I’ve been curious about Jason Nyonya House for a while. We must have passed it at least half a dozen times because it’s near my husband’s nanny’s house.
However, we never really got round to trying it out as Nanny always cooks for us. Then a few weeks ago, a most serendipitous incident led us to Jason’s.
We had some guests coming over from outstation. I’d already pointed them to food court New World Park, but learning more about my child guest’s special needs, I suddenly realised that the noisy environment was filled with audio sensory triggers.
It was Penang peak hour – how the heck do I find a quiet, cosy restaurant nearby, with easy parking at the snap of a finger?
Jason Nyonya House!
You see, a few weeks ago, I received a Fb message from a Chuck Chan, who wanted to tell me he followed my food articles in The Star. Upon chatting, I found out that he was the founder of Jason Nyonya House – yes the same restaurant I’d noticed earlier AND conveniently located next to New World Park!
After much hand-wringing, I pinged Chuck on Fb.
He sorted everything out, from identifying parking options & handpicking our dishes, to gifting us treats on the house.
Complex and well-balanced
The claypot asam pedas stingray arrived first. It looked like no asam pedas fish I’d eaten before – the assam curry soup was noticeably darker in colour, and it was unusually scattered with Thai basil leaves.
Tentatively, I took a morsel of fish and gravy.
It … tasted like no asam pedas fish I’d eaten before. The flavours were extraordinarily complex and full bodied, yet you could taste the freshness of the fish. The Thai basil leaves touch gave the dish a pleasant fragrance that set it apart – in a good way – from other versions of the dish.
From then on, every dish that came out just kept beating my expectations.
One of the last to arrive was the ayam pongteh arrived. I grimaced inwardly. I’ve eaten many versions of this, but always found them too sweet or watery. Maybe I’m just one of those oddballs who has a rare repulsion for ayam pongteh …
“This is one of our signatures,” Chuck said enthusiastically.
Oh no! Have to give face liddat.
Bracing myself, I took a bite – and gasped out loud. There was a deep savouriness that hinted subtly at a cencaluk-y funk, without the overload of sweetness that I often found too cloying in other versions. The dish had been simmered so long that the potatoes had broken down completely to fuse with the gravy that you couldn’t tell potato and sauce apart. Ayam pongteh, you have a new fan.
Hands down, it was my BEST nyonya food experience in Penang by a MILE.
A fearless woman
Looking at my guests’ expressions, clearly I wasn’t the only one having a foodgasm. One of my guests who works in the food industry and frequently goes taste-testing, commented: “The flavours are more complex and intense but extremely well-balanced. Not easy to achieve.”
Over our long lunch, I found out the reason for those subtle differences. The restaurant was set up to keep memories of the founder’s mum alive.
She was a Chinese-Thai who left her country at 20 to marry a man she had never met. “Her reason? She wanted her children to grow up with electricity and piped water.”
The arranged marriage lasted 63 years till she passed. “We mourned for 100 days,” said Chuck. “Immediately after the mourning Dad passed to follow her.”
A tribute to Mama
The family missed her cooking terribly. Although not Nyonya, Mama was a fast learner who picked up local cooking techniques from her Malaysian Penang family & an innovative soul who infused Thai influences into her interpretation of Nyonya cuisine – which explains the more intense flavours & use of Thai-centric ingredients like basil leaves in the asam pedas pari.
The family began toying with the idea of opening a restaurant using her recipes. They started by using their home for six months, before taking the bold step to open their first outlet, followed by the second one near New World Park. A year after it was up and running smoothly, Chuck left the business fully to his brother’s family.
At the original shop on King Street, you can see old photos of Chuck’s parents & the kids growing up. “I’m glad to know that I have a memory of my mum that I can go back to whenever I miss her.”
Thank you so much for the wonderful food and hospitality, Chuck and family. You surely did your mum proud.
Jason Nyonya House
10B Lebuh King, 10200 George Town, Penang.
Business Hours: 11am-2.30pm; 6-9.30pm (Closed Wed)
Tel: +6 018-356 0515
26, Jalan Nagor, 10050 George Town, Penang.
Business Hours: 11am-2.30pm; 6-9pm (Closed Wed)
Tel: + 013-980 0402