Restoran Zi Zai

Special thanks to Gartien for extending this food review invitation.

The third leg of Gartien's series of restaurant visits is Restoran Zi Zai (自在饭店) at Paya Terubong. This eatery is operated by a third generation restaurateur who is a food enthusiast himself.
One of the familiar facets of Restoran Zi Zai is its Zi Zai Poon Choi (自在盆菜), which is available year-long. This Cantonese dish consists of multiple delicacies stacked layer by layer within a large pot. Restoran Zi Zai offers two sizes for this dish: 6-person pot for RM338.00 and 10-person pot for RM458.00. The restaurant provides free delivery service within Penang Island.
Typically, the top layers of this dish consists of delicate seafood and meat dishes. Towards the bottom are tubers and vegetables that are better in retaining flavors of the stew. The pot is kept warm by a gas burner below.
The ingredients present in Zi Zai Poon Choi have evolved over the years to accommodate shifting preferences. The present version has 17 ingredients, namely stewed abalone (焖鲍鱼), king prawn in ketchup (茄汁大虾), fried fish (炸鱼肉), Fuzhou fish balls (手工福州鱼丸), sea cucumber (海参), fish maw (鱼鳔), roasted duck (烤鸭), chicken in sesame oil (麻油鸡), stewed pork (焖猪肉), stewed mushrooms (焖花菇), dried oyster (蚝干), dried bean curd (枝竹), taro (芋头), radish (白萝卜), jicama (沙葛), broccoli (芥兰花) and Chinese cabbage (大白菜).
In addition, Restoran Zi Zai also has a number of signature stir-frying (煮炒) dishes in its arsenal. Many of these Cantonese-style dishes emphasize on "wok hei" (镬气), which loosely refers to "flame intensity". If applied correctly, the food has a lovely aroma and very sharp flavor when served warm.
The first dish is Belacan Chicken (马来煎鸡, RM20.00), which consists of individual pieces of braised chicken drumsticks and wings. Marinated with savory shrimp paste (峇拉煎), the chicken is succulent down to the bones. This is a gratifying dish indeed.
The next highlight is Assam Prawns (阿叁虾, RM30.00). Medium-sized shrimps are stir-fried with their shells intact, and flavored with sweet, sticky gravy made from tamarind paste (罗望子). While removing the shells, be sure to suck the sweet "brain matter" from the head. This is my favorite aspect of enjoying fresh shrimps!
The next two dishes are different types of shellfish. Both dishes can be eaten with cutlery, but I prefer to get my hands dirty by prying the shells open with my bare hands.
The plate of Clams (原味花蛤, RM15.00) has strong flavor thanks to the use of fermented soy beans (豆瓣酱). The flesh within the clam shells is quite delectable.
Similarly, the Lala (原味拉拉, RM15.00) is wok-fried with spicy fermented soy beans (辣豆瓣酱). Unlike clams, lala is significantly smaller in size and serves more like an exotic dish rather an actual meal.
The next dish is Chili Egg (钟灵蛋, RM8.00), where beaten eggs and ground chili paste are cooked in an iron skillet. The mixture is cooked until the eggs are partially set, so that the result is a thick mixture of soggy composition. The Chinese name of this dish is named after the proprietor's alma mater, Chung Ling High School (钟灵中学).
Chinese cooking is often supplemented with sauces and condiments, such as chili paste, sweet chili sauce, chopped bird's eye chili and soy sauce.
In partnership with Gartien, Restoran Zi Zai is rolling out a special dish to feature Gartien's Crystal Pineapple Confiture: Zi Zai Crystal Pineapple Pork (自在水晶凤梨咕噜肉, RM12.00). Small pieces of pork are stir-fried in sweet-and-sour sauce for a delectable dining experience. This special dish is only offered for the month of May 2015.
Besides Restoran Zi Zai, Gartien has several other partner restaurants: Kai Curry Bar, Soul Café and 43 Café. Each of these partners has a special dish which uses the Crystal Pineapple Confiture.
Gartien has a special offer for this duration. Customers who dine at any two partner restaurants can get a free jar of Crystal Pineapple Confiture from Gartien. Just take photos of these dishes and upload them to Facebook or Instagram. This offer is only valid while stocks last.
Name: Restoran Zi Zai (自在饭店)
Address: 1239-G, Jalan Paya Terubong, 11060 Air Itam, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-826-5713
Business hours: 6:00pm-10:30pm, closed on Tuesdays
Website: https://www.facebook.com/zizairestaurant
Coordinates: 5.38741 N, 100.27393 E
Directions: From the newly-built Shell gas station at Jalan Paya Terubong, drive northwards towards Air Itam. Restoran Zi Zai is only 250 meters away on the left. In the evening, there are plenty of parking spaces in front of the restaurant.

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