too well and enjoy the outdoors. So if you need to make that family trip up to Penang this upcoming school holidays, fear not, fret not, I was there and back recently and there was no smell of panic in the city, just some good eating and shopping. The only gamble I am asking you to take is a feeding frenzy at Ceki Restaurant (named after an old Nonya card game). Most Nonya restaurants in Singapore and Malaysia is largely about the North (Kelantan and Penang style with some Thai influences and very different from the Southern styles found in Malacca and Singapore.) But this is the first time I came across a “combo-Nonya” restaurant. A glance at the menu and it spells Singapore, Malacca and Penang. I spotted Inche Kabin ( Penang fried chicken with hints of coconut milk, turmeric, chili and even cumin) and the Singapore Nonya anthem, Ayam Buah Keluak. Best part, the restaurant is sited in the heart of town. Just off Penang Road (in line of keeping you all active and outdoors).
The Jiew Hu Char (from RM18) , a turnip and dried cuttlefish salad of sorts was such an apt starter. I wrapped them in the lettuce and it was a crunchy fresh umami symphony in my mouth. A smudge of sambal in the works enlivened it. Next, was a mastication of their Ikan Assam Pedas (market price) but it doesn’t matter if it was red snapper or grouper (we had the first), it is paramount that it be fresh or else the mint leaves and freshly grated blue ginger flower bits over the spicy tangy curry, would be a sad state. But it came supremely fresh and the sharp, spicy sour and aromatic dish ( sans sugar) was a hit with us. So easy in with a bowl of steamed rice. Then came the ugly looking Tau Ewe Bak (braised dark soy sauce belly pork). I have had many versions before, all over Singapore and Malaysia, but this one I will remember. The caramelised sauce flavour permeated even the insides of the pork and the texture was celestial, so soft yet had a gummy caramelised texture. “You braise it over very low fire for a long, long time” says chef-owner Francis Tee, who helms the kitchen while his wife Esther guards the front of house. The recipes are manually recorded from her family’s heritage and adapted for the restaurant. The even have home cooked dishes like Tetae Lemak (RM18), a rare, rich Nonya vegetable curry with sweet potatoes, extremely comforting and not intimidating. Another rarity from such kitchens is Perut Ikan (RM22), a pickled fish stomach curry deepened with accents of pineapple and blue ginger flower with pea eggplants. The confusion of flavours and mere idea of this dish, was so clear in the palate, it was perfectly confusing and so endearing.
They have a humble selection in the dessert section, but I was too full to try even he Gandum or Pengat. Will put that in my order for the next trip up.
11A, Jalan Sri Bahari
Georgetown , Penang, Malaysia
11.30am-2.30pm/ 5.30pm-9.30pm daily