The second post in the LoyarBermakan food review series visits a restaurant which is also an antique and art gallery.
Hey folks! We at LoyarBurok are pleased to bring to you the new LoyarBermakan column for your edification and enjoyment. We believe that food is central to the identity of every Malaysian. Food is more than merely sustenance, it is also a powerful generator of the most primal emotions experienced by humankind. The orgasmic ecstasy of a good meal, the rage and frustration of a bad one, and the love and camaraderie of sharing a repast with those close to you are all feelings that we have experienced and shared. With this in mind, Lord Bobo has tasked us with finding and reviewing the best eats in Malaysia to share with all you lovely people, and we shall do our best to oblige.
Now that the obligatory introduction is out of the way, let’s dig into the meat of things. Our first review covers a place that is dear to the hearts (and stomachs) of many Loyarburokkers. I speak of course of Precious Old China restaurant, a hidden gem located on the upper floor of Central Market (Pasar Seni to you pedants), near the food court.
Precious’ hallmark is good old fashioned Peranakan food. Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine is, like the community it originates from, a hybrid of Chinese and Malay influences. The Peranakan settlers, having brought their native cuisine with them, were suddenly introduced to a whole new world of ingredients, preparation styles and dishes when they arrived on the Malay Peninsula several hundred years ago. Over successive centuries, the blending of the two cuisines was constantly refined and perfected until Peranakan cuisine as we know it transcended (although remains identifiably influenced by) its dual roots and is today recognised as a style in its own right and a unique heritage of Malaysia’s culinary palette.
Peranakan food is characterised by extreme meticulousness, attention to detail and a refusal to cut corners, as related to us by Precious’ manager, Mr Reyment Tee. Uncompromising dedication to quality in respect to the ingredients used, the cooking process, taste and aesthetics produced food that represented a labour of love executed by Peranakan women for the benefit of their husbands and children. Precious aims to stay true to the authentic tradition and methods of the original Peranakan kitchens with family recipes cooked to perfection. This is reflected in their philosophy of “Welcome Home!”, which is a phrase cheerfully used to greet all visitors to the restaurant, and the aim to make all guests feel precious and welcomed.
The restaurant itself is a reflection of how seriously Precious takes its heritage and identity. The place is furnished with genuine antiques, with some of the furniture being more than ninety years old. Reyment commented that the wood and the workmanship used to create some of these pieces are completely unavailable today. A closer inspection of the details of the decor reveal some very typical Straits Chinese hallmarks, such as the stained glass windows with Chinese bat patterns. Others, like the delightful old school advertisement posters, recall a more innocent and charming era, an atmosphere which the antebellum Chinese cabaret music playing over the sound system enhanced. It was in this atmosphere that we commenced to tuck into what would prove to be a most memorable dinner.
Note: We will rate the food based on a rating system of six over five. Confused? Follow the handy guide below for an explanation!
1/5 – A vomit inducing betrayal of the highest order. Treat as you would radioactive excrement.
2/5 – Edible. Just barely. Would not recommend.
3/5 – Average. Not bad but not superb either. Would eat if presented, but would not go out of the way for this.
4/5 – This is pretty good. Something that we have enjoyed and would tell our friends about.
5/5 – Culinary excellence. Lord Bobo would be most pleased.
6/5 – OMGOMGOMG SO GOOD UNTIL GOT ORGASM FACE AND WILL SELL BIRTHRIGHT FOR THIS FOOD OMNOMNOM!
We started off with the quintessential Peranakan starters, namely the Pie Tee (Top Hats) and the Ju Hoo Char. The former dish was, as explained to us by Reyment, a throwback to the age where Babas, due to their proficiency in English, acted as compradors between British officials and businessmen and the local community. While entertaining their white guests, Peranakan food would be served in small portions in a little pastry cup that was an homage to the guests’ top hats (hence the name).
Precious’ Pie Tee cup was thicker than normal, but had none of the heaviness that the thickness would imply. It was light and crunchy, with the added thickness preventing the juice from the filling from rupturing the cup. The grated sengkuang filling was seasoned just right, and the texture was perfect, complementing the fluffy scrambled egg. All present enjoyed this, Bon was upset that more wasn’t available.
4.5/5 – Pie Tee
The Ju Hoo Char was delicious, with the crunchy turnip and carrot and the chewy cuttlefish and mushroom providing a great contrast of textures. The dish was bursting with flavour, but its full potential was only realised when accompanied by the exquisite sambal belacan. The sambal belacan here was one of the best I’ve tasted, with the right amount of piquancy and bite, and married the richer flavour of the Ju Hoo Char most deliciously. A little slice of heaven wrapped in a lettuce leaf.
4.5/5 – Ju Hoo Char
With the appetisers out of the way, it was time for the main courses to arrive. The appetisers had merely whetted our appetite for greater things, and all were eagerly anticipating a glorious feast. We weren’t disappointed.
All main courses were accompanied by generous servings of Precious’ specialty rice cooked with coconut milk and dried morning glory rice. Reminiscent of nasi kerabu, this dish was formulated by Nyonya mothers desperately trying to get fastidious children to eat their rice. This particular offering tasted like a nice, light nasi lemak, and it had the virtue of not trying to overpower the food, but instead formed a tasty and colourful accompaniment to it. Very nice.
