THREE little girls and a nonya mother who´s well-known for her fine
cooking. They enjoyed her food so much that they wanted to share it
with their friends.
But when they grew up, the Yeoh sisters took different career paths.
Then, seven years ago they thought they´d make a little extra money by
selling vegetarian food during the Nine Emperor God´s Festival.
Their little outing was a big success.
That set sisters Ruby, Maureen and Vivian seriously thinking about going into the food business full-time.
Penang island is practically overrun with kopitiam, restaurants and food stalls.
Anyone venturing into the food business would have to offer excellent cuisine to succeed.
The sisters left nothing to chance. They knew their mother´s cooking was best.
Indeed, Lucy Lim is not exactly new to the food industry, having run a home- based catering service.
She had lots and lots of recipes but the sisters shortlisted it to what
they feel represents a good selection of their mother´s skills.
When the restaurant opened, they fondly named it Mama´s.
After all, Lucy´s recipes would always be the draw. The matriarch continues to rule in the kitchen, helped by Ruby.
That was seven years ago.
Today, Mama´s is well-known for its fine nonya cuisine, the very aroma
of which is enough to quicken the pulse and make you salivate.
Like in anywhere else in George Town, parking is a bit challenged in
Abu Siti Lane which connects the major thorough fare of Burmah Road to
MacAlister Road. But you can park right in front of the restaurant or
in the driveway next door.
There´s an al fresco space for smokers but most islanders prefer the
air- conditioned comfort of the interior, especially during the lunch
While poring over the menu, we sip fragrant brewed chrysanthemum tea and nibble on ikan bilis fried with sliced onions.
House specialties are marked on the menu with the logo. Each item comes with a description and photograph.
It´s not easy deciding on the prawn and fish dishes as there are many. The Claypot Curry Fish is a hot, tangy offering.
We can smell the aroma of bunga kantan and mint as the dish arrives. There´s pomfret, garoupa, siakap and fish head.
Our garoupa fish head is big.
The piquant curry makes you demand for more rice and the fish is fresh
and sweet. It´s not too hot and even children can eat this.
Mama´s also offers items like otak-otak, acar fish, steamed fish, gulai
lemak fish and perut ikan (a labour-intensive dish made with pickled
There are just as many prawn dishes — from dry curry prawns and assam
prawns to prawn fritters, sambal tau cheong and sambal hae bee (dried
Sambal tau cheong (RM18) is truly home- cuisine. Simple but the
combination of garlic, chilies and salted brown beans bring out the
best side of prawns.
An unusual dish is the house specialty of Sambal Goreng Udang (RM18),
billed as a traditional dish that uses serai (lemon grass) as the main
The name sambal suggested a chili-red dish but this is not so. The
prawns come in a creamy, almost-white curry topped with browned sliced
garlic and shallots and cashew nuts. The contrasting textures and
flavours are stunningly exquisite.
As one chews, one bites into the various ingredients and each gives off
a different flavour — from the intensity of the garlic and shallots to
the nuttiness of the cashew and the sweet crunchiness of the prawns.
One cannot have a complete nonya meal without vegetables.
Nonyas have a way with vegetables that turn them into works of art and
Lim is no different. Mama´s offers a variety of greens — cooked and
kerabu style. Kerabu Sayur Rumi (RM8) is a zesty salad of rumi leaves
tossed with sliced shallots, blanched prawns, grated coconut and fresh
Sayur rumi, a local vegetable, is not usually found in restaurant menus
as plucking the small leaves is a lot of work. Mama´s is probably the
only restaurant to offer it in two ways. The vegetable has a charming
bitter undertone, especially when fried. One mouthful of the Fried
Sayur Rumi (RM10) and I´m completely hooked. The sayur rumi, fried with
largish prawns and eggs, is slightly hot from the chili.
Mama´s also offers Jiu Hu Char (shredded yambean with dried
cuttlefish), Fried Kangkung, Chap Chai (mixed vegetables), Acar Awak
(pickled vegetables) and Choon Piah (spring rolls)
While seafood is popular, there are an excellent variety of chicken and
pork dishes. Ayam Ros (RM15) is Lim´s version of ayam masak merah. It
looks fiery red but is surprisingly mild.
The redness comes from the addition of tomato paste to the dish which gives it a piquant edge.
There are quite a few pork dishes but you shouldn´t miss the Tau Yu Bak
(RM15). This, by far, is the best pork in black soya sauce that I have
ever tasted. The aroma is ambrosial, the sauce thick and lickalicious.
It comes with hard-boiled eggs. “The secret is in the slow caramelising during the cooking process,” says Maureen.
The Loh Bak (RM6) makes a good appetiser. The combination of pork
strips with shredded yambean, onions and egg is wrapped in beancurd
sheets and deepfried. Eat this with chili sauce but watch out for the
searing steam trapped inside.
Mama´s is not big on dessert.
There´s only Bee Koh Moey (black glutinous rice) and Bubur Cha Cha but
really, it´s proving quite difficult to find stomach space to spare
after the meal.
A serving of Bee Koh Moey (RM3) is enough for the two of us. The black
glutinous rice, cooked with dried longans for added fragrance, is
thick, so one adds a light coconut santan to dilute it and to give it
Mama´s is open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm and from 6.30pm to 10pm. It is closed on Mondays.
Prices given are for small portions.
MAMA´S NYONYA FOOD
31-D Abu Siti Lane,
George Town, Penang
Tel: 04-229 1318