Ayam penyet is an East Javanese dish that is popular in our country. Ewe Paik Leong checks out 10 ayam penyet restaurants in the Klang Valley
1 Ayam Penyet Nyet Nyet, Jalan Raja Abdullah, Kg Baru, Kuala Lumpur
This Indonesian restaurant is spartan. Available are Indonesian staples such as ayam penyet, bakso penyet, daging penyet, ayam kremes and soto ayam. My heart leaps with joy when the ayam penyet arrives at my table. The sheen of the chicken indicates that it’s possibly been double-cooked. First, it’s braised or simmered with spices, then deep fried — the former giving depth of flavour, the latter, delivering texture. This is traditional ayam penyet at its best. As my teeth sink into the meat, the tender crunch is followed by a heavenly rush of herby, citrusy flavours. Dipping the chicken in the tomato-spiked sambal adds a blast of funky heat.
2 Warung Leko, First Floor, The Curve, Petaling Jaya
Its kopitiam ambiance is out of place with the Indonesian food served. The long list of penyet dishes starts with ayam and ends with otot. In between, there are bakwan, babat, bebek, buntut and iga. My ayam penyet dish first loses marks when it does not comply with the traditional specs, the tempe and tofu are missing. It then gains marks when the first bite is a tender crunch with succulence. While chewing, my taste buds feel as if glazed with a spicy tartness that ends with a herby note. This chicken is the product of the twice-cooked method.
3 Ayam Penyet Sambalado, Ground Floor, Spectrum Mall, Ampang
Some unusual penyet dishes are available here: udang, lele,terung, bakso and kembung. There is also Western fare. Conspicuously absent from its beverages are Indonesian favourites like soda gembira and alpukat. Instead, there are milkshakes. My udang penyet comes with a bowl of soup that is tasteless and instead of tomato, raw white cabbage is served that doesn’t jive with the other elements. The shell-on prawns are flash-fried so that they are crispy outside and the meat is sweet, tender and brimful of an oceany flavour.
4 Resto Surabaya, Jalan PJS 8/2, Dataran Mentari, Sunway Mentari, PJ
An Indonesian restaurant with cafe-style furniture but devoid of decorative items. Besides a la carte dishes, the menu also boasts promotional sets such as ayam penyet, empal bakar, empal goreng and pecel lele. The ayam penyet comes with standard ingredients. The layers of crunchy and soft chicken nearly lure me to finish it neat. A dip of the chicken in the tomato-based sambal adds fruity tartness and chilli heat.
5 Balifeel, LG Floor, KL Gateway Mall, Jalan Kerinchi, KL
This is an ambitious restaurant that tries to emulate better-known Balinese restaurants in the Klang Valley such as Bumbu Bali, Dancing Fish and Bumbu Desa. Various kinds of platters are available. My ayam penyet’s rice is a bit dry and the cucumber is not fresh. The chicken has been fried to a fine crispiness on the outside and the multi-textured sambal camouflages the dense flesh under an aromatic spicy boost. Emping would give this dish a better lift rather than store-bought crackers.
6 Waroeng Penyet, First Floor, The Curve, PJ
The menu of this eatery — which is part of a chain — impresses in terms of variety as there are also soups, grills and vegetables. Standouts include batagor, siomay Bandung, rawon and sayur asem. I am disappointed when my ayam penyet is served on a piece of wax paper laid upon a clay vessel, which looks amateurish and is different from the picture in the menu. Also something is off with the kremes (batter bits), which I suspect have been deep-fried in oil that was not hot enough. The chicken only passes muster. At a condiment station, four types of chilli available: soup chilli, mild chilli, hot chilii, and ketchup chilli. I try all. They don’t work much magic on the dish.
7 Restoran Pendawa, Ground Floor, Star Avenue, Jalan Zuhal U5/179, Shah Alam
This is a drab-looking eatery with banquettes and a painted black map of Indonesia on one wall. All the standard ayam penyet sets are available, including the unusual Indomie ayam penyet. My order is presented as a pile of Indomie, bolstered separately with sambal and partnered with a chicken drumstick topped with a scattering of crunchy batter bits. The noodles, enrobed with only a whisper-thin layer of spice-spiked oil, are firm. The chicken, though crispy outside, lacks depth of flavour. Texturally, the succulence of the chicken against the crackle of the crunchy batter bits and chewiness of the noodles is noteworthy.
8 Pondok Ayam Penyet, Jalan Ampang Putra, Taman Putra Sulaiman, Ampang
Only ayam penyet and empal penyet are available at this restaurant which is furnished with black wooden tables and chairs. My ayam penyet is served on a clay plate layered with banana leaf, with side dishes of soup, cucumber, tomato, sambal, brinjal, tempe and tofu. Both the tempe and tofu have been over-fried and burst with funk. The chicken shows a heavy hand by the kitchen as one crunch releases the robust aromatics of fresh herbs that almost vibrate my lips.
9 Restoran Surabaya, Jalan SG 3/19, Taman Sri Gombak, Batu Caves
Though relatively new on the ayam penyet scene, this restaurant has been growing from strength to strength. A mound of rice sits in the centre of my plate. Arranged around the circumference are tempe, tofu, veggies, chicken, anchovies, brinjals, roasted nuts, sambal and kicap. The ensemble is an interesting play of textures: woody tempe, mushy brinjal, crunchy anchovies and more. However, the star of the dish, the chicken, under-performs as I can’t hear the crunch between my teeth. It’s moist and a tad floppy.
10 Dapur Penyet, Jalan Wawasan 2/12, Taman Wawasan, Ampang
This is one of several branches of a restaurant chain, and its ayam penyet is competitively priced. For a change, I go for bawal (pomfret) penyet. The size of the pomfret alone justifies its price. The rice and other accompaniments seal the deal. The pomfret’s flaky tender flesh wrestles with the utterly crunchy kremes (batter bits) to produce an interesting mouth-feel. Add to the culinary equation the multi-layered sambal and the ensemble gains a biting spicy charm.
Pictures by Ewe Paik Leong