21 April 2012

{review} little penang

Review - Little Penang, Wellington

Little Penang opened in Sept 2011 and those who know authentic Malaysian food either did a little jig, raised their arms in a loud hurray, stamped their feet in excitement or simply breathed a long sigh of relief. Or all of the above.

I don't know about you, but I for one am pretty over the offerings around town that pass for Malaysian cuisine - many of which are inaccurately represented and lacking in authenticity, and yet sold to Wellingtonians as Malaysian food.  So suffice to say, when the 'opening soon' sign went up on the windows of Little Penang, I was determined not to get my hopes up on what I was sure was going to be just another Malaysian eatery dishing out huge mounds of oily food, that looked nor tasted anything like what it should be. When the doors finally opened. I went in one day with a healthy dose of scepticism and walked out a little later beaming from ear-to-ear. I knew then that I was going to do my blog's first review on Little Penang and have since been back numerous times to try as many dishes as I can for the purpose of this review.

Little Penang not only serves the most authentic Malaysian dishes (mostly Penang street food) in Wellington, but unlike others, they also offer Malaysian desserts and kuehs (a general word that can be used to describe pastries, cake and baking).

Opened 6 days a week and Little Penang operates like a 'street food stall' with most customers taking away their purchases. There are a couple of small tables inside if you want to eat in and also seats along the windows. The set up is simple but comfortable. There is a small menu of set dishes that are always available and specials that regular customers come back for on a weekly basis. The specials change daily and range from 1 - 3 different dishes. In addition to these, there are always a range of snacks that are great as entrées or if you're feeling peckish, and trays of traditional kuehs and also sweet desserts for afters.

Review - Little Penang, Wellington
L-R: Mary, Jessie, Hui, Tee and Keith



The people who are behind Little Penang are a tight-knit family who are from Penang, Malaysia (of course!). Tee and Keith left their high-powered executive positions in international finance and banking to come and live in New Zealand so that the family could have a better quality of life and away from the rat race. Tee has always loved to cook and when they came to live in Wellington, she started to put her cooking skills to good use when the children were in school. She volunteered at the City Mission, cooking for them and also cooked at various functions for the church the family attended. The idea for Little Penang was hatched partly due to Tee's love for cooking and Keith's boredom at home after he retired. When the plan finally came to fruition, it was a no brainer that Tee would be the maestro in the kitchen, Keith the front of house and face of Little Penang, and Mary (sister-in-law) the magic behind those kuehs.

It's fair to say that the business is not their passion but the other way around - the passion they have for their food is their business. The care and lengths that Tee and Keith go to, to ensure that what is served up is as true to it's origins as possible is a mark on how deep their belief goes in serving food that's traditional - in this case, Penang street food. Herbs and various other fresh ingredients are sourced directly from contacts in Penang, vacuum packed, then fresh-frozened and sent to NZ - not bought dried from the Asian grocers here. Stock is made from scratch and no MSG is used. Pastes, sauces and dried anchovies are also imported in from Penang. This is all so that Tee and Keith can ensure that the ingredients used are authentic, as fresh as they can be and give the dishes their specific tastes. And it doesn't end there.

Review - Little Penang, Wellington
L: Mary making kueh dough                                                      R: Tee at the wok


The passion for the food they serve stretches across other areas - educating customers on the food they're eating, for example advising them on what sauce/condiment they should be having with their meal (satay sauce does not go with everything!) and taking the time to talk to them about the cultural origins of the dishes. Front of house staff are also chosen with care - they're are required to be enthusiastic about Penang street food and be able to talk to customers about the dishes.

The pride in which everyone in Little Penang takes in the food they serve up impressed me. And in all the times that I've been there, I've also noticed that they know many (and I do mean many!) of their customers by name, including what their favourites dishes were. I wonder how many Malaysian eateries in town can really say that they do the same.

Here's a peek at some of what Little Penang offers:


Snacks

Review - Little Penang, Wellington

These are some of the selection of snacks on offer to tempt your taste buds, to quell that initial hunger pang, to feed that snack-attack or as entrĂ©es.  From L-R top to bottom: curry puffs, lor bak (fragrantly spiced mince rolled in thin soybean sheets and fried), otak-otak (fish marinated with herbs and spices, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed), baked Siew Bau (baked roast pork buns) and vegetable fritters on skewers.



