nada lama

This article is part of my Ramadan 2017 compilation.

Special thanks to Hotel Equatorial Penang for extending this food review invitation.

Update: This business has ceased its operations.

Hotel Equatorial Penang is a 5-star hotel on the slopes of Bukit Jambul. Located next to the Penang Golf Club, this 662-room hotel presents a prestigious class of hospitality for business travelers and vacationers alike. Hotel Equatorial has another 3 sister properties in Kuala Lumpur (under reconstruction), Malacca and Ho Chi Minh City.
The unique architecture of Hotel Equatorial Penang takes advantage of the cooling breeze of higher elevation. The al fresco concourse is massive indeed. There is even a Garden Nature Trail where hotel guests can enjoy the charm of Mother Nature without having to leave the resort's grounds. Also displayed along the path are live specimens of tropical herbs and spices, reflecting the culinary flavors of local cuisine.
While I have visited Golden Phoenix and Kampachi before, this is my first visit to Hotel Equatorial Penang in my capacity as a food blogger. Along with The View and nadaba, nada lama is one of the five eateries of the hotel. Known as Coffee Garden before 2014, the coffeehouse underwent complete makeover to attain the Nyonya (Peranakan) theme that it presents today. nada lama, which means "Yesterday's Melody" in Malay, pays tribute to Penang's rich cultural and culinary heritage.
From 27 May to 26 June 2017, Hotel Equatorial is hosting the Muhibbah Ramadhan Buffet every evening. The menu primarily consists of Malay cuisine with emphasis on traditional recipes, hot dishes and live action stalls. There are also secondary elements of other cuisines such as Chinese, Indian, Arabic and European. This is underscored in the Malay word "Muhibbah" for "brotherhood" - the fact that religious and cultural festivals in Malaysia are celebrated across ethnic boundaries.

