I still have vivid memories of my first time in Minah Restaurant. It was 1969 and, by then, the restaurant had been operating for over a decade and had gained a reputation locally as the best Malay restaurant in Penang. In fact, Penang's Muslim food industry is usually dominated by Indian-Muslims: Moplah-Muslims from Kerala, Jawi-Muslims which were formed from inter-marriages between local Malays and migrants from Northern India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and even as far afield as Yemeni/Hadramawti Arabs. But Minah Restaurant trascended all that - it offers 100% local Penang-Malay cuisine, and a kick-ass chicken curry which was so beautiful, I still remembered my first smell of its intoxicating fragrance until now.
I was back at Minah Restaurant for lunch yesterday. It's still at its original location in Bukit Gelugor. But a busy 4-lane highway passes in front of it now, not the small, quiet, leafy country road I remembered from five decades back. Minah herself, that imposing, feisty lady who could cook up a storm and ruled over her kitchen with an iron fist, had passed on a few years ago. Her daughter now ran the place.
The restaurant has doubled in size, and now occupied two shophouse units - with a large, airy open kitchen behind.
What we had:
This Malay-style fish-head curry was singularly the *best* rendition I'd had in Malaysia, ever. It's lighter and has a subtler aroma compared to Indian-Muslim ('mamak') versions.
Minah Restaurant's legendary chicken curry was good ... but it wasn't as outstanding as the one produced by Minah in decades past. Somehow, some spices which gave the curry its elusive fragrance are missing now.
Flavourwise, it was still good, but not good enough to justify its legendary reputation anymore.
These Malay-style potato croquettes were to-die for: crisp, golden-brown crust encasing deliciously-spiced potato-cilantro-onion interior - it's also the best rendition I'd tasted commercially available in Malaysia. Only home-cooked version by my Malay friends in Kuala Lumpur supercede the ones here.
Beansprouts, Chinese white cabbage, carrots and celery cooked in coconut milk. It was a rather plain dish as I was expecting some stronger flavours - perhaps more of the aromatics like ginger and onions.
These were deliciously-moist, just-cooked chicken livers, which were marinated in fresh turmeric, then pan-fried with curry leaves, onions, ginger and spices.
This is a Chinese food item which has been adopted by the Malays and is extremely popular on any Malay food spread.
A refreshing local iced drink, conconcted from rose syrup and evaporated milk. "Bandung" here is a Malay term meaning "to pair", and has no relation to the city of Bandung in Indonesia, where this drink is unheard of.
This is a popular Malay shaved ice dessert - ABC stands for "Air Batu Campur" or Mixed Ice: basically shaved ice atop a variety of finely-chopped jellies, sweetcorn kernels and "attap" (palm seeds), drizzled with a few types of flavoured syrup & evaporated milk.
Minah Restaurant still has its regular clientele - Malay families, large office crowds, joined by busloads of tourists sometimes.
I missed its old "kampung" (Malay village) atmosphere - Minah herself, when she was alive, was larger than life: a big, generous woman who exuded a strong, powerful presence, whilst her husband was a tiny, quiet man - everyone called him "Cikgu" (Malay for 'teacher') as he was a schoolmaster at the local village school. There was a skinny dark-complexioned waiter I remembered who was a feature of that place - his wiry frame belied his loud, deafening voice which he used to shout out customer orders directly from tableside to the kitchen behind! No intercom, nor computerised, wireless ordering system in the 60s, I guess :-D
The waiters today are young, earnest & polite Malays. The place has a nice, convivial atmosphere still, but it seemed the old magic is missing ... or, am I being too sentimental and reminiscing about the past through rose-tinted glasses?
362 S & T, Sungai Gelugor
Tel: +604-658 1234