We all know that Melaka is a city famous for many things, in particular Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine. It isn’t that Kuala Lumpur doesn’t have restaurants serving up Nyonya favourites such as “Ayam Pongteh” (Nyonya Chicken & Potato Stew) or “Ayam Buah Keluak” (chicken with candlenuts) but having been to a few in KL, I find that the food is pricey and hardly as authentic as what I can find in Penang and Melaka so I’m now reserving my visits to Peranakan restaurants only when I am in either city.
Whenever I am in Melaka, I always make it a point to visit my favourite restaurant, Nancy’s Kitchen situated along Jalan Hang Lekir, a stone’s throw away from Geographer Cafe (along Jalan Hang Jebat) which is a favourite with tourists. I stumbled upon Nancy’s Kitchen a few years ago when I was walking along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock and ever since that first visit, I was hooked like a fish caught on a line. I have been to other Nyonya restaurants in Melaka but those are some distance away from the city centre.
Nancy’s Kitchen is a small, cosy restaurant in a row of old shophouses, next to it is a Portugese cuisine eatery. Step into Nancy’s Kitchen and you might think you were in someone’s house as you can go all the way to the back kitchen where there is a hive of activity (that’s also where the lavatory is) all the time.
Even before you are seated, you’ll be able to smell the spices that come wafting towards you, causing me to sneeze many a time, so pungent is the blend of wonderful scents. That’s when my mouth begins to water in anticipation of the many delights I can choose from the menu.
It’s important to get there early and by that I mean before 12.30 p.m. otherwise you will probably have to play the waiting game and stand inside the restaurant or out on the narrow street. It’s especially popular on weekends and public holidays when there will inevitably be plenty of Singaporeans (how cheap the food must be for them after conversion!).
I have spoken to the affable proprietor on more than one occasion and she’s often there but not on my most recent visit. The downstairs seating is more often than not, full so this time we were given a table upstairs where there are only 4 tables (out of that only 1 rectangular table that seats 4 comfortably).
I always order the “Popiah” (spring rolls) as they are big and fat. No ingredients are spared within these rolls and because they are bigger than what we find in KL, 2 spring rolls are enough for 4 persons. The spring rolls and “pai tee” (top hats) are my must-have starters. The top hats are my favourite of the 2 because they are also bigger than what I find in KL and the filling combined with the mint leaves make these simply delectable. I could have the entire plate of 4 on my own, no problem!
For 1st timers to Nancy’s Kitchen, it might take you some time to decide which main courses to order as everything seems to look delicious on the menu. These are just a selection of Nancy’s specialties:-
Pork in tamarind (chicken in tamarind is also available) is well marinated lean/belly pork lightly cooked in tamarind so the taste is sweet and sour. This is a tangy dish for those who don’t mind a little sourness. The pork is really lean and so I found it a little tough but the taste more than made up for the texture. I’d probably order the chicken version next time as I thought it was a bit too lean for me.
Chicken Candlenut is Nancy’s signature dish and this was a dish that didn’t disappoint. The dish had lemon grass in it and this gave the gravy extra “oomph!”. There’s a lot of meat in this and I could happily have eaten just white rice with the slightly spicy gravy. This was the best dish of the lot.
Steamed Otak-Otak or Fish Paste was tender and aromatic thanks to Nancy’s blend of spices with the fresh coconut milk. There was a lot more fish here than what I’d normally get at similar restaurants in KL which is why I think it’s more worth my money to visit Peranakan restaurants out of the Klang Valley. Definitely more satisfaction in Penang/Melaka Peranakan restaurants with regard to quality and quantity.
Stir fried potato leaves were slightly bitter, my least favourite dish of the lot. Perhaps we should have opted for some other vegetable.
The cost of a meal at Nancy’s Kitchen costs a fraction of what it’d cost in KL. Since my 1st visit many years ago, this restaurant has maintained its prices and hopefully it stays that way. I have to keep going back for my pineapple tart fix. No sharing when it comes to these pineapple tarts. I so dislike commercial type fillings and with this pineapple jam filling, I can instantly tell they were made from scratch.
Downstairs near the cashier, you can find all sorts of Nyonya kuih and dumplings. Nancy’s also sells her blend of curry powder at RM8 a packet. The jam tarts are RM16 (butter) per box. I finished 2 boxes on my own in less than a week.