When in the Peranakan state of Melaka, it’s a shame if one missed the opportunity to get acquainted with the local Peranakan delicacies. At Casa del Rio, authentic Peranakan are being adeptly prepared right the kitchens of the hotel.
Meet Chef Baba William Koh, 54, a veteran of Nyonya cuisine. He is a native of Melaka who has been cooking professionally at various nyonya restaurants for the past 36 years. His grandparents are Baba and Nyonya and at a young age, he spent a lot of time helping the family in the kitchen, just like how all chefs got started in this career.
One of my lunches during my recent Melaka trip was by Chef Baba William. While I sat on the spacious River Side Cafe overlooking the river, I thanked my lucky stars that I’m enjoying my peranakan lunch in the company of my close friends and learning about its fascinating heritage from an authoritative figure without having to step out to the sweltering Melaka heat.
It is certainly commendable that Casa del Rio to not only include local cuisine on its menu but also in ensuring an experienced chef like Baba William crafted its peranakan menu.
Here’s a little background of the Nyonya cuisine and also a short explanation of the differences in the Penang Nyonya in comparison to the Melaka Nyonya. I’m no expert and I find the lunch session really insightful.
Nyonya food is the food of the Baba-Nyonya in Malaysia and Singapore. Known also as the Peranakan or the Straits Chinese (Straits-born Chinese). The distinct difference between Penang nyonya and Melaka nyonya food is in the method of cooking and ingredients. While the style of cooking for Penang is centred towards Hokkien and Chinese, Melaka nyonya cuisine are influenced by Malay herbs and spices. Food from Melaka is generally sweeter, richer with liberal use of coconut milk infused with variety of spices. Not to mention, the cooking has some touches of Portuguese-Eurasian. Amoungst some of the classic nyonya favourites are pie tee, tempra fish, assam chicken with keluak, chicken pong teh, chap chai, omelette with cincalok and ikan chuan-chuan.
We can look forward to many more Peranakan dishes at River Cafe soon but to kick things off Chef Baba William has introduced the Peranakan Tingkat Set Lunch at RM28++, suitable for 2 pax.
This is for lunch from Monday to Saturday and each set of menu will rotate daily.
The 2 sets that I sampled during my weekend at Casa del Rio was as below. While I had to admit it wasn’t as authentic as I would have liked (I was anticipating old favourites like pongteh, itik tim, ayam buah keluak) it was nonetheless tasty and as expectantly very adeptly prepared.
Our 2 sets:
Here’s the soup of the day (meatball with tanghoon soup), kerabu ong lai (pineapples), and steamed otak-otak. Chef Baba William has steamed the otak-otak first before frying them which explained the dark and firm outer crust.
The differentiating item is the greens – Four Angled Beans with Belacan, Brinjal Fried in Chili and the mains – one was Nyonya Chicken Formosa while another is Lemak Nenas Ikan.
The Formosa Chicken is a personal creation of Chef Baba William. He shared that there were black pepper, gula melaka (palm sugar) and lemongrass (among other ingredients) in the recipe.
I liked the masak lemak curry though I would have preferred a flakier fish.
Four Angled Bean in Sambal.
Fried Brinjal in Chilli.
And lastly, a nice creamy rich dessert to wrap up lunch.
I had my local Malaccan friend Daniel joining me for lunch that day who happened to know Chef Baba William and Chef Baba William actually knew his parents. Daniel gave thumbs up for the food served that day and all in all, the group of us had an engaging session discussing history, spices, cooking and everything about nyonya food in general.
It was a fruitful lunch! 🙂
The ala carte menu is still applicable for lunch and since I’ve read foursquare tips that the pizzas here are great I added an order of “Gluttony” – grilled Australian beef, onions, parmesan, tomato and bearnaise sauce for sampling.
And yes, I concurred that the pizza are definitely worth an order. Being a woodfire pizza it has the prerequisite smoky aroma and slightly charred crust. The sauce and the fillings were commendable as well.
Here are the other menus on rotation for the Peranakan “Tingkat” Set Lunch by Chef Baba William @ Casa del Rio Melaka. I was told there would be gradual addition of Peranakan dishes to the current ala carte menu as well.
If I’m ever in Melaka I would visit Chef Baba William again for his nyonya laksa, since I’m on the hunt for a authentic one!
Peranakan “Tingkat” Set Lunch Started from 10 May 2013
Time: 12 noon – 4pm (Monday-Saturday)
Prive: RM28++ per person
Venue: The River Cafe
For reservations, please call +606 289 6888
*Child aged between 6 – 11 years old
++Prices are subject to 10% service charge and 6% GST