Review - Little Penang, Wellington
Assam Laksa - this is one of Little Penang's most popular dishes and is one of Penang's most well known and well loved dishes.  Unlike the curry-based laksa that most Wellingtonians are used to, this is a fish-broth based laksa that is sour, sweet & salty with a bit of spice.  The noodles are topped with fish (mackerel), mint, cucumber, pineapple, ginger flower and sprinkling of fresh cut chillis, finished with some prawn paste stirred into the broth.  This very traditional laksa is an acquired taste for those who've not eaten it before.  But those in the know including Kiwis who have travelled or lived overseas, have been coming to Little Penang in droves for this laksa.

I highly recommend anyone who wants to try something different from what you'd normally get in every Malaysian place in town, to try a bowl of this Assam Laksa.  You might just be very pleasantly surprised.  This dish is only available on Thursdays.









Review - Little Penang, Wellington
Penang Hokkien Mee - another favourite is the Hokkien Mee from Penang.  It's different from the type of Hokkien Mee you'd get from say Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur and again different from how it's cooked in neighbouring Singapore.  Penang Hokkien Mee is made up of 2 different kinds of noodles in a soup with prawns and pork ribs.  It's so flavoursome that you'll be wanting a 2nd bowl.  This dish is available only of Wednesdays.



Review - Little Penang, Wellington
Chicken Curry & Roti - For those of you who like Malaysian food but are not so adventurous, there's always the tried and true Roti with Chicken Curry.  In Malaysia and Singapore, the curry served with roti is often just a side condiment - a thin curry with very little or no meat in it at all.  The roti is suppose to be the hero of the dish.  Little Penang's chicken curry is a little different in that it's a little thinner than the usual rich creamy curries you often find and with a much fresher taste.

I personally love the whole spices used and - no premixes are used here!   The roti as well is different from the usual overly sweet and doughy type served up in almost every Asian eatery.  It's light and flaky - like it should be.










Review - Little Penang, Wellington
Mee Mamak - I know of many Kiwis who prefer their noodles dry (i.e. fried) instead of served in a soup or broth.  If you like fried noodles, Mee Mamak is the noodle dish for you.  Mee Mamak is sometimes known as Indian Mee Goreng.  'Mee goreng' just simply translates to 'fried noodles', but don't be fooled by all the imposters you've eaten around town - oily mounds of egg noodles with a bit of egg, dark soy sauce and some meat thrown in for good measure, often bearing very little resemblance to any version of mee goreng you can get in Malaysia.  Little Penang's authentic Mee Mamak is a delicious plate of noodles fried with meat, prawns, bean sprouts and tofu, topped with fried shallots and pieces of crispy-crunchy vegetable fritters.



Review - Little Penang, Wellington
Nasi Tok Ma - A Friday special, rice is served with richly spiced braised beef, cabbage, boiled egg, a little curry sauce, some sambal for those who really like their food spicy and a papadom.  Simple yet satisfying, and the braised beef reminds me so much of my grandmother's homecooking.  This dish is only available on Fridays.

If you're after more rice dishes, you won't be disappointed with the Nasi Lemak - you get to choose from a selection of at least four types of curried or spiced chicken with your order (offered daily).  Something to suit all tastes.










Review - Little Penang, Wellington


Bak Chang - Bak Chang is a type of meat dumpling. The stuffing is enclosed with glutinous rice, wrapped in banana leaves to form a pyramid shape and steamed. A childhood favourite of mine, the stuffing differs from household to household, dialect group to dialect group (e.g. Cantonese, Hokkien, etc). Little Penang's Bak Chang is filled with melt-in-the-mouth pork belly, chestnuts and chinese mushrooms. It's a great any time snack or as a stop-gap if you're feeling peckish. Or, have two and call it lunch like I do.












Daily Specials - Monday: Kueh Teow Teng (rice noodle soup), Tuesday: Bak Kut Teh (herbal pork ribs soup served with rice and fresh cut chillis), Wednesday: Penang Hokkien Mee, Thursday: Assam Laksa, Friday: Nasi Tok Ma, Saturday: Char Kuey Teow (fried rice noodles).  Pasembur (Malaysian-Indian salad) is available several times a week.


