The Peranakan (Straits born-Chinese), or the Baba Nyonya as they are known in Malaysia, is a unique community – born from hundreds of years of assimilation, where Chinese immigrants adopted Nusantara customs in British Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore) and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). The cuisine, therefore, has heavy Malay and Chinese influences and is hard to find anywhere else in the world.
Now you might be able to find Baba & Nyonya restaurants by the dozen in KL, but few would rival Limapulo: Baba Can Cook when it comes to flavour, authenticity, and most of all, heart. Located along The Row at Jalan Doraisamy, the resto sits amid trendy cafes, art galleries and event spaces – but maintains a certain homely charm. Diners might even spot a kindly-looking elderly gentleman seated outside on the terrace – this is the Baba himself, Uncle John.
Pai Tee, or ‘tophats’, are a great appetizer to kickstart the meal. These crunchy pastries are filled with chopped jicama (yam beans) and carrots. The filling here very juicy and the sauce threatened to run down our chins – not that we minded! As we ate, we chatted with Uncle John, who told us a story about how the name ‘Pai Tee’ came to be. According to him, many traditional Peranakan dishes are steeped in culture and symbolism. Since the Peranakan spoke Hokkien and still retained the custom of praying to the Jade Emperor (Tian Gong), or ‘Bai Thnee Kong’. Bai Thnee Bai Thnee, eventually became Pai Tee… geddit ? xD
Speaking of tophats, the shape does resemble one. I put it down to ingenuity, coz it’s easy to put the filling in and easy to eat as well.
One of their specialties is their Nyonya Laksa, a spicy noodle soup loaded with herbs and spices such as turmeric, galangal, chillies, lemongrass and candlenut.
This dish is only available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as Uncle John blends the paste himself – an arduous process that starts with him buying ingredients at the market early in the morning, followed by long hours spent mashing them (no blenders are used, since only by pounding can the flavour be brought out fully) and then simmering everything in fragrant coconut milk.
The yellow noodles and vermicilli soak up the rich soup really well, complemented by tofupok (beancurd) , springy fish cake slices, shredded chicken, boiled egg and calamansi.
There’s another story about the origin of the word Laksa, which Uncle John relates. It was said that in the old days in Melaka, there was a very famous stall selling these noodles (which didn’t have a name back then). The stall number as 63, or Lak Sa in Hokkien. Hmmm makes sense.
Moving on, we had Sambal Petai Udang (spicy shrimp with chilli and stinkbeans). It wasn’t too hot nor too mild – just enough to pack a punch, but not have you reaching for a cold glass of water. The shrimps were fresh and springy, while the stinkbeans gave the dish a crunch. It was totally worth it to have bad breath for a couple of hours afterwards!
Curry chicken rice, served with generous chunks of potato and tender chicken meat. What can I say? Packed with flavour, and great to go with rice. It was served nasi-lemak style with a side of cucumbers, sambal, boiled egg and fried anchovies.
The Cucur Udang was another delightful dish. Apart from the fried prawn fritters, which were crispy on the outside and doughy on the inside without being oily, the plate was beautifully laid out with tofu, cucumber, boiled egg and jicama (yambean), drenched in a sweet chilli sauce. Portion was big enough to be a meal on its own – sort of like a salad but much heartier.
To wash it all down, Peranakan ‘Ale’, which tasted like Hacks sweets and was very refreshing.
If you’re looking for authentic food prepared with love, then you can’t go wrong with Limapulo. Price is super reasonable and the portions are big too. A gem of a restaurant 🙂