WITH dine-in just recently allowed, where would you go for a nice meal after being restricted at home for quite a long spell?
In Penang, there are quite a number of popular eateries that have begun to welcome customers.
If you love Indonesian cuisine, or Balinese cuisine to be exact, then head to Nona Bali Restaurant at 23 Lintang Burma in Pulau Tikus.
Although the restaurant started operating there less than three months ago, it actually has its roots in Penang about nine years ago.
Joint partners – Peter Tait, a Penangite, and I Made Sudiarta, a Balinese – first set up Nona Bali Restaurant in Karpal Singh Drive in 2013 but decided to relocate to Pulau Tikus in August this year to save on rental during this Covid-19 pandemic.
They form a great combination, with Tait working the floor and Sudiarta weaving his magic in the kitchen. They have four other workers.
How Tait, 57, got himself into the F&B business is rather unthinkable. He was a self-taught hairstylist and had previously opened five hair salons. Then, he joined the corporate world before retiring as a plantation timber specialist.
“I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant. When I wanted to open a Thai restaurant, a friend asked me why a Thai restaurant when they are already so many here.
“Indonesia is like my second home. It is so vast and every place has its own unique food.
“But why did I bring in Bali food to Penang? Bali uses the same herbs as this part of the world and we’re also influenced by Thailand,” Tait, a Malaysian with mixed Thai Eurasian parentage, told Buletin Mutiara.
In the meantime, Made, whom Tait had met in Italy, was thinking of opening a cafe in his hometown in Bali.
But after discussing a joint venture, they finally decided to set up a Balinese restaurant in Penang.
According to Tait, Made had been in charge of two fine dining restaurants on board a MSC Italian cruise ship. So, his kitchen experience would put them in good stead.
It was not an easy start as they first had to overcome some bureaucratic hassle.
Over the years at Karpal Singh Drive, they had built up quite a clientele. At that time, the area was rather quiet but Nona Bali was able to stand the test of time because of its authentic Balinese cuisine.
The first thing that strikes you when you enter Nona Bali Restaurant is that the place is adorned with paintings and ornaments, mainly from Bali and other parts of Indonesia.
“All our furniture was shipped from Bali. Most of our paintings are also from Bali. I do sell some of the paintings to customers who like them. This will also give me the chance to replace them with new paintings.
“I spend on ambience because I want to show and educate the people here that Indonesia is very advanced and beautiful.
“I am proud to say Nona Bali has done a lot, to the extent that we were recognised by the Indonesia government and given a certificate as a branding partner. So, we are ambassadors for culinary and tourism,” said Tait, who was born in Ipoh but brought up in Penang and was schooled in St Xavier’s Institution.
Asked what is Nona Bali’s signature dish, Tait said whatever on the menu are what people like.
“The Indonesians, for instance, like the food to be spicy whereas the locals like something sweeter.
“When I cook my food, the most important ingredient is my sambal terasi (Indonesian shrimp paste sambal). What makes it special is because I follow the authentic Indonesian recipe. It’s pedas (spicy).
“We pay attention to cleanliness and healthy food. Over here, there is no artificial flavouring. Made also makes sure the kitchen is spick and span.”
The best compliment that he got so far from his customers came from a retired doctor, who is allergic to MSG (monosodium glutamate).
“When the doctor came here to eat, he said this to me: Yours is one of the very few restaurants I can come to without getting sick.
“And he also said ‘I always remember your sambal. That keeps me coming back for more’,” Tait said.
Eventually, Tait decided to bottle the sambal and sell it (200gm) for RM20.
Of course, Nona Bali is not just famous for its sambal.
It is also noted for its Sate Lilit Ikan (fish paste wrapped on lemongrass), Sate Be Siap (Balinese chicken satay), Bebek Goreng (an aromatic 1/4 deep fried duck), Ayam Penyet (smashed fried chicken on a bed of sambal, come with fried tofu and tempe), Beef Rendang (a rich and tender beef stew with explosive flavours) and Iga Bakar (a pair of sweet and spicy barbecue beef ribs).
There are some delectable desserts. One of the most popular is Kukus Injin (steamed black glutinous rice served with grated coconut rice, salted coconut milk and palm sugar).
Tait said Nona Bali also introduces special menu to celebrate memorable occasions just like it did for the 76th Indonesian Independence Day on Aug 17, the 64th Merdeka Day on Aug 31 and Malaysia Day on Sept 16. All the pre-order for only 100 sets of special dishes for each occasion (Ayam Kalasan, Rendang Kambing, Mi Ayam Basko or Nasi Liwet) was snapped up in no time.
For certain festivals, the restaurant also comes up with Nasi Tumpeng Kuning, an Indonesian cone-shaped rice cooked with milk and tumeric, which is surrounded by an assortment of vegetables and meat.
Tait, however, has another dream.
“I want to run a homestay business. I hope this pandemic will not wipe off my last dream. I like to meet and engage in conversation with nice people,” Tait said.
As the Indonesian consulate is located not far away, many of its staff members such as Kiki Tjahjo Kusprobowo (Minister Counsellor) and Andri Djufri Said (Consul), are frequent visitors to the restaurant.
“When I first came to Nona Bali and tasted its food, I at once know it was authentic Balinese food.
“We’re lucky that we’ve Pak Peter here to promote Indonesia through its food. Indonesians, Malaysians and people from all over the world like the variety of dishes and Indonesian decoration in the restaurant.
“We’re also grateful for Nona Bali’s promotion so that people from all over the world can better understand Indonesian culture and food,” Kiki said.
Nona Bali Restaurant operates from 11am to 7.30pm daily. It closes every Wednesday. (Tel: 04-228 1630).
Story by K.H. Ong
Pix by Alissala Thian