For two nights only on the 4th and 5th of September 2019, Atas, the modern Malaysian restaurant at The RuMa Hotel and Residences will be presenting ‘Kristang Cuisine Inspired by Chef Melba Nunis’. If you’ve always wanted to try Kristang cuisine but couldn’t pull enough people together for Chef Melba Nunis’ supper club, an opportunity now presents itself.
This marks the first set of a series of exclusive four-hands with notable chefs in Kuala Lumpur and around the world. It’s also the first exclusive collaboration with Chef Melba, a Malaccan-Portuguese culinary icon. Atas executive chef Tyson Gee has reinterpreted her recipes, giving the comfort home-cooked dishes a more refined, Atas style without compromising on flavours.
During the five-course dinner, Chef Melba will also be on hand to regale guests with personal stories of the Kristang culture as well as her family, food, and life – aspects that have influenced her cooking.
We got to experience this delectable five-course dinner prior, so allow us to walk you through the experience. The dinner starts off with a refreshing aperitif – a glass of Prosecco to go with a platter of snacks. First, there’s the Crisp Seabass inspired by Papa Vincent’s Fish Cutlet. This was a childhood dish inspired by Chef Melba’s grandfather, fondly known as Papa Vincent. The sea bass cutlet is bouncy in texture, delicately shaped and goes so well with the sambal and acar (pickled vegetables) on hand.
The other snack is a Soy Glazed Chicken, inspired by the traditional Kristang dish of seybak. The dish is traditionally made with pig’s ears and is served as a snack to go with alcohol for the patriarch and other men in the family. Chef Tyson’s rendition with chicken is equally as flavourful, nestled in crisp baby gem lettuce leaves.
The other two snacks include Crab Stuffing, which is sweet with the combination of carrots and scallions; and the Pressed Potato, Caramelised Onion, and Ox Tongue inspired by the ox tongue semur dish. In the Kristang culture, ox tongue semur is usually served during Christmas and eaten with bread, thanks to the flavourful gravy of the dish.
Moving on to the second course, Chef Tyson brought forth Squid Cooked In Its Own Ink, an interesting take on the Kristang squid ink sambal. While Chef Melba’s hearty home-cooked version will normally pair extremely well with rice, the Atas rendition has been refined and synonymous to what you’d find in an upscale restaurant.
The squid ink, at first glance, belies its taste. Upon spooning it into your mouth with the squid, your palate will instantly be overtaken by the intense aroma and umami flavour. The squid ink has in fact been turned into sambal, giving the squid a delicious flavourful bite. Like us, it’ll leave you wanting to lap up the remaining squid ink sambal on the plate.
The third course is familiar in flavour, due in part to the sambal binagre (vinegar sambal) made by Chef Melba. It’s the King Mackerel, Vinegar, Red Chili, and Spring Onion, essentially fish with vinegar sambal. Her original dish is pretty high on the spice spectrum, but Chef Tyson has toned down the spiciness levels to cater to the general crowd. The vinegar sambal is tangy and enticing, inviting guests to keep having more of the fish – which, not coincidentally, pairs extremely well with the sambal.
Finally, the fourth course introduces a nut that not many of us has had the opportunity of tasting: buah keluak. Also known as the pangium edule, it comes from a tall tree native to the mangrove swamps of Southeast Asia. The fruit on its own is inedible and poisonous but becomes safe to eat after a fermentation process. For the Slow Cooked Chicken, Buah Keluak, Chef Tyson managed to turn the traditional keluak curry into an art form that still pays homage to Chef Melba’s original recipe.
Artfully coring out the buah keluak shell, it is filled with a concoction of keluak curry that is drizzled over the slow-cooked chicken. The curry itself is interesting and nothing like our familiar spiced Indian and Malay curries. It’s creamy with coconut milk with underlying hints of spices, while the keluak sauce itself has a slight chocolatey flavour. When brought together, it creates a medley of flavours that is fascinating and easy to appreciate.
For the desserts, Chef Tyson has decided to keep it traditional. A simple but difficult-to-execute steamed glutinous rice with Chef Melba’s famous kaya, alongside sago biji gula Melaka, a traditional favourite most are familiar with. After four courses of refined elegance, it’s nice to finish things off with something kept traditional as proof that the two can go hand in hand.
The ‘Kristang Cuisine Inspired by Chef Melba Nunis’ menu is priced at RM250 nett per person and RM370 nett with wine pairing and is only available for dinner on the 4th and 5th of September 2019. Call +603-3277 8088 for reservations.
(All images: The RuMa Hotel and Residences)