As my dining companion and I entered Restoran Tanjung Bungah hands clutching chop sticks stopped mid-air, heads swivelled in our direction, and the room went silent. Ill-at-ease as it made me feel I took it as a good sign, an indication that whatever we ordered would be cooked for Malaysian, rather than our own (foreign) palates.
This place is an open secret among fans of Penang-style Nyonya fare. The restaurant’s owner hails from the northern state and his restaurant’s walls sport Nyonya flourishes like carved wood-framed mirrors. But you don’t come to fluorescent-lit Tanjung Bunga for the décor. As the multi-generational family groups crowded around each and every table at Sunday noon attest, you come here solely for the food.
The perut ikan is in a class of its own. This Nyonya classic is made with preserved garoupa stomach, but it’s an ingredient that lends more flavour than recognizable taste or texture; if I hadn’t told you it was in there you’d never know. This beguiling sweet, sour, chillispicy, and fish-flavoured mixture of pineapple, brinjal, long bean, and bamboo shoot is almost a curry. Coconut milk smoothes its tongue-tingling rough edges, lime leaf imbues it with a citrusy perfume, and daun kesom lends a pleasing astringent pepperiness. The love-it, hate-it push-pull essence of its murky moss-hued depths will appeal to anyone who’s ever carried a torch for assam laksa.
Less complicated but no less delicious is the restaurant’s joo hoo char: sautéed strips of cuttlefish, carrot, yam bean (jicama), cabbage, and dried mushroom eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves with a dab of sambal belacan. After you’ve downed a filled leaf note the hint of five-spice that lingers on the back of your palate. As lovely to look at as it is to eat is the nasi ulam, or rice mixed with a bracing mix of chopped and slivered fresh herbs like mint, basil, and ginger flower and showered with toasty kerisik (dry-fried coconut). Do hope that paku, delicate wild fern tips with a flavour reminiscent of asparagus, are in season. The kitchen blanches and then tosses them with lime juice, coconut, shallots, and a hint of belacan to make a refreshing salad.
The fish head curry gracing every single table except ours (we were just two, after all) suggests that it would be worth organising a group before tackling Tanjung Bungah’s extensive menu. Desserts include an excellent cendol made with high-quality dark and smoky gula Melaka (palm sugar). Robyn Eckhardt
|Venue name:||Restoran Tanjung Bungah||Contact:|
117 Jalan SS2/6
|Opening hours:||Mon-Wd, 11.30am-3pm; 6pm-10pm; Fri-Sun, 11.30am-3pm; 6pm-10pm|