rif used to tell me what a great cook his mum is when we were dating. He would go on about how his mum makes really good Nyonya laksa, ayam buah keluak and pongteh, and that her popiah parties are legendary. They really are and everything is made from scratch in his household.
I was pleasantly surprised with the Nyonya dishes at Casa del Rio – served in pretty tiffin carriers for that uniquely Peranakan experience. The dishes are home recipes of Chef Baba William, who boasts 36 years of experience in Nyonya cuisine.
We tucked into a tiffin treat of udang masak lemak nenas, ayam pongteh, otak otak, cincalok omelette and itik tim, with steamed rice. And I thoroughly enjoyed lunch, especially the itik tim (duck soup with salted Chinese mustard). This one, Baba William does better than my mother in-law. The soup was light yet packed with flavour from the duck, and sour from the addition of asam keping. I polished almost the entire bowl on my own.
Pongteh is different in every Peranakan household. I was told, back in the days when men had several wives, each wife had a secret way of making pongteh and it was a differentiating factor for them and a means to get their husband to come home to them more often.
Whether that is true or not, I wouldn’t know. But I do know that the pongteh tastes different in other households. rif’s late grandmother makes it thicker and more pungent, while his mum’s version is less thick. His aunt’s version is my least favourite because she makes it so watery…it’s almost like soup! :shock:
Baba William’s version is pretty good – adequately thick and with just the right amount of bean paste, while the chicken and black mushrooms were cooked till tender. Delicious with white rice.
The udang masak lemak nenas was slightly thicker than most places would serve but that’s how I like it to be as there’s a bit more oomph. This was sweet, tangy and rich from the addition of coconut milk. Nyonya otak otak comes in several variations – steamed in banana leaf, cooked in curry and in this case, served as a paste. This was decent, but my favourite version of otak otak is the one steamed in banana leaf because the leaf gives a good aroma to this spicy-rich dish.
Casa del Rio also serves Nyonya Laksa, prepared using chicken and prawns so the broth is sweeter and richer in flavour. Each bowl comes with tofu puffs, fish balls and fish cake slices, and a side of sambal for a fiery finish. Give this a try if you’re in the mood for Nyonya laksa.
There are also Western selections in the menu, like the fish & chips and smoked salmon pizza. I have to say, the F&B standard of Casa del Rio has improved since my last visit – the pizza base was light, crusty and held the toppings well, while the fish & chips was one of the better ones I’ve tried.
If there was one thing I could fault, it would be the cendol. This could use some improvement as the ice shaving wasn’t smooth and the cendol strips could have been firmer. That said, it was a good lunch and I wouldn’t mind coming back for the Nyonya dishes. Maybe I’ll bring my mother in-law with me so she can comment on Baba William’s dishes. ;)
The Tiffin Lunch cost RM32++ per person and is available at River Café from 12pm to 4pm daily. Thank you Casa del Rio, for the invite!
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Food: 7/10 (pork free)
Verdict: If you’re looking for good Nyonya food, give this a try. Prices aren’t too bad either.