Traditional Malay cooking at Lagenda Café in the heart of George Town
The key signature in traditional Malay cuisine is definitely the generous use of local herbs, spices and belacan (shrimp paste). Santan (coconut milk) is a common addition to impart a creamy texture to Malay dishes. In Penang and the northern states of Malaysia, Malay cooking has further integrated Thai flavours. Meats and seafood are usually marinated with a special blend of herbs and spices before being cooked. Vegetables are often stir-fried and some eaten raw, always with sambal belacan. I love Malay dishes because of their strong, spicy and aromatic oomph. For an authentic Malay feast, visit Lagenda Café.
True to its name, the café offers a host of legendary Malay cuisines alongside Oriental and Western-fusion dishes. Personally, I prefer heading straight to the main course, skipping the appetisers to save room for the yummy desserts. If you are in a company of four, start with gado-gado, ideal for sharing. "Gado-gado" literally means "mix-mix" in Indonesian and that is how one should enjoy this appetiser. Select what you fancy from the platter of deep-fried snacks and blanched vegetables, and mix them well with a generous helping of the spicy peanut sauce. Enjoy the vibrant mix of flavours.
Local favourites take the spotlight on my recommended list, featuring three satisfying chicken dishes that I relish – ayam percik madu tiga, belalang chicken rendang, and ayam penyet Nusantara. These dishes showcase three brilliant cooking techniques for chicken, each presenting distinct and delightful flavours.
My daughter's preferred dish at this café is ayam percik madu tiga. The smoky flavour of the aromatic grilled chicken marinated with savoury peanut sauce has won her heart over. This delightful offering is accompanied by turmeric rice, jelatah (pickled vegetables), kerabu tauge (bean sprouts salad) and crackers.
The belalang chicken rendang is also very good. The thick fragrant curry owing to the generous use of coconut milk hugely complements the tender chicken and ulam (fresh greens such as winged beans) that accompanied this dish. On the congkak board of goodies you have something green, something spicy, something sour and something crispy – all enjoyed with a serving of warm blue rice.
If you enjoy crispy fried chicken, the ayam penyet Nusantara is a must-try. The chicken, marinated with herbs and spices, is deep-fried and accompanied with blue-coloured rice, clear soup spiced with jintan (anise) and fried shallots, crackers and a lovely congkak board of ulam.
The prawn lemak with pineapple is a rice set complete with a congkak board of condiments (such as winged beans, pickled cucumber, kerabu omelette and sambal). Rice dyed blue with butterfly-pea flowers is wrapped in banana leaf to keep it moist and warm. Beautifully presented, the star of this dish, prawns are cooked in a typical Malay masak lemak fashion, incorporating santan and turmeric. The creamy curry, sweetened with ripe pineapples, adds an additional layer of depth to the flavours.
If you enjoy a fiery pasta, try the Asian prawns oglio. This spaghetti dish is stir-fried with spices and prawns and you can kick up the heat with a sprinkle of chilli flakes. Much like this fusion dish, there are also other offerings on the menu that could fancy your taste buds.
As for desserts, panna cotta seri muka is a recommended indulgence. The pandan-flavored custard is served with a drizzle of strawberry sauce. Should you wish to moderate the sweetness, a reminder to the waiter to serve the sauce on the side or with a lighter drizzle is advisable. Accompanying this dessert are two scoops of blood-red glutinous rice on the side.
The sago do re mi, named after P. Ramlee's classic, Laksamana Do Re Mi, is a delectable dessert. It features three scoops of coloured sago pearls smothered with a rich coconut cream sauce and topped with a fragrant palm sugar syrup, creating a delicious treat.
A personal favourite dessert of mine is the banana bakar – grilled bananas adorned with freshly grated coconut, brown sugar, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The combination of flavours and texture are so simple yet brilliant. Relish this to complete a satisfying meal here.
Lagenda Café was first located at Lebuh Campbell in a heritage shophouse. In 2020, the cafe relocated to 2 Lebuh Carnarvon. The looming mural of Malaysia’s iconic musician P. Ramlee on his saxophone serenading classic tunes is no more. However, the cafe continues to pay homage to him. Notably, some menu items are named after his renowned works. The warm, cosy interior with an eclectic mix of furniture and paintings makes this simply affordable café and a wonderful place to enjoy a meal or even drinks. The friendly staff have always made my visit pleasant and memorable.
While touring George Town and seeking refuge from the tropical heat, Lagenda Café stands out as an ideal choice. The café offers an extensive beverage list complete with fresh juices to mocktails and refreshing local delights. For a thirst-quenching experience, order the soursop with lime, ice batu campur, nutmeg juice or pandan sarabat. As you sip your drinks, take joy in P. Ramlee's melodious tunes that would effortlessly soothe your mind and soul.
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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Updated 2 March 2024
2 Lebuh Carnarvon, 10450 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
T: +604 251 9300
Open: 12 noon – 11 pm except Wednesdays