Asam Belai

Special thanks to Asam Belai for extending this food review invitation.

Update: This business has ceased its operations.

The former premises of Money Houz has been converted to Asam Belai Seafood In The Pot. Despite the change in name and restaurant concept, the proprietor behind this restaurant remains unchanged.
This restaurant at Nagore Road (Jalan Nagor) is named the "2nd branch" because the proprietor has a family-run economy rice stall at Jelutong, which has established a reputation for its Asam Belai recipe. Other popular dishes at this new restaurant are Curry Fish Head and Tom Yam Chicken.
The dollar sign of Money Houz has been replaced with a new fish with cutlery logo. As Asam Belai caters to family-style dining, the former live music section has been repurposed to provide more dining space.
Two narrow flights of stairs lead to the upper floor, which serves as additional dining space. The cozy couches and electronic dart machines have been replaced with larger dining tables, allowing the restaurant to accommodate up to 8 people to a table.
The signature dish for lunch today is Curry Fish Head (咖哩鱼头, RM38.00). Unlike many restaurants, the type of fish is varies from day to day because fresh fish is hand-picked from the local wet market every morning. For today, this claypot dish features the whole head of barramundi (siakap).
The curry itself is unique to this restaurant. Made from a complex infusion of tamarind, curry leaf, lemongrass and other spices, the thick gravy has a fine balance between sour, savory, spicy and sweet flavors. Another defining quality is that the curry can be enjoyed by slowly sipping a spoonful at a time without any rice. While the fish head is indeed tasty, I think it is better to remove its scales as they often get in the way.
Another recommended dish is Belacan Fried Chicken (峇拉煎炸鸡, RM12.00). This scrumptious dish comes in 3 sets of wings and drumettes. As chicken is cooked with intense heat for a brief amount of time, the flesh is properly cooked but yet not saturated with oil. Indeed, picking a piece by hand does not give any unpleasant sense of oiliness. Taste-wise, the chicken is succulent down to the bone.
Today's off-menu dish is Dongpo Pork (东坡肉, RM15.00), which is stewed pork belly served in a scorching claypot. The pork consists of an equal mixture of lean meat and fat, which is really important as it gives the ideal mouthfeel that defines this dish. While Dongpo Pork is often served as a singular squarish slab of meat, this serving is cut into smaller pieces for easy sharing.
Besides having proper meat to begin with, another key element of Dongpo Pork is the thick gravy itself. Flavored with various herbs and tender black mushrooms, the gravy saturates the meat with irresistible savory flavor. The gravy carries mild bitter aftertaste due to the use of female ginseng (当归).
As for vegetables, a popular choice is Sambal Belacan Four Kingdom (三拜峇拉煎四大天王, RM8.00). By convention, the four vegetables featured in this dish are eggplant (brinjal, aubergine, 茄子), okra (lady's fingers, 羊角豆), winged bean (四棱豆) and stink bean (臭豆). Delectable sambal belacan (chili shrimp paste) binds the juicy vegetables together. Though not necessary the best one I have tasted so far, Asam Belai's version passes my palate with ease.
While Asam Belai has a food menu, the dishes that the restaurant can offer are significantly more - as long as the necessary ingredients are available. This approach is similar to many roadside Chinese stir-frying (煮炒) stalls, where the chef is versatile enough to be everybody's personal cook.
A common hassle at Nagore Square is the lack of parking spaces along the street. To make up for this, customers at any of its restaurants (including Asam Belai) may use the parking compound at Jalan Bawasah. The first hour is free of charge for minimum spending of RM20.00.
Name: Asam Belai Seafood In The Pot
Address: 77, Jalan Nagor, 10050 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-226-3068
Business hours: 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-9:30pm, closed on Mondays
Coordinates: 5.42083 N, 100.32598 E
Directions: Driving along Burmah Road (Jalan Burma) from New World Park, turn right to Nagore Road (Jalan Nagor). Asam Belai is one of the shops on the right before the crossroad. Street parking is available along Nagore Road but it is rather scarce. Alternatively, turn right at the said crossroad and use the open-air parking lot on the right. The parking ticket can be validated at Asam Belai.