KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 — It’s not easy being a Malaccan boy in the capital. There are days when one misses the food of home but where does one go, especially when one is part-Peranakan like me?
Unlike the more well-known Penang variety, Malaccan Nyonya Baba cuisine has subtler flavours. You can actually taste the individual spices used rather than simply tongue-scorching pedas-ness.
I remember my maternal grandmother, a true-blue Malaccan Nyonya, dishing up her famous laksa or a platter of bendeh sambal belacan (lady’s fingers, simply boiled and doused in aromatic sambal belacan). She has passed on for many years now, but the taste of her cooking still lingers.
Woe is the hunt for real Malaccan Peranakan food in Kuala Lumpur… until now.
Along the traffic-plagued Jalan Kemuja in Bangsar Utama, famed for Fierce Curry House by biryani wunderkind Herukh T. Jethwani and Nala Shop, a stationery and homeware store by designer Lisette Scheers, a new face has appeared.
Tucked away in the corner of this street and Jalan Abdullah, Straits Food Company offers Malaccan-style Peranakan dishes to hungry office workers nearby and old-timers longing for their ayam pongteh.
A sister outlet to Baba Low’s in Lorong Kurau (also in Bangsar), Straits Food Company has basically the same menu as the former (itself a branch of the original shop in Malacca). Start with a couple of half-boiled eggs, cooked perfectly so it’s neither too liquid nor solid (a trial one faces at far too many coffeeshops these days).
To whet your appetite, there is pai tee, a traditional Peranakan snack of crispy “top hats” stuffed with strips of omelette, julienned vegetables, and fried shallots. Don’t forget to douse it liberally with the cili cuka (homemade vinegar chilli dip).
The Malaccan Peranakan otak-otak differs from the Muar variety in that it’s not a homogenous smooth paste; here you can taste chunks of real fish flesh, spiced perfectly. Straits Food Company also does a rollicking good version of bendeh sambal belacan that I’m sure my late grandmother would commend.
For mains, try the ayam O, a non-spicy dish of rice (or noodles), chicken, potatoes, tauhu pok, and vegetables in a warming ginger broth. The ikan gerang asam (fish in tamarind chilli gravy) and ayam goreng kunyit (tumeric fried chicken) both go well with a steaming bowl of white rice.
Their bestseller — nearly every table has a bowl or two — is their signature Nyonya laksa. Ask for a mix of noodles and mee hoon to go with the mildly spicy coconut milk gravy. Dig past the mound of julienned cucumber for nuggets of shrimp, fish balls, and cockles. Wash it all down with the requisite cendol; Straits Food Company’s take on this dessert is not overly sweet, unlike some tourist traps in my hometown.
The Straits Food Company motto is “Food for All” and at prices that start at RM5 for their mee goreng sejuk (Nyonya-style fried noodles with sambal and a squeeze of lime), one has to agree. My late Nyonya grandmother, with her finicky and frugal ways, would certainly approve. These are authentic flavours that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
Straits Food Company’s kopitiam décor is a mix of retro nostalgia, fuss-free minimalism, and a witty wink. Expect vintage tiled floors, slogans in various local languages on the walls reminding that “kita kawan, mari makan” (“we’re all friends, let’s eat”), and colonial-style signages.
The same time-worn wooden stools you’d find at Baba Low’s are used here, recalling the sense of a tightly-knit community, so true of Bangsar residents. For example, you can get a free copy of the Kuala Lumpur Bicycle Map from the counter and explore the neighbourhood after your meal. Straits Food Company has also started a petition to save the 110-year-old Vivekananda Ashramam, a heritage landmark in Brickfields, from being demolished.
Come here for humble kopitiam fare and honest-to-goodness Malaccan-style Peranakan dishes. This is a kopitiam that brings people together through their food. Kita kawan, mari makan!
Straits Food Company
2, Jalan Abdullah, Bangsar Utama, Kuala Lumpur (a short walk away from the Bangsar LRT station)
Open daily 10am-10pm