The main highlight of the month-long promotion is Kibas Panggang (Grilled Lamb), which is marinated to absolute perfection. The succulent lamb is served over flavorful Nasi Arab. The long-grain basmati rice is very gentle to the palate, and readily absorbs rich seasoning from a variety of herbs. In fact, Hotel Equatorial Penang maintains a modest herb garden to supply some of the kitchen's needs.
Despite its name, Mongolian BBQ has little to do with Mongolian cuisine. This cooking style originated in Taiwan and was inspired by Japanese teppanyaki (鉄板焼き). The word "Mongolia" was merely to evoke the impression of an exotic land far away. Anyway, the Mongolian BBQ has 5 choices of meats: beef, lamb, chicken, squid and shrimps. In addition, diners can choose from an assortment of fresh vegetables such as broccoli, choy sum and oyster mushrooms.
Another outdoor station features beef steaks, chicken wings, squid and sausages. These grilled items are cooked on a griddle. Sauces that are provided include tartar sauce, Thousand Island dressing, Thai sweet chili sauce (น้ำจิ้มไก่) and mango chutney.
Satay is one of Malaysians' favorite street foods. Chicken or beef is first marinated with turmeric sauce, which serves not only to impart flavor but also to produce appetizing aroma. Marinated meat is then skewered on bamboo sticks, and then barbecued over burning charcoal. Satay is best enjoyed with spicy peanut sauce. It is advisable to consume satay while the meat is still hot, otherwise its tenderness degrades substantially.
The indoor section also has an action counter for grilled seafood. The highlight this evening is Cencaru Sumbat (Stuffed Mackerel). The fish is cut open and is stuffed with fiery chili paste. One way to enhance its flavor is to add some air asam (tamarind sauce). If tiny fish bones are not to your liking, go for grilled salmon instead.
This evening's buffet features another section for seafood on ice. The ice-chilled platter includes marine delicacies such as scallops, oysters and shrimps.
As the name suggests, Equatorial Chili Crabs is one of the hotel's signature dishes. Although flower crabs do not have as much meat as brown crabs, the chef manages to retain the flesh's juiciness especially under the carapace. Nevertheless, I feel that the gravy is what makes this dish truly shine. The rich spice mix presents delightful spiciness that rewards the tongue in a gratifying manner.
Daging Rendang (Beef Curry) is a Minangkabau recipe but has entered mainstream Malay cuisine. For this dish, beef is cooked gently with coconut milk and savory spice mix (most notably galangal, ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, chili, garlic and shallots) until the liquid gravy is reduced to a thick paste. This method of slow cooking allows rich flavors of spices to penetrate deep inside beef chunks.
Even more so than beef, mutton is notorious for being very strong in "raw" odor. This is why mutton recipes generally rely on heavy seasoning to suppress this odor. This is true for Kambing Kurma (Mutton Curry), where pieces of mutton are braised with yogurt and a unique blend of spices. Despite being a curry, the gravy is more savory than it is spicy.
One of my favorite dishes this evening, at least for the gravy, is Ikan Goreng Lada (Spicy Fried Fish). Fish fillets are fried beforehand, and then dressed in chili paste that has very sharp pungency. The tantalizing spiciness that the chili casts on the tongue seems to work harmoniously with fish fillets.
Udang Masala (Spicy Shrimps) is cooked in thick gravy made from Indian spice mix. Shrimps are cooked with their shells intact to prevent their flesh from being overpowered by spices. Yet, the fiery aroma of spices is able to permeate the shells in a subtle manner.
Sotong Kunyit (Turmeric Squid) presents springy texture that is neither too soft nor leathery. Flavored with pungent turmeric, these delectable squid rings go particularly well with white rice.
Dhalca (Lentil Curry) is a vegetarian stew that contains bite-size pieces of eggplants, carrots and potatoes. The spiciness level is quite mild when compared to the previous dishes.
Chicken Shawarma is one of the most recognizable street foods from the Middle East. Seasoned chicken is stacked on a vertical rotisserie with a heating element at the back. As the outer layer of chicken becomes cooked, thin slices are shaved off to allow the next layer to cook. Chicken slices are mixed with tomato, onion, cucumber, cabbage and yogurt, and then stuffed into warm pita bread.
Nasi Ulam is a traditional Malay dish where steamed rice is mixed with a variety of raw vegetables and condiments. Popular ingredients are daun kunyit (turmeric leaves), daun pudina (peppermint leaves), daun bawang (scallion), bunga kantan (ginger flower), lada hitam (black pepper), halia (ginger), bawang besar (onions), serbuk cili (chili flakes) and ikan masin (salted fish).
Diners are allowed to mix ingredients of their own choices. A mixing bowl is provided for this purpose. In spite of its simple preparation, Nasi Ulam provides balanced taste and is said to be good for health (probably due to benefits of eating fresh vegetables and the absence of cooking oil). A word of caution: go easy with chili flakes because they are much spicier than they appear to be.
Murtabak is often prepared with minced chicken or beef filling. In addition, the buffet also presents a new type of murtabak with durian paste. Made from D24 durians, the paste is too tempting for me to ignore. Although dalcha sayuran (vegetarian gravy) is available, I think the durian murtabak works best without any condiments.
Gado-Gado is an Indonesian salad that uses sweet peanut sauce as dressing. Ingredients provided are kangkung (water spinach), kacang panjang (yardlong beans), sengkuang (jicama), cucumber, hard-boiled eggs and tofu.
Serunding is very similar in texture and taste as Chinese meat floss (肉松). There are several types: chicken, beef and fish. After seasoning with spices, meat is cooked slowly for several hours until all moisture has boiled away. What remains behind is the flossy matter. Serunding is usually eaten with lemang, glutinous rice cooked in hollowed bamboo stems.
Ulam-ulaman (raw vegetables) are often eaten with piquant dipping sauces like Cincalok (fermented shrimp), Budu (fish sauce) and Sambal Belacan (spicy shrimp paste). These condiments are typically prepared using mortar and pestle.
Moving on to the pastry section, there are several types of French pastries such as Baked Cheese Cake, Durian Cheese Cake, Linzer Cake, Flourless Cake and Macaroon Slice. In particular, the Durian Cheese Cake truly delights my palate.
Crème Caramel is a custard dessert covered by a layer of soft caramel. Peaches, strawberries and kiwi serve as garnish.
Up next is Panna Cotta With Raspberry Coulis. "Panna cotta" means "cooked cream" in Italian. This vanilla-flavored custard is covered by a translucent layer of raspberry coulis.
Other desserts include Fruit Tartlets and Bubur Pengat Pisang. The latter is very creamy due to presence of coconut milk.
As for Malay kuih, there are a handful of types like Kuih Dadar, Kuih Lapis, Kuih Koci, Cucur Badak, Abuk-Abuk and Lepat Pisang. During actual Ramadan dinners, I am looking forward to seeing a greater variety of Malay kuih in proportion to Western pastries.
Meanwhile, the bread station presents several bread varieties from the oven. Included are brioche, multigrain bread and bread rolls just to name a few. Premium butter and margarine are provided.
Bread & Butter Pudding is a British comfort food that is originally intended to salvage stale bread. The baking pan is layered with slices of malt loaf and croissants, then covered with egg-and-butter custard to fill the gaps in between. After baking, the pudding is typically served with vanilla sauce.
At the fruits section, there are tropical fruits like dragon fruit (pitaya), cantaloupe (sweet melon), pineapple, guava, papaya and watermelon.
In addition, the Fruit Cocktail is a mixture of diced pineapples, pitaya, grapes and apples in cooling syrup.
Speaking of sweet desserts, I like the Snow Fungus & Longan Soup (雪耳龙眼糖水) which is served chilled. This Chinese dessert delights my sweet tooth in a soothing manner.
The Ramadan buffet also includes a special section where Ice Kacang and Chendol are prepared to order. Diners may choose their own ingredients like red beans, grass jelly (凉粉), attap chee (nipa palm seeds), sweet corn, nutmeg and peanuts. An ice shaver is used to produce slushy ice for both types of dessert.
And finally for drinks, Teh Tarik and Sirap Bandung (Rose Milk) are very popular during Ramadan. Also present are Nutmeg Juice and Soya Milk. There are also 2 types of milkshake to quench your thirst.
Hotel Equatorial's Muhibbah Ramadhan Buffet is served between 6:30pm and 9:30pm through the holy month of Ramadan. To ensure a different dining experience every day, there are 6 sets of menu on daily rotation. The buffet is priced at RM128.00 for adults, RM64.00 for children, and RM98.00 for senior citizens. Adult buffet vouchers that are purchased before 27 May 2017 are priced at RM98.00 each, and can be spent on any day during Ramadan. All quoted prices are net.

Name: nada lama
Address: Hotel Equatorial Penang, 1, Jalan Bukit Jambul, 11900 Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-632-7000
Business hours: 6:00am-10:00pm
Coordinates: 5.33708 N, 100.28479 E
Directions: Hotel Equatorial Penang is located near the intersection of Persiaran Bukit Jambul and Lebuh Bukit Jambul. Jalan Bukit Jambul is a small offshoot from Persiaran Bukit Jambul near this intersection. nada lama is located one level below the main lobby. The hotel provides multilevel parking for RM8.00 per entry.

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