PLACES: Home-style nyonya dining at Little Kitchen, Jalan Noordin, Georgetown

PLACES: Home-style nyonya dining at Little Kitchen, Jalan Noordin, Georgetown

How do you like being transported back in the colonial period in Georgetown, and be invited to a prosperous Baba & Nyonya mansion for a sumptuous home-cooked dinner? That is how I felt while dining in Little Kitchen, an old shophouse turned into a private restaurant.

Little Kitchen

We found this hidden gem completely by chance. While exploring the beautiful Georgetown, we were drawn to the grand architecture of the shophouse. I was mesmerized by it’s vertical garden at the side at the restaurant.

Seeing my interest in food and plants, Baba Jay invited us into his home and gave us a tour. If we could, we would dine there that night. However, they are fully book during our entire stay, so we came back a few weeks exclusively for his home-cooked Nyonya food.
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About Little Kitchen
Baba Jay, the manager of Little Kitchen, is the third generation of a wealthy peranakan Chinese in Georgetown. His grandfather dabbled in many businesses and, with his fortunate, allowed him to wed three wives. As his grandmother was the best cook of all, she won his heart and was rewarded with a mansion.

This shophouse in the Late Straits Eclectic style was built between 1910 to 1930. The boom in the early twentieth century created a more affluent society with an appetite of more lavish housing. You can see that it’s ornately decorated – colourful tiles, carved wooden interior painted in gold and other decor that display the status of Baba Jay’s ancestors.

Baba Jay family still resides in this mansion, and open part of it to the public. The cooks His mother and mother-in-law, both Nyonyas, are the cooks. Baba Jay explained that peranakan food is a fusion of many cultures – Chinese, Malay, Thai and British.

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Reservation
The restaurant only seat a few tables. You’ll have to make a reservation. On the day we arrived, Little Kitchen is booked by three different families including mine – at 6, 7 and 8 pm. Baba Jay commented that he’s glad of the arrangement so that he could serve us better.

Indeed, as the only patron, he was always around to check on us and tell us stories of yesteryears. One of my favourite part of the family living area is the aquarium. It houses many dessert tortoise, a symbol of longevity. He also rear fighter fish in clear glasses, a hobby of his grandfather which he carried on.

Baba Jay

Getting there
The location of this shophouse is very straightforward. Located at the wide Jalan Noordin street with ample parking spots, getting to this restaurant is a breeze. If you stay in the city centre, it’s possible to walk to the restaurant as it’s not too faraway.

Upon arrival, Baba Jay was seen sitting at patio. He welcomes us to his home and fuss over us like important guest. Perhaps that’s what I like about the restaurant – cosy and homely. We’re then seated on a marble-top table and bamboo chair.

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Ordering at the Little Kitchen
Little Kitchen is not a typical commercial kitchen. Do not expect a menu. Instead, you’ll see a hand-written notice offering a few types of meals. Set A (RM 88 per pax) a five course meal, and set B (RM 129 per pax) an eight course meal. Price increases steeply up to RM 128 or 228 per pax if you’ll like an addition of bird nest soup.

As we mentioned that we are small eaters, Baba Jay recommended a five course meal. He asked a few questions to understand the kind of food we like. Can we take spicy food? Do we have allergy or aversion to a certain kind of food, e.g seafood? When I said “Oh, we love seafood!”, he instantly recommended a prawn and fish dish.

Dining

We were suppose to have a five course meal – but Baba Jay was being very generous and gave us more than we asked for.

Kuih
We started with homemade nyonya kuih – chiu chu kuih (tapioca kuih) and pulut tai tai. A fan of nyonya dessert, I frequently get it at the market and nyonya restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. But this is hands down the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. Perhaps its made fresh with generous ingredients, unlike commercial kuih normally exposed for long hours and served cold.
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Cucumber with belacan chili
Belacan chili is very important in peranakan food, Baba Jay explained that many baba-nyonya claim that they can’t eat without it. We were served two kinds – a spicy one and a less spicy one. Well, to us they were both very hot. It was very delicious dipped in cooling and crunchy cucumber. I also asked how to choose good quality belacan. His tip? Buy homemade ones – those wrapped in paper and without packaging.

belacan

Nasi ulam
Huge and succulent prawn cooked in tamarind. As my family love prawns, it was easy to like this dish.

Asam prawn
Huge and succulent prawn cooked in tamarind. As my family love prawns, it was easy to like this dish.

Sweet & Sour Ikan belanak
We were told that this dish is normally cooked with ikan belanak, a bony fish. You could request for fish filet too, something the Nyonya adapted to serve their British guest.

prawns and fish

Nasi ulam
It’s my favourite part of experience. Baba Jay’s mother came to show us how nasi ulam is made. Small pots of local plants – such as ginger leaves, kaduk leaf and kaffir lime leaf  – grown beside the house were used.

The leaves are rolled up, and cut into thin slices, a specialty of nyonya cooking. Baba Jay mother could cut a rolled 2 inches leaves up to 80 times! The leaves and other aromatics like bunga kantan, shallots and salted fish were mixed into the rice. It was divine.

nasi ulam

Nyonya chap chye
If you dislike the neutral taste of vegetables, you will like this. Nyonya dishes are never bland. This crunchy, colourful and delicious plate of vegetables is flavoured with bean paste.

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Cabbage and fish ball soup
A simple cabbage soup with homemade fish balls. The small portion made me, a soup lover, crave for more. However, the truth is that for a healthy meal, the portion served is just right.

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We were also given complimentary fried pork and kerabu, both were as good as the rest of the dishes.

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Pulut Hitam dessert
The dinner ended with a small bowl of pulut hitam. The hot bowl of thick and sticky black glutinous rice was served with fresh coconut milk. I loved it.

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Drinks
There’s a freeflow of drinks – ginger tea, nutmeg, Chinese tea and water. I particularly like the ginger tea made with brown sugar and pandan leaves.

drinks

Experience
What makes Little Kitchen different it made us feel like we are living in a baba-nyonya home. We get to see their family members doing everyday thing like watching TV or chit-chatting with each other. We were invited to make our own ondeh-ondeh kuih, and free to walk around the family home as though we’re special guests.

Unlike regular restaurants, no other patrons were waiting for our table. So we were welcome to enjoy our dinner slowly and stay the entire night. It was very cosy.

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As I came in anonymously, as a guest instead of a media, I realise I did not manage to get as many photos as I would like. Besides, I was absorbed in the beauty of the house, the food and conversation with Baba Jay. It was a truly unique dining experience, and I plan to go back again.

Information
Little Kitchen
Address:179 Lebuh Noordin | 10300, George Town, Penang Island, Malaysia
Phone:+60 4-42616731
Hours: Everyday except Sunday

Note: reservation required.

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