The Peranakan specialties are of acquired taste and only those with trained palate would know how to appreciate them. One may still find a handful of decent restaurants that serve Nyonya food in Penang but it would not be easy to find that cuts through the novelties and get down to the solid perennial favorites that would not go out of fashion. Hai Nan Town that sits in between the bustling Ferry Terminal and Port Swettenham, the restaurant is about to celebrate its 11th anniversary and has been the de facto restaurant in town, especially for Nyonya cuisine. The restaurant knocks out an extensive range of home styled Nyonya staples- Curries, Kerabu, Stir Fries and desserts; it has always been the popular choice for Penang companies hosting events and staff gatherings (due to Pork-Free status). There are only one private room available (that houses two tables) so the heat-intolerant visiting in a large group may call in a few days earlier for advance reservation while the others would have to settle for the tables at the outdoor terrace... but be rewarded with a breath-taking sea view overlooking the ferry terminal.
Many Thanks to Hai Nan Town for hosting us that afternoon.
Assam Prawns (market price/ Rm 50 for this portion)
Beef Rendang (Rm 18/ small)
Hai Nan Town believes in fresh ingredients would bring out the best flavors, the Beef Rendang was expertly braised till fork tender. The beautifully cooked meat literally melted in the mouth! The thick and rich paste was addictive and robust with flavors. It may be veering towards the salty side, perfect to spoon over rice nevertheless. Assam Prawns received the unanimous votes as the best dish of the day. The Prawns were plump and most succulent yet, well-coated with the sweet, tangy Assam sauce. The roe-filled Prawn head was lick-worthy, every bit of the Assam Prawn was a joy to eat.
Chicken Curry Kapitan (Rm 26/ medium)
Curry Tumis Ikan (market price/ Rm 80- Chinese Pomfret Fish)
Adding further enjoyment to your meal, try their Curry Tumis Ikan; the dish is a favorite among the patrons. Hai Nan Town is serious about their curries and for their spicy, tangy Curry Tumis Ikan, they paired it with Okra, Tomatoes, and Onions. They Curry spices were expertly done with no powdery texture and the right consistency/ thickness. It has a robust savory flavor while the spiciness is tamed with the sufficient amount of acidic to give it an extra dimension. The Chinese Pomfret was fresh and could be testified by the pristine white flesh with minimal or no fish stench at all. Best way to enjoy the dish? Drown the rice with lots of curries.
The Chicken lovers could go for their Curry Kapitan, a moreish and classic Nyonya dish but not many could do it right, Hai Nan Town is one of the few ones that did it right. The meat was again, cooked till fall-apart tender, little effort was necessary to slit through the meat... not even the toughest part of the bird. We love the thick Curry sauce that clung onto the Chicken... it has a serious depth of flavors that could linger in the palate for sometime. It was not monotonous, the right amount Tamarind was brilliant and certainly introduced another layer of dimension to the dish. It can be dangerously addictive... especially with the presence of steaming hot White Rice.
Choon Piah/ Spring Rolls (Rm 12)
Joo Hoo Char (Rm 20/ medium)
Kerabu Sayur Rumi (Rm 14/ small)
I was new to Kerabu Sayur Rumi (known as Pigwort Watercress in English), at least not being served raw. The greens are often stir fried with Sambal Hae Bi (Dried Shrimps). Hai Nan Town was courageous enough to introduce the Nyonya Salad, chopped Pigwort Watercress dressed with acidic-spicy dressing and served together with julienned Torch Ginger, Onions and Shrimps. Do not look down on this dish, not only it was brimming with flavors but the spiciness gradually kicks in. It has a balanced medley of acidic, spicy, sweet and savory notes. It was the perfect dish to assuage our guilt for over-indulgence.
The Choon Piah was tasty... the skin was thin and the filling was generous but the flavor did not hit me; probably the usual Chicken bits were replaced with Crab Meat and they were too fine to be discerned. Joo Hoo Char was equally delicious but some of us could not agree on the addition of Coriander.
Penang Cendol (N/A)
Bee Koh Moy/ Black Glutinous Rice Dessert with Coconut Cream (Rm 4)
Do not leave Hai Nan Town without having a bowl of their home-made Bee Koh Moy, a creamy, rich but nutty Nyonya dessert made with Black Glutinous Rice, Dried Longan and served with a spoonful of Coconut Cream. The key to this dessert is the salted Coconut Cream... which provides a sense of creaminess and salty essence to the sweet treat. The Black Glutinous Rice should be thoroughly cooked but not overly squishy, the nutty texture must be there and we glad that Hai Nan Town managed to tick all the boxes. Extra marks for serving the dessert piping hot. Alternatively, you may wish to go for their Cendol; though not as creamy as I would have hoped, it was satisfying enough to put a stop to the sultry tropical heat.
*Special Request for any Nyonya Dish(es) can be arranged with 1 day prior advance reservation; subject to availability*Pork-Free
Service Charge: Yes 10%
Government Tax: Yes 6%
Address: Tanjung City Marina, 8A, Pengkalan Weld, 10300, Georgetown, Penang.
Business Hours: 11:30 am to 3 pm, 6:30 pm to 10 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: 604- 263 8633