Little Penang Kafe – Acar Fish Set

Little Penang Kafe Acar fish set
Little Penang Kafe Acar Fish Set – (from top clockwise) Acar fish, jiu hoo char, sambal belacan, sliced cucumber, lor bak and white rice.

Whenever I have a pining for home-cooked food Penang style, there are only a few eateries in the Klang Valley that can satiate my appetite. Little Penang Kafé, which has several outlets here, is the one Wuan and I usually head to. The outlet we frequent often is at Mid Valley Megamall as we hang out there a lot on weekends. Each time we ate there, I resolved to try something different but invariably settled for the Acar Fish Set consisting of white rice, acar fish, jiu hoo char and lor bak. The other two outlets we pop in whenever we are in the vicinity are at Suria KLCC and The Curve.

Acar fish is fish slices that are deep-fried and then pickled in rice vinegar, turmeric, julienned ginger, sliced garlic and red chilli. Jiu hoo char is dried cuttle fish yam bean (sengkuang) and carrots that are julienned and stir fried together with belly pork, sliced shiitake mushrooms, onions and chopped garlic. Lor bak is chopped belly pork marinated with five spice powder, soya sauce, sugar, salt, pepper and shallots and made into rolls with bean curd sheets.

Little Penang Kafe serves halal food. The belly pork in jiu hoo char and lor bak are replaced with chicken. Both dishes without belly pork just do not feel as authentic as they should be in the mouth. The lor bak still maintains the aroma and flavour and is delicious nonetheless. The jiu hoo char has prawns added and is garnished with spring onions and deep fried shallots. The jiu hoo char that I like neither comes with prawns nor have garnishing. Perhaps it was added more for presentation purposes than anything else. I would have loved it more had it been stir fried longer to bring out its flavour. I usually eat the jiu hoo char with sambal belacan.

I grew up eating a hodgepodge of Peranakan (Nyonya) cuisine. These are usually served on weekends when the family got together for more scrumptious meals. It included nasi lemak, laksa, popiah, lam mee, lor bak, jiu hoo char, otak-otak and perut ikan, among others. Different cooks would use different amount of ingredients or even use slightly different ingredients that may make the taste varied and unique. The tastes that I like are more mainstreamed. That is what one would get from hawkers and eateries proffering such cuisines.

Daun Kaduk

The daun kaduk is endemic to the tropical regions. It grows, uncultivated, usually by the fence beside drains and small plots of open land in urban areas. In the suburbs and rural area it grows everywhere. It thrives well under a little shade and plenty of moisture. Its scientific name is piper sarmentosum, and is of the pepper family which includes pepper used for cooking and the Indian betel leaf. Among others, it is known as betel leaf in English and sua lau hiok (wild betel leaf) in Chinese.

Daun kaduk soup

This versatile vine grows plentiful, is neglected and overlooked most of the time. However, those who know treasure it as a vital ingredient in their kitchen recipes. The daun kaduk has a unique pungent flavour which makes it irreplaceable. Mum used to pluck the younger leaves to make soup. She would stir fry dried prawns with garlic, then add water, daun kaduk and beat an egg into the soup. It was a simple recipe but one which I would long for every now and then. Other more elaborate recipes where the daun kaduk is an important component are the perut ikan, nasi ulam and otak otak. These are all Nyonya recipes.

The perut ikan is a curry of shredded leaves of kaduk, cekur, kafir lime, tumeric and kesum being its main ingredients and cooked with salted fish stomach. Literally translated, perut ikan means fish stomach, hence its name. I used to like this spicy and sourish fare. It is appetising and I could eat two servings of rice in one meal with just the perut ikan. Lately, my stomach does not agree too much with sour food and I have to cut down eating on them. At the same time, since Mum passed away and this recipe entails a lot of work in shopping for the ingredients, some of which are difficult to obtain, and the shredding of the leaves, I have not had a decent taste of good perut ikan for a long time.

Nasi ulam

When Wuan came last week, she brought two bagfuls of daun kaduk that she plucked from her garden. We decided to make nasi ulam with it. We asked our neighbour Mr. Tan who is adept at Nyonya cooking to be the chef for the day. Nasi ulam is a rice salad. The same type of leaves used for perut ikan are shredded and stirred in and mixed with the cooked rice and eaten raw. Salted fish, dried prawns, sambal, tumeric and kerisik are added to complete the recipe. It was simply delicious.

I am lucky that I have Wuan and neighbours who enjoy the same type of food as I. Whenever I miss Mum’s food, I would just tell them and voila! Although it will never taste quite as scrumptious as when Mum’s cooked it, it does appease my craving somewhat.