Richard Rivalee brings you delicious pork-free Nyonya cuisine
I truly believe that if one desires to live a purpose driven life, one has to wear one's heart on one's sleeve and allow passion to fuel the journey. One such brave man I know is Richard Rivalee, always smiling and bubbling with gaiety.
He started his career as a hair stylist, saving what he could to put himself through fashion school. Honing his technical skills in pattern making to draping and from cutting and sewing, he learnt even more as an apprentice with Madam P’ng Guay Keow of Galeen Fashion Institute. Being fiercely creative, Richard managed to carve a name for himself in the fashion industry, establishing Richard Rivalee Couture House. Numerous awards and accolades followed suit. Richard designed spellbinding evening gowns, suits and tuxedos, reaching international clienteles from Asia, Europe and USA with patronage from royal families, celebrities as well as the rich and famous. His collections were also featured in international renowned brands including Cartier, Swarovski, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Amee Philips.
Richard has also made appearances as guest judge on various modelling contests, talent shows and beauty pageants.
In 2016, Richard turned his attention to cooking and established Richard Rivalee Nyonya Cuisine. He always has a flair for the culinary arts. He knows that fresh ingredients make all the difference and food prepared with love and passion is even more divine. He started off serving laksa and some set meals at his home in Bangkok Lane. It was here that I first met Richard and fell in love with his delightful dishes. They were good because they were his family recipes handed down through generations.
When business picked up, he relocated to Times Square, catering for a larger audience offering a more extensive menu. Later when he moved to Rain Garden Hotel and then again to Lorong Macalister (current location), his string of loyal patrons continued their support. Richard is someone who is not afraid of long hours and hard work. He welcomes the challenge and perseveres. He has established a winning team and prepares all the rempah (spice pastes) himself, maintaining a consistent level of quality at his restaurant.
Let us take a look at some of my favourites at Richard Rivalee Nyonya Cuisine Restaurant.
First off is the mouth-watering otak-otak (savoury fish custard), flavoured with aromatic daun kaduk (wild betel leaves), various local herbs and spices, infused with the creamy richness of thick coconut milk. This dish will whet the appetite.
Include the aromatic five-spice chicken loh bak to your order. The well marinated chicken is wrapped with bean curd skin and deep fried. I enjoy its texture and taste and love eating it by itself, even though the accompanying chilli sauce is wonderful as well.
Add jiu hu char (stir-fried bangkwang with shredded cuttlefish) to your spread of dishes. “Jiu hu” is Hokkien for “cuttlefish” and “char” means “fry”. The ingredients for this popular Nyonya offering consist of jiu hu si (dried shredded cuttlefish), yam bean, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, onions and garlic. The best way to enjoy the jiu hu char is to wrap a spoonful in crispy lettuce, accompanied with some sambal belacan. The spicy heat from the sambal complements the savoury vegetables well, making it quite an explosive combination of flavours.
For some fiery dishes, order a serving of the stir-fried sambal petai (bitter beans) with kacang botol (wing beans), lady's fingers and prawns or the sambal petai with prawns.
Perut ikan (Nyonya pickled fish stomach curry), a dish consisting of various vegetables, aromatic herbs and fermented fish stomach in a rich, savoury, sweet, sour, and spicy goodness. This is a labour intensive dish to prepare as the herbs are sliced as finely as possible. Although the look might be unassuming, it packs a punch in flavours and taste.
Another unassuming-looking dish is the authentic Nyonya assam heh (tamarind fried prawns). Although the black prawns look almost burnt, they carry such a delicate balance in taste. Tamarind provides the dish the bold and tart flavours while accentuating the briny sweet taste of the succulent prawns, making it one of my favourite Nyonya dishes.
The pork-free menu offers more than just Nyonya dishes. It include steamed eggplant with dried shrimps, stir-fried French beans with garlic, stir-fried mixed vegetables, stir-fried kangkong with belacan, stir-fried beancurd with lotus root and sweet basil, steamed egg with minced meat and fu yong egg.
Under the section for fish, opt for the acar hu (pickled fish) which combines a beautiful balance of sweet and sour flavours, spiced with cabai burung (bird’s eye chillies), ginger and of course, fresh turmeric. The deep-fried fish, given ample time to develop in the fresh turmeric vinaigrette, is extremely tasty and tantalising.
Other fish dishes to consider include pan-fried fish stuffed with sambal, assam pedas (an all-time favourite), Nyonya curry fish, laksa steamed fish (a must-try item), fried fish in turmeric curry, Nyonya curry fish head (pre-order required), salted pickled fish, salted fish bone curry and sweet and sour fish fillet.
Under the poultry section, try Richard's aromatic lemongrass chicken that is fried to crisp perfection. Only chicken legs are used for this dish, offering a more succulent and moist bite. I have this top on my list of dishes to order at this restaurant. This wonderful creation by Richard replaces inche kabin.
Other poultry dishes to consider are the ayam pongteh (Nyonya chicken and potato stew), Nyonya curry chicken, steamed chicken with cincalok, chicken in Chinese wine, stir-fried chicken with sweet soy sauce, chicken feet in black vinegar (served with hard boiled eggs), chicken rendang and preserved mustard green duck soup.
Although the restaurant offers a few rice options – turmeric rice, butterfly-pea coloured rice and the classic nasi ulam – plain white jasmine rice is still the best to accompany the delectable dishes as each dish has very distinct flavours. If you are ordering the nasi ulam, relish it by itself to truly appreciate the myriad of flavours that are dancing on your taste buds.
Come with a large group as there are so many exciting dishes on offer.
For dessert lovers, do not miss out on Richard’s signature sago pudding generously coated with freshly grated coconut and served on the side with some decadent gula Melaka sauce thicken with coconut milk. Also sample the traditional bubur cha cha (a medley of sweet potato, taro and yam chunks in a rich coconut milk gravy).
The restaurant is amongst a row of heritage shophouses in the heart of George Town. The charming interior is tastefully handsome, laden with an eclectic mix of antiques and Peranakan furniture. Trust Richard's designing skills to imbue a flair of Peranakan grandeur into the dining spaces. Come not just with rumbling tummies but with cameras to capture instagrammable-worthy photographs.
The culinary arena is more than just a business for Richard. Like fashion designing, he perfect his skills to quench his creative thirst! Some of his close friends would know that Richard has recently gone on retreats to be a full-fledged monk for a short durations. The immersive life of a monk helps him to recalibrate his direction in life. The meditation and mindful exercises go a long way to set his heart at peace and sharpen his focus.
Richard is currently helping out within his capacity on projects at Nandaka Vihara Buddhist Monastery located at the foothills next to the Bukit Mertajam Recreational Forest in Cherok Tokun, Bukit Mertajam. He cooks on certain festive occasions. With the help of his friends, they have raised funds to build a beautiful temple shrine in front of the bodhi tree (a young sapling from Sri Lanka that has grown significantly within the span of over a decade).
Richard believes in helping those in need. His philanthropic endeavours include delivering food and aid to orphanages and homes for the aged in Penang.
The calling to be a monk is strong but for now, Richard cooks with love and his cuisine deserves an applause.
Richard Rivalee Nyonya Cuisine
62 & 64, Lorong Macalister, George Town, 10400 George Town, Penang
Open: 11.30am-2.30pm & 6pm-9.30pm (closed on Tuesdays)
T: +604-227 4888
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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24 December 2022