Roti Babi At Song River Cafe

Roti babi from Song River cafe
Roti babi – Song River Cafe, Gurney Drive, Penang.

My quest for delicious roti babi saw me discovering a stall selling roti back in my hometown in Penang. This island is also where I first grew a dislike for this dish of Hainan and Peranakan origin. I was barely in my teenage years then. My mother used to make it once every few months. I was only allowed to eat only one half portion of the roti babi because she considered me too young to be eating too much of such oily food.

That was no great loss to the young me. The greasiness of the deep fried egg-coated bread dipped in the weird tasting “ang moh tau eu”, the Hokkien name for Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, and eaten with sliced red chillies, always made me nauseous. I guess the shredded cabbage bits contributed to that malady as well. As a kid, I was already a fussy eater and cabbage was one of the vegetables that my taste buds were greatly averse to. To make a long story short, over the years, I have gradually come to love it and have been having cravings for roti babi in recent years.

We made our way up to Penang on Tuesday morning, dropped the cats off for boarding in Ipoh Garden and had a late lunch with Wuan’s parents at Ipoh Old Town. We checked in at about 7pm at the Gurney Resort Hotel & Residences, our journey delayed by intermittent rain along the North South Expressway. We were tired but not that hungry and decided on Song River Cafe which was just a short distance from the hotel. I was delighted when I saw that the lor bak stall also served roti babi and duly ordered one.

Lets just say that I have eaten more delicious roti babi elsewhere. There wasn’t any hint of crab meat, potato or carrot in the filling. Perhaps, they were well mixed into the minced pork. The Worcestershire sauce also tasted bland, none of that nauseous-inducing flavour that I have come to like. One serving costs RM3.50. My cravings are definitely not satiated. The quest continues.

The Quest For Delicious Roti Babi

Roti babi from Kedai Makanan Yut Kee in Jalan Dang Wangi
Roti babi from Kedai Makanan Yut Kee in Jalan Dang Wangi.

Roti babi literally means pig bread. It is actually bread with pork filling. I am not sure if it is Nyonya or Hainanese in origin because Nyonya recipe books have it too but the ingredients have a strong Hainanese influence. Whatever its origins, I love it nonetheless. Mum used to make roti babi once in a blue moon. It is difficult to find roti babi that tastes like the ones she used to make.

I do not have the exact recipe but I did watch when she made it. It was a lot of work. That was why she did not make it often. The main ingredient for the stuffing is minced pork and crab meat. The crabs are steamed and the meat removed from the shell. Cabbage, carrots, onions and coriander are coarsely chopped. All these are then mixed together with thick soy sauce, light soy sauce and pepper.

Roti babi from Kedai Makanan Yut Kee in Jalan Dang Wangi
Roti babi from Kedai Makanan Yut Kee in Jalan Dang Wangi.

Finely chopped garlic is stir fried in the kuali with cooking oil until fragrant. The mixture is then added in and stir fried until the meat is cooked. She would usually have bought several loaves of unsliced bread from the bakery. One loaf makes four thick slices. A slit is made on one side of the crust and the mixture carefully stuffed inside. The bread is then coated with beaten eggs and deep fried until golden brown. The dipping sauce is usually Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce with cut red chillies.

As a kid, I used to dislike roti babi because it was greasy, cabbage was not one of my favourite vegetables, and the taste of Worcestershire sauce made me nauseous. Over the years, I acquired a liking for French toasts which is what roti babi partially is. Now, I am hankering for roti babi although I cannot have too much of it. My low-protein diet only allows at most half a portion.

Roti babi from Hu Tong Lot 10
Roti babi from Georgetown Penang at Lot 10 Hu Tong.

Here in Kuala Lumpur, I only know of two places that serves roti babi. Kedai Makanan Yut Kee at Jalan Dang Wangi is as authentic as Hainanese kopitiams can be. They serve roti babi and pork chop, among others. Yut Kee’s roti babi filling is small bits of sliced pork and looked rather pale for the lack of thick soy sauce. It exuded a familiar aroma but the taste was somewhat different from what I have come to like.

