A group of like minded friends and I flew up to Kuala Lumpur for a weekend gastronomic binge. The objective – to taste some high end dining, the ubiquitous hole in the wall delights and anything else in between. I was put in charge of introducing them to my favourites in KL and there was some stress because this group took their food Uber seriously.
Several months ago, I explained this herculean task to some serious foodie and gourmand friends in KL and they suggested that I try The Nyonya Supper Club KL. This is a home dining concept where you dine at the home of Sharon Thompson. Sharon is a delightful home chef of Portuguese descent and hails from Malacca but now calls KL home. She excels in Peranakan or more commonly called “Nyonya” cuisine.
Also known as Straits-Chinese or Peranakan cuisine, the term ‘Nyonya’ generally refers to the descendants of 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants who moved to Malaya from Southern China. The cuisine that has evolved from this community settling down in Malaya is a delightful blend combining the best of Chinese and Malay influences. Their cuisine was to delight the world with cooking that came from the heart, every dish lovingly prepared with tradition and great detail, and with a balance of depth, playfulness and complexity of flavours.
Sharon’s cooking, we were to discover, was like no other. Sharon cooks every single dish painstakingly herself as she has no helper so the consistency is maintained. All her mixes, pastes, herbs and ingredients were hand mixed, pounded and ground not with machines but with the traditional mortar and pestle by hand as the Peranakan cooks would insist upon. This resulted in dishes which were authentic and nostalgic, and with an explosion of favours that were not of this world .
From speaking with her and her friendly Scottish husband Richard, it was clear they were near perfectionists and they source for their ingredients with almost an autistic fervour at their own herb patch in their garden, neighbours’ and friends’ gardens, small holes in the wall shops they have been going to for years just to maintain the quality. For every dinner group that she cooks for, Sharon would wake up at the crack of dawn to do the wet marketing to get the freshest ingredients that would be cooked that very day. The impossible standard (and frankly quite a scary one) that she imposes upon herself when she cooks is that she has to cook a meal which she would be proud of to serve to her Peranakan Grandmother.
Trust me – You haven’t met a mafia chief until you meet a Peranakan Grandmother (I grew up in the household of one). And if it’s cooking you were talking about – particularly cooking using grandma’s recipes and the recipes passed down by her mother, and her mother’s mother, think a more aggressive version of the worst of Marco Pierre White and the Hell’s Kitchen reloaded version of Gordon Ramsay.
If it’s good enough for Sharon’s Peranakan Grandmother, it’s going to be good enough for me thank you very much.
A month before the dinner, Sharon had given me a long list of the most requested dishes on her menu and it was a near impossible task for me to cull a list of delights but this was what I decided upon:
1. Ham hock curry
2. Stingray Assam Pedas
3. Seafood otah
4. Ubat Kamchit
5. Steamed fern in sambal cekur
6. Nasi Ulam
7. Bua keluak Pork ribs
8. Sago gula Melaka
We had a delightful chat with Sharon and Richard before dinner started in their very cosy and beautiful home tastefully decorated with Peranakan artefacts and antiques from all around the world. Sharon was proudly dressed in the traditional Nyonya Kebaya and Sarong outfit of the Nyonya and it just added that extra touch of cultural authenticity to the whole experience that was to come.
Once dinner started, Sharon was largely in the kitchen and it was left pretty much to Richard to help us with drinks and stuff and to explain each dish as it was served at the table which he did with aplomb. Sharon did come out from time to time to explain some dishes and to check whether we liked the food.
And how was the food ? It exceeded every expectations I had of the dinner. I didn’t think it was possible but every dish that came along provided new delights and I was waiting for a dish that was not as good as the last one, but it never came.
In fact, the crescendo built throughout the night and some of us were struggling during the last few dishes but still muttering near obscenities under our breath ” this is so f@** good how is that possible . No more no more I feel sick – oh ok dammit bring the plate over !!”
I will tell you how it ended – an aftermath of sublime glazed food coma utopia. And lots of happiness.
In between, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.
Her sambal belachan is a work of love . She uses three different chillies and 2 different belachan (prawn paste ) from Indonesia and Malacca. Hand pounded in a mortar and pestle, it tasted fresh and fiery. It was so delicious that we unabashedly asked her if she had jars of it in her fridge for sale. She smiled and said no.
Chunks of chopped fish and prawns could be seen in this baked dish perfumed with fresh smelling lemongrass and gingers rempah paste.
We couldn’t stop eating this herb rice dish. Long grained rice with a splash of colours through the chopped herbs. Aromatic, mouth watering and comforting. If we had to agree on a dish which could be everyone’s favourite dish of the night on a consensus basis, this could be it.
Buah Keluak Pork Ribs
I have personally never been a fan of buah Keluak but judging by the conversation going around the table, the Group enjoyed the dish and commented that the Buah Kelak was nice and creamy.
This next dish provoked the most excitement of the night. What manner of heaven is this ? It was a dish that was piquant and extremely flavourful. Sour, spicy, tangy and oh that crunch ! It was made using the fruit of the Bilimbi plant (sort of a smaller version of a starfruit) and some of us have tried dishes prepared with that fruit but never quite like this. This dish had fresh cut chillies, Taucheo (salted fermented soy beans) and wait – what was that brownish crunchy stuff – are you ready for this ? Pork Lard!! OMG – it was the “fibrillator special” of the night ! Sharon told us this was her grandmother’s own recipe. Thank you grandma – it was truly awesome . Another favourite dish of the night.
Stingray Assam Pedas
Look how pretty the garnishes are on this dish. The Assam Pedas was nice and tangy and the fish was nicely cooked. If I had to be pedantic about something, I guess I would have liked it to be more fiery and spicy. Granted – by this time I was bloated and was levitating towards the ceiling and was finding every excuse not to eat more.
Steamed Fern in Sambar Cekur
Many of us liked this dish which I had randomly selected. The fern has a nice texture and was delicious. But it was the baked coconut shavings that blew us away. The moment I took a piece, I joined the moaning at the table. The rhythmic moaning were from the guys. We just thought it would make the best bar snack of all times. A huge bowl of those honeyed coconut chips, a couple of frosty cold beers plonked right in front of the TV watching the All Blacks, bare bodied and in our underwear (to make space for the coconut chips).
It was an incredibly clever way to make us eat our vegetables.
Ham Hock Curry
Richard had warned us that the ham hock curry was coming and it would taste delicious with baguette bread. Visually for me it was beautiful and enticing – the colour was just amazing. The taste knocked our collective socks off – the skin had a nice crunchy bite to it and the saltiness of the ham was tempered by the fire from the curry. Potatoes were al dente and just right, and the bread just soaked everything up into a delightful mess. Many of us agreed that was again one of the top dishes of the evening.
Sago Gula Melaka
Richard asked us if it would be a problem if the Gula Melaka was spiked with some Rum. It would only be a problem if he didn’t spike it enough.
The coconut cream was nice and thick as it was hand pressed to get the first pressing. The “Gurum Melaka” was a genius touch and just lifted the dish to a different level. It truly ended the magnificence of the dinner in the most befitting way.
Our only regret was that we didn’t order 2 desserts when Sharon told us she made Durian Pengat as well.
The Nyonya Supper Club KL was a truly memorable experience for us. It will be a mandatory meal for us whenever we’re next in KL.
Please follow this link if you want to contact Sharon Thompson:
Thank you Sharon and Richard for a mouth watering experience and for showing us the true hospitality of a Nonya and Baba.