Wednesday, June 20, 2018

FAMILIAR FAVOURITES AT ALIBABA & NYONYA


Peranakan food has been part and parcel of my life although I was too young to understand or realise it then. Sambal belacan, ju hu char and kiam chye were often on the dining table. Finding good Peranakan food in the city isn’t easy though but Alibaba & Nyonya restaurant has stepped up to the plate to make some of the popular Peranakan dishes more accessible.
 
The first Alibaba & Nyonya restaurant opened in March this year and another in Mid Valley Megamall. We like the decidedly retro and rustic vibes evoked by the resto in Taman Tun Dr Ismail; from the colourful tiles to the old-school tables and chairs.
 
Instead of sticking to purely Peranakan food, Alibaba & Nyonya has opted to highlight Peranakan fare with some traditional Malay culinary influences included. Alibaba & Nyonya aims to provide an affordable and fuss-free dining experience in a homely setting, with updated Malay/Nyonya dishes taking centrestage.
 
Muted shades of pink and green make the Nasi Ulam Ayam Dara (RM17.45) Instaworthy. Served with crisp skinned fried freerange chicken, the rice is aromatically imbued with finely shredded fresh local herbs, kerisik (dry-fried grated coconut) and ground salted fish. Used to stronger herbaceous nuances, I personally find the rice slightly bland but a dollop of sambal belacan is all it takes to make it shine.

Fans of fried chicken can also order Ayam Dara Goreng (RM18.77 small, RM33.87 medium) separately. Our portion of chicken was rather dry and salty but we are sure such a small hiccup can easily be rectified.
Two notable offerings to complement nasi ulam or plain rice are Prawn Kerabu (RM27.26) and Sambal Petai Squid (RM25.38 small, RM36.70). The first is a prawn salad of sorts — the poached prawns retaining a nice springiness — tossed in a tantalising mixture of pounded chilli, lime juice and raw onion strips.

The latter is a classic Nyonya speciality of tender squid sautéed with spicy-hot petai (stinkbeans) sambal. Although the sambal seems a tad watery for our liking, I’m sure it will be a crowd-pleaser.
A bounty of brinjal, ladyfingers and tomatoes turns the King’s Fish Head Curry (RM70.75) into a majestic feast on its own. Creamy with bright turmeric, fragrant curry leaves and warm spice overtones, we find ample chunks of sweet fish flesh to go around and a generous amount of gravy for ladling over rice.
Coming in neck-to-neck in the spicy stakes is Mutton Curry (RM27.26 small, RM51.70 medium). This sumptuous dish boasts a robust ‘kick’; the tender chunks of meat redolent of beguilingly complex spices with the distinct aroma of curry leaves rounding it up.
For some textural contrast, we recommend Acar Rampai (RM6.51) — the Peranakan style pickles: a medley of cucumber, carrot, long beans and pineapple topped with crushed roasted peanuts.
My go-to fave is Sambal Fried Pucuk Paku (RM13.68). A showstopper of culinary simplicity, I’m sure you can’t get enough of the delicious sambal which bestows big, in-depth flavours to the tender fernshoots.
Those who can’t handle the heat will find succour from the sweet-savoury Chicken Pongteh (RM20.66 small, RM39.43 medium). A mainstay in many Peranakan households, this homey chicken-potato stew cooked with plenty of caramelised shallots and taucheo is bound to find favour with the resto’s urban clientele.
 
Another possible option is Telur Belanda (RM10.19) — fried eggs with runny yolks, smothered in sweetish tangy tamarind sauce with chopped chilli and onion.

If you want something light or a quick meal, we suggest the tasty appetiser of fried Crispy Popiah (RM9.91) or Nyonya Mee Siam (RM15.57) —rice vermicelli stir-fried with chilli-tomato paste, prawns, sliced fishcake, egg, carrot strips and beansprouts. Assorted Nyonya kuihs are also available during tea time (3pm-6pm).
Dessert choices are the tried and tested Cendol Gula Melaka (RM6.13), Sago Gula Melaka (RM5.19) and Signature ABC (RM7.08). Our only grouse is the watery gula Melaka (palm syrup) used as it lacks the aroma and in-depth taste necessary to enhance those traditional treats.

Thankfully, the shaved ice for the ABC (air batu campur) is fine enough and meets our expectations with lots of red beans, sweetcorn, attap seeds, cincau and roasted peanuts to keep us happy.
For reservations, call Alibaba & Nyonya (halal), tel: 03-7722 1142. Address:
54 Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 1, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. Opening today at Lot F-051, First Floor, Mid Valley Megamall, KL.

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