Peranakan Gems of Penang

3 Peranakan restaurants you need to visit on your next trip to Penang.

When you hear the word Peranakan, the first imagery that comes to mind would be a Malay-speaking hybrid community in the historic city of Malacca.

But the truth is, the Peranakan community exist far and wide in Malaysia, scattered in heritage coastal cities, while striving to preserve their culture. Nonetheless, don’t be fooled into thinking that the Babas and Nyonya of Malaysia are homogenous in culture, for the truth is the community differs – even slightly – depending on the geography where they are located.

Peranakan Straits Chinese Penang George Town
Downtown George Town (Photo: xiquinhosilva on VisualHunt)

One such strong Peranakan community can be found in Penang, aka Pearl of the Orient, where not just the Peranakan but a variety of other interesting communities can be found as well, including the Eurasions and the Jawi Pekan.

But back to the Peranakan, there are many differences between the Babas and Nyonyas of Penang when compared to their counterparts in the other states. For one, while most of the members of the community in Malacca speak Malay as their first language, the Peranakans of Penang use a combination of Hokkien, Malay and English as their mother tongue, ultimately creating a creole of their own.

Peranakan Straits Chinese Penang George Town
Photo by phalinn on VisualHunt.com.

Another difference between the Peranakan people in the country is of course the food. While the Malacca Peranakan are heavily influenced by Malay and Indonesian style of cooking, the Penang counterparts use more Thai-based ingredients, such as lime, chilli, shrimp paste and tamarind.

As such, when in Penang, it is always recommended to get a taste of the Peranakan food in the state, not just for its scrumptiousness but also for its unique background.

To help you with that quest, here we have put together a quick list of Peranakan restaurants on the island side of Penang.

Peranakan Straits Chinese Penang George Town
Ivy’s Kitchen.

For That Homely Feeling – Ivy’s Kitchen

Nestled along the quiet street of Jalan Chow Thye, off busy Jalan Burma, Ivy’s Kitchen serves delectable Baba Nyonya cuisine in a no-frills home-convert establishment. Unlike restaurants that are heavy-handed in pushing their themes, Ivy’s keeps it simple, elegant and most importantly Peranakan.

A family run business, it is easy to gauge where the restaurateurs priorities lie by simply looking at the menu: the food. The simple one-pager hosts just enough dishes for you to satisfy any Peranakan cravings and still keep you coming back for more.

The best part is, Ivy’s is truly a place for families. The idea is expressed everywhere, from the easy décor to the accommodating menu, which offers a variety of sets for groups of people. A must visit when in Penang with family.

Our favourite: Jiu Hu Char

Peranakan Straits Chinese Penang George Town
Nyonya Breeze Desire.

Peranakan On The Go – Nyonya Breeze Desire

One of more renowned Peranakan eateries north of George Town, Nyonya Breeze Desire is located in the Straits Quay Marina Mall. Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves – just because it’s in a mall doesn’t mean that the food is not good. In fact, if there is any exception to that stereotype, it’s Nyonya Breeze Desire.

The extensive menu of Peranakan gems may be intimidating to first-timers but the staff at the restaurant can clear your doubts.

The location also makes it very convenient – patrons can easily shop at the outlets and dine after or vice versa. Word of caution, the place gets very crowded on the weekends during lunch and dinner hours so get there early!

Our favourite: Tau Eu Bak

Peranakan Straits Chinese Penang George Town
Auntie Gaik Lean’s.

Paying Respects to the OG – Auntie Gaik Lean’s

If you can fit in only one Peranakan restaurant in your Penang trip, then this is the one. Run by Auntie Gaik Lean herself, this grandiose diner occupies a colonial-era edifice where a jewellery store stood before.

The façade may fool you into thinking you were about to enter a Broadway show centred on the Peranakan; well, come to think of it you may not be far off. The director is Mrs. Gaik Lean and the starlets are her dishes – each curated by the proprietor herself.

The interior is nice and spacious, decorated with Straits Chinese antiques and other colonial era finishings. The menu, befitting the décor is just as impressive, again with a wide variety of Peranakan gems to choose from.

You may find Auntie Gaik Lean behind the cash register. Talk to her when paying, she’ll tell you more about the wonders of the Peranakan world.

Our favourite: Chicken Curry Kapitan

*The featured image was shot at Auntie Gaik Lean’s.

Vimal Palasekaran

Vimal Palasekaran

Loud laugher. TV buff. Hispanophone.
Vimal Palasekaran

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