The first main dish that arrived was the Kerabu Pucuk Paku (jungle fern salad). Was bracing myself for another typically vinegar-drowned take on the dish and was pleasantly surprised when the salad had just the right amount of bite without me having to reach for bleach to neutralise the acidity. Ferns were nice and tender (although some may consider them to be slightly on the limp side), and I was feeling refreshed after sampling the course, which should be the case for any good kerabu.
4/5 – Kerabu Pucuk Paku
After having our palates tickled by the kerabu, the next dish took an entirely different approach to satisfying us. The Lemak Nenas Sotong (squid/calamari cooked with pineapple in coconut milk) was sinfully rich and delectable. The squid wasn’t rubbery as is often the case; which displays a mastery of this particular meat by the chef. The generous chunks of pineapple prevented the gravy from being overly jelak (cloying). Mat sallehs can eat this without fear as the dish is not spicy at all. Highly recommended.
4.5/5 – Lemak nenas sotong
Edmund Bon said it best on behalf of the group when he pronounced the following verdict: “This is fucking good”. And it was. Undergoing a special triple-frying process, the Cili Garam Siakap (barramundi fried with chilli and salt) was one of the best fried fish I have ever had. With none of that off-putting fishiness, and crispy without being bone dry, we happily crunched this fish to the very bones, with big smiles on our faces. Edmund offered me the head to eat, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the abundant cartilage, due to the frying process, was crunchy and delicious. The head wasn’t recognisable as a head anymore after I’d sunk my fangs into it. My only caveat was that, as it name suggests, the chilli-salt coating was a bit too salty for my taste. Were it not for this, I would have given it a 6. As it is, it will have to settle for a 5.
5/5 – Cili garam siakap
NB: This dish is (surprisingly) off menu, so you will have to request this specially.
Ayam Pongteh (chicken cooked in tauceo (Chinese soya bean paste) and shallots) is a quintessential Nyonya dish and enjoys a nationwide reputation. Lip-smackingly good, Precious’ version was redolent with loads of shallots, which imparted a rich and full flavour to the dish. It was nice to note that they didn’t overdo it with the tauceo, which due to its strong taste would otherwise have overwhelmed the whole thing. Lovely comfort food and a credit to their Peranakan credentials.
This was one of the dishes that left a certain imprint on you. The taste of the chicken could spark metempsychosis: it took you back to the 17th century Malacca, with its bustling ship docks, crowded market places and busy traders. The taste was hella authentic and unlike anything you’d ever come across. If you think your mother made good chicken dishes, think again. Precious’ Ayam Pongteh pawns your mother. In short, lovely comfort food and a credit to their Peranakan credentials.
5/5 – Ayam pongteh
More familiar as a Malay dish gorged down in stupendous quantities during Hari Raya, we were informed that the Peranakans had their own take on Rendang (meat cooked with spices and coconut milk for hours until dry). We found this version milder and more watery than the Malay version. It was pleasant enough, but didn’t quite have the flavour explosion we were used to in Malay rendang. This perhaps could have done with several more hours on the stove, but it was a good effort.
3/5 – Rendang daging
The omelette was melt in your mouth goodness. Lots of onions and capsicums as filling. Was disappointed with the lack of cincalok (salted and fermented ground-up shrimp) though, which was supposed to be the highlight of the dish. While it was good as far as ordinary omelettes go, the paucity of the main selling point results in marks being deducted.
3.5/5 – Cincalok Omelette
Sitting back contentedly with our stomachs straining at their limits, what should come next but the desserts! Never ones to let anything as mundane as mere capacity constraints keep us down, we commenced our attack on Precious’ after dinner spread.
If god was going to make a dessert, this would be it. ’nuff said.
5/5 – Durian Santan
This was the bomb. Bubur Chacha (a dessert of yams, sweet potatoes and sago (as a minimum) swimming in sweetened coconut milk) done Precious style is one of the most sinful things this side of heaven. The santan was so rich that I heard my arteries crying for mercy. The level of sweetness was just right and the sago pearls rolled around delightfully in my mouth. However, I found the yam, sweet potatoes and stewed bananas (an ingredient peculiar to Precious’ version) to be a bit old and fibrous. If newer ones were used, this would have been perfect.
4.5/5 – Bubur Chacha
The final dessert was the sago gula melaka (sago pearls showered in coconut cream and liquid palm sugar). The sago grains were distinct and separated and chewed perfectly in the mouth, as opposed to the awful clumpy or hard types I have often had the misfortune to consume. The gula melaka is the real article; its authentic taste coupled with the thick coconut cream heightened the experience to near-orgasmic levels.
5/5 – Sago Gula Melaka
Perhaps the best testimony we can give to Precious Old China is the fact that we all left with full bellies and smiles on our faces. We would like to express our gratitude to Mr Reyment Tee and all of the staff at Precious for setting this up, as well as for being gracious hosts and making us feel truly precious. We hope to see you there on our next visit!
Mezzanine Floor, Central Market
Tel: 03-2273 7372
Open Daily, 11:30am – 10pm
This review was written by See Xien, with additional comments by Aston Paiva. Edmund Bon was too busy stuffing himself, Fahri Azzat was busy channeling Annie Leibovitz with his camera, and Seira was too hip for anything.