Tiffin “Tok Panjang” Lunch @ Casa Del Rio Melaka
Yes! I am back in Melaka again, barely a month since the last trip, only because there is still so much of this city that awaits to be explored and discovered. Despite the numerous trips I have made here over recent years, there is always something interesting, new and bizarre or old and nostalgic that continues to beckon me for a return to this beautiful city.
The only difference this time round is I am not travelling up alone but together with 4 other foodie-minded friends to experience what Malacca has to offer. The first stop upon getting off the coach is a welcome “tiffin lunch” set in the style of a Tok Panjang at the luxurious and idyllic Casa del Rio Melaka.
The “tiffin lunch” was kindly hosted at the River Cafe of Casa Del Rio Melaka, prepared by Chef William, a Malaccan Baba himself, together with his colleagues at the River Cafe. The menu comprised of a good mixture of traditional Peranakan, as well as Straits Chinese inspired dishes created by Baba William. I especially love how the dishes had been thoughtfully set in the style of a “tok panjang“, the long table which was customarily found in many Peranakan households in the past where banquet feasts from wedding celebrations to reunion dinners were held for both family and friends. And here I am with my friends from Singapore to experience what it would probably be like to dine in such a setting so common in the past, but so rarely seen, and much less experienced nowadays. What a treat it was!
Kueh Pie Tee, a popular Peranakan snack was served as hor d’oeuvres. The top hat shells were uber thin and remained really crisp, despite containing the filling of yambean which was deliciously moist and well-flavoured. I like the combination of flavours and the textures from the cili chukka, julienned cucumber, sliced omelette and fried shallots which worked together to make the bitesize pie tee very enjoyable and most apt as an appetiser.
The Kerabu Mangga (mango salad) was equally delicious, if not even more refreshing than the kueh pie tee (which I love very much incidentally). The prominent tangy hues in the seasoning and also crunchy textures from the melange of sliced vegetables makes the dish very moreish and reminds much of the Thai Som Tum. It most certainly served well to worked up our appetites for the rest of lunch to come!
Itek Tim was the “soup of the day”, perpetuating the sourish flavours from the earlier kerabu mangga through the use of asam gelugor/asam keping and also ‘buah asam boey” (brined plums). The soup tasted really rich from the prolonged simmering, allowing all the flavours of the duck to be fully taken on by the soup itself. Yet it remained refreshing with the excess oil that would have been rendered from the duck thoughtfully skimmed off before serving. While I like the inclusion of chilies for the hint of heat, the sayor asin (salted vegetables) could do with a bit more rinsing before cooking to remove more of the savory notes which would probably do well to balance the taste profile of this popular Peranakan soup.
Pongteh Ayam, a classic dish in Straits Chinese cooking which was customarily prepared as a laok semayang (offering dish during ancestral prayers) is now commonly seen on the menus of many if not most Peranakan restaurants. I thoroughly enjoyed the rendition prepared by the River Cafe, which reminds me very much of our own home cooking. The flavours were spot on, with the taste of taucheo (fermented soya bean paste) being assertive but not overpowering, beautifully complimented by the sweetness from the minced shallots and garlic after prolonged stewing. The sauce was also of the right consistency, slightly thickened naturally by earlier mentioned bulb ingredients as well as the starch from the potatoes which had been stewed to become very soft. For me, this was really the “welcome home” dish…
Sambal Bendi was yet another yummy dish. Despite not looking very much, the piquant flavours from the sambal sauce instantly hit me upon the first bite of the lady’s finger which was almost raw from very brief blanching, just the way how “bendi” should be cooked, still remaining very crunchy and not mushy at all as how some others I’d tried had done. Also, the lady’s fingers were carefully selected, not too old to become too fibrous to be eaten, while not too “muda” (young) without any texture as well. Getting this deceivingly simple dish right is really all about balance and I think they’d done really well.
Otak Otak is essentially spicy fish paste cooked in coconut milk. The use of fish was generous, with bits of meat left unpulverised for good textural contrast. The seasoning from the rempah spice concoction was also good, together with the coconut milk used brought out the essential flavours of the dish. Call me old fashion but I would have preferred otak otak to be served as little parcels wrapped in banana leaves and grilled instead. Not only is the latter more aesthetically pleasing, the meat would have remained more moist. The grilled banana leaves would also impart unto the dish an addition dimension of aroma and perhaps even taste as well which good otak otak is distinctive of.
Sambal Terung Udang is another dish wonderfully cooked. Similar to the style of the “sambal bendi” we had earlier, the brinjal was also cooked just to the right textures. It was nicely flavoured from the sambal sauce and I love how the chefs are daring to play up the levels of spiciness in the dish making it very ‘shiok‘ to ‘makan‘. The large prawns that accompanied the brinjal were succulent and very fresh as well, keeping to the high standards of seafood dishes churned out from the kitchens at Casa Del Rio.
And finally the star of the day Ikan Cili Garam, a large red snapper which had been deep fried and then robed in a spicy fried chili and garlic-shallot mix. The fish was so so crispy from the batter when it was served, which we thoroughly enjoyed with the cili garam! Just the cili garam alone, with the sauce of the pongteh ayam was enticing me to go for a second helping of rice!
While the dishes for the welcome lunch that day had been specially set in the style of a “Tok Panjang“, Casa Del Rio Melaka’s signature lunch sets are customarily served in “tengkats“, i.e. enamel multi-layered tiffin carriers instead, which was exactly how food was being carried around long ago. Such a dining experience is really a blast from the past, invoking a strong sense of nostalgia! We were shown the dishes for Monday’s set lunch which comprised of a good selection of four dishes showcasing different culinary techniques in Peranakan cooking to go with steamed rice, not forgetting a delicious bowl of cendol to go along at the end of the meal!
However, should one decide to plan a special treat for friends and family for a luncheon set in the style of the “tok panjang” as we had experienced at the hotel’s River Cafe that day, special requests can be made with the restaurant 2-3 days in advance. The specific menu can be customised to one’s needs and wishes, and I would strongly recommend the Ikan Cili Garam served with a whole snapper, Sambal Bendi as well as the Pongteh Ayam which we enjoyed immensely. We sampled the “Set A” menu which is offered on Mondays as well and the Sambal Udang Petai was so yummy that we polished it off in no time, despite being already filled to the brim from the sumptuous ‘tok panjang‘ spread. The sauce from the Kari Ayam Asam was really delicious as well while I personally loved the bits of tau kee (fried beancurd sticks) from the Nyonya Chap Chai.
This is what the Nyonya Tiffin Set Lunch Menu looks like, with one set being offered on from Mondays to Fridays respectively, i.e Set A for Mondays and Set B for Tuesdays etc. The tiffin set lunch which comprises of four dishes each day is available on walk-in basis at RM 37 nett at the River Cafe at Casa Del Rio Melaka, and it comes complete with the “soup of the day” which rotates throughout the week, steamed rice, keropok ikan, kerabu timun nenas and a cendol at the end. Definitely value for money!
An aerial view of the tok panjang set up for the Nyonya Tiffin Lunch we enjoyed so much last week at Casa Del Rio Melaka.
And this is Chef William Koh who painstakingly prepared the delectable dishes we enjoyed that day. I was only told later that Baba William’s speciality are his “lemak” base dishes which we didn’t get to try that day! The perfect excuse to go Melaka again and sample more dishes prepared by him at the River Cafe!
Casa del Rio, Melaka
88, Jalan Kota Laksamana
A big thank you to Casa Del Rio for the invitation, as well as Agnes and Jena for hosting!