Sweets

Review - Little Penang, Wellington

Whether you eat in or take away, make sure you leave a little space for dessert.  Don't expect sweetened glutinous rice this and mango that.  The kinds of dessert you can find in Little Penang are typically found at food stalls not just in Penang, but all over Malaysia and in Singapore too.  During the warmer months, you can order Ice Kachang - bowls of naturally flavoured ice-shavings that are heaped over a mixture sweet corn, red beans and seaweed (grass) jelly.  Not too sweet but very refreshing.  For cooler months, there's Bubur Cha Cha (no, not named after any dance!) which is served warm - a medley of sweet potato, taro and sago (tapioca pearls) in a sweetened coconut milk that's lightly fragranced with pandan leaves.  My favourite which is available daily, is Tau Foo Fah - a soft and super silky light custard made of soybeans eaten with a syrup made from gula melaka (palm sugar).  No matter how much I've had, there's always space for a bowl of Little Penang's Tau Foo Fah.  Best in town as far as I'm concerned.

And there's always trays of different kuehs that are made fresh daily.  These snack-sized 'cakes' or desserts are often made of rice, glutinous, tapioca or mung bean flour.  Most if not all are steamed.  They can be sweet or savoury, or both.

And if you're a bottomless pit like I am and still able to put away just a little bit more, then finish your experience at Little Penang with a cup of Kopi (coffee) imported in from Penang.  Have it the way the locals would - strong with condensed milk.

So if you like Malaysian food or keen to try something new, stop by Little Penang.  And if you're from Malaysia - it's a little taste of home (particularly if you're from Penang).  You won't be disappointed.

Opening Hours:
Monday - Saturday (closed Sunday)
10.30am - 7.30pm (during winter)
10.30am - 8.30pm (during summer)

Where:
Oaks Complex
Dixon Street
(opposite Dixon St Deli and Simple Paris)
Tel: (04) 382 9818


For more reviews - click here

13 comments:

  1. Did you camp out there everyday, Shirleen? :-) Food looks amazing, - yeah for Wellington finally getting some authentic Malaysian fare!

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    1. Not everyday, but near enough Carmella. :-) You have no idea how wonderful it's been to finally get real Malaysian food in Wellington. Maybe it'll give the others a bit of a kick up the backside! :-)

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  2. Looks and sounds so good! You'll have to take me there one day when I'm in Wellington :-) I especially love the sound of the Bubur Cha Cha, sounds like one of my favourite Thai desserts. Yum!!!

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    1. You're on! You will LOVE the food there. It'll be nice to finally be able to meet you in person too.

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  3. Sounds nice: do they have much for vegetarians? If yes I will visit next time in Wellington!

    Hey, I have a give away on my blog, if you like to enter :-)
    info here
    http://alessandrazecchini.blogspot.co.nz/2012/04/give-away-to-new-zealand-readers-fresh.html

    ciao
    Alessandra

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    1. They have a salad dish which is an Indian-Malaysian salad - which you will like, I think. But since they cook the dishes on order, you can order vegetarian option of some of these dishes, except for dishes like Assam Laksa as the broth is a fish-based broth. Make sure you let us know when you're in Wellington, it'll be great to organise a catch up!

      Cool - I'll go check out your giveaway. :-) Cheers Alessandra

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  4. I do appreciate your extensive review Shirleen ! It will help me to be less intimidate next time I'll eat there - in your company ?

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    1. Glad you found the review useful. And it's a date - let's make a time soon!! :-)

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  5. You have just made me so hungry! Great review & this will have to be a must visit when I am next in Wellington!

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    1. Maybe you, Alessandra and Emma can co-ordinate a visit to Welly and we'll go out for a Malaysian night at Little Penang! :-)

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  6. OMG I wanna go sooo badly!!! Definitely on my must go list next time I'm in Welly. Do they do a fish head soup? it's my fav! Can't wait for more reviews :)

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    1. Just fish head soup or fish head curry? I like the latter. (I can hear my Kiwi readers going...ewwww!...heehee) Get in contact with them if you know you're visiting Welly Nessie. Who knows? They may make a batch specially - they've been known to do that! :-)

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  7. Thanks so for your review. We had been wondering what Little Penang was like. After reading your blog we knew it would be a good place to go. We looooove Little Penang. They happily made me the most amazing vegetarian mee goreng. Very, very generous sized and full of so many tasty things. My one year old daughter thought it was fab too. Lovely people also.

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Thanks for leaving me your comments - I love getting them! And I promise I'll reply to all of them. Cheers! :-) x.