The other is at the newly opened food court called Hu Tong at lower ground level of Lot 10. Wuan took me there specifically because the food court serves non-halal food. There is even a Klang bak kut teh stall. Wuan wanted to order that but they were already sold out by 6.00 pm. The stall that serves roti babi, aptly named Georgetown Penang, also sells a variety of popular Penang hawker food such as laksa, Hokkien mee and char koay teow. The roti babi filling had hints of thick soy sauce but there was no aroma of deep fried eggs.

Roti babi from Hu Tong Lot 10
Roti babi from Georgetown Penang at Lot 10 Hu Tong.

Perhaps, I will have better luck hunting for the style of roti babi that Mum used to make in Penang. I know Hai Onn Hainanese Restaurant in Burmah Road has roti babi in their menu. I remember Dad used to take me there for their choon peah (spring rolls). I believe the same cook is no longer there. Reallybites posted about the roti babi she had at Hai Onn last year. The cook needs to improve on her cooking skills to make the food more presentatable. The photo that Reallybites took looked unpalatable.

If you, my dear readers, know of any place that serves a decent piece of roti babi, please do share with me here. My good neighbour Mr. Tan in Penang offered to make roti babi when I next go back but I reckon that it will be too much work for just a few slices. Mind you, he makes a mean serving of roti babi, perut ikan and other popular Peranakan dishes. In the mean time, my quest for roti babi just like how Mum used to make continues.

Recipe: Acar Hu – Nyonya Fish Pickle

Acar hu – Nyonya fish pickle.

Wuan bought some very nice ikan belanak from the wet market and decided to make acar hu with it. Acar hu, also known as acar ikan in Malay, is a popular Nyonya pickled fish dish. Wuan had made it once for me many years ago and I liked it very much. I am not too fond of ikan belanak because I am too lazy to pick out the bones. She added another two slices of ikan kurau just for me.

The following recipe is adapted from Nyonya Flavours, a Penang Straits Chinese cuisine recipe book jointly published by The State Chinese (Penang) Association and Star Publications. The step by step instructions are complemented with photographs of the process.

Acar Hu

8 ikan belanak (chee ya hu, mullet), gutted and scaled
2 slices ikan kurau (mah yau yee, threadfin)

2 tsp salt to season fish
Cooking oil for deep frying

5cm fresh turmeric, thinly sliced
100gm young ginger, finely shredded
2 bulbs garlic, finely shredded
6 red chillies, seeded and quartered lengthwise

5 tbsp cooking oil

250ml rice vinegar
1 tsp salt
10 tbsp granulated sugar

Ikan kurau slices and ikan belanak. Remove the scales and gut the fish. Lightly rub with salt to season.

Deep fry the fish until golden. Remove from oil and set aside.

Deep fried ikan belanak and ikan kurau slices.

Young ginger, garlic, turmeric and red chilies.

Sliced garlic, sliced red chilies, shredded young ginger and sliced turmeric.

Fry turmeric slices in 5 tablespoon of oil until oil turns yellow and fragrant. Discard turmeric.

Fry garlic slices in turmeric oil until fragrant. Add shredded young ginger and continue frying until fragrant and the ginger shreds start to shrivel. Leave aside to cool.

Put the garlic and ginger in a big glass bowl. Add red chillies. Pour in rice vinegar. Add salt and sugar to taste. Keep submerged in the vinegar for at least one day before serving.

Acar hu – Nyonya fish pickle.

The acar hu is best eaten with rice. Its piquant taste is truly appetising when accompanied by the red chilli, ginger and garlic that are pickled together with it. This dish may also be therapeutic as well as turmeric and ginger can dispel wind in the body. Likewise, many other Nyonya dishes use herbs, spices and rhizomes for similar therapeutic effects besides being delicious and unique in taste.