The just-opened venue offers up a tantalizing blend of Chinese and indigenous Southeast Asian flavors.
While it’s not yet possible to embark on a culinary getaway to Singapore or Malaysia, Hong Kong residents can get a taste of authentic Nyonya fare at Bibi & Baba, a brand-new restaurant that has just made its debut on Wan Chai’s Ship Street. The no-reservations joint is the latest venture by the JIA Group, which teamed up with the dynamic duo behind Singaporean private kitchen PasirPanjangBoy—prominent makeup artists Tinoq Russell Goh and Dylan Chan—to open the new eatery. When it comes to Nyonya cuisine in Hong Kong, options are typically quite limited; restaurants dishing up Singaporean and Malaysian food rarely venture beyond well-known favorites such as curry laksa.
The eclectic repertoire of Nyonya (a.k.a. Peranakan) cooking reflects a long history of intermarriage between Chinese immigrants and women from the indigenous ethnic groups of maritime Southeast Asia—not just the Malays but also Thais and Javanese. It combines Chinese techniques and practices with the Southeast Asian fondness for herbs and spices, and makes extensive use of rempah (a.k.a. bumbu), the catch-all term for the hand-pounded spice paste (with endless variations) that is a fundamental building block in Malaysian and Indonesian cuisine.
Diners at Bibi & Baba can look forward to sampling Nyonya staples such as babi pongteh (pork belly braised in fermented bean paste and dark soy sauce), kueh pie tee—thin pastry shells stuffed with a sweet and spicy mixture of yam, vegetables, and prawns—and Penang-style Hokkien mee in a flavorsome soup base. Other highlights on the menu include prawn stir-fried with sambal and petai (stink bean), as well as ngor hiang, five-spice meat rolls wrapped in a layer of dried bean curd sheet that is then deep-fried until crispy.
Then there are classic Peranakan dishes rarely found in Hong Kong, like ayam buah keluak, or chicken stewed with the fermented flesh of keluak nuts—an Indonesian ingredient prized for its robust and earthy taste—and assam pedas, fresh fish cooked in a hot and sour soup featuring tamarind paste, ginger flower, and Vietnamese coriander. “Pedas” is the Malay and Indonesian word for “spicy”; let’s hope Bibi & Baba doesn’t compromise on its Southeast Asian roots by dialing down the heat.
Bibi & Baba is open on Tuesdays to Sundays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch service, and 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for dinner. More information here.