Authentic Jawi Peranakan Food at Jawi House Cafe Gallery, Pulau Pinang

Housed within the artistic precinct of Penang's George Town is the Jawi House Cafe Gallery - the island's first Peranakan Muslim heritage restaurant that is steep in culture and valuable traditions.

Jawi House Cafe Gallery, Pulau Pinang

Jawi House was brought into existence by the Karim family of George Town, Pulau Pinang. The family is of a Punjabi-Jawi Peranakan ancestry and they have been running the establishment for six generations. It fondly describes its dishes as "food for feasting" as it takes diners on a culinary journey along the early historical spice routes when local Malay women passionately domesticated the herbs and spices that were brought home by their Indian, Arab and Punjabi husbands from across lands and seas through trades and long sails.

A meal here promises an indelible gastronomy experience, and will hold a unique appeal for those with a special interest for civilizations of the olden times and their way of life.

Jawi House Cafe Gallery, Pulau Pinang is housed within a beautifully refurbished old building along the Armenian Street.
Photo by Jawi House

What is Jawi Peranakan & Why is it Special?

Jawi Peranakan is a vanishing ethnic group. The term Jawi Peranakan refers to all Muslims born locally (in this case, Penang) who speak the Malay language and have a mixed Indian-Malay lineage. Over time, this particular ethnic group had grown to include those of Arab-Malay ancestry as well. During the mid 19th century, they were regarded as highly respectable figures within the British Malayan community due to their wealth and social status, and were recognized as the pioneers in setting up the first Malay newspapers across Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and China.

Today, however, the Jawi Peranakan community has dwindled to less than a tenth of its former size in the last few decade. Although Penang used to be their largest settlement, the number of families continues to shrink today because many of them have chosen to register themselves as "Malays" - causing a drastic and unexpected loss of identity among this ethnic group.

Jawi Peranakan Cuisine in Pulau Pinang, Malaysia

The Jawi Peranakan are particularly known for their use of the lemuni or simpleleaf chastetree leaves in their cooking. It provides numerous medicinal benefits such as lowering blood pressure, treating common colds, fevers and headaches, as well as liver issues. Notable dishes include the distinct fragrant lemuni rice, laksa lemak (a type of rich, spiced coconut milk gravy), acar buah (fruit salad) and Jawi Bamieh (lamb stew with okra). The preparation of each of these dishes require a lot of spices and herbs that are loaded with iron, protein and vitamins which are particularly beneficial to women.

Want to taste and experience these Jawi Peranakan dishes for yourself? Jawi House has it all!

Signature Dishes of Jawi House Cafe Gallery, Pulau Pinang

Stepping into Jawi House Cafe Gallery instantly brought a feeling of unpretentious homeliness with its warm and inviting color scheme and antique treasures. Despite its cluttered and thronged interior, the house unfailingly exudes a welcoming vibe and comfort that allows the diners to connect intimately to a culture that is unfamiliar to them.

Once seated, we were served with appetizers which include Serabai - a dish of silver dollar rice pancakes served with the restaurant's specialty caramel kaya dip to start the meal on a sweet note. Next comes the Cucur Udang - a popular northern Malaysia snack of crispy prawn fritters that are to be dipped in a sweet and savory peanut sauce.

Serabai (RM14)
Malay-style rice crumpets served with homemade caramel kaya dip

Cucur Udang (RM18)
Baby prawns and vegetable fritters battered and fried till golden and crisp and served with a peanut sauce.

The mains were then brought to the tables. The first dish is Jawi House's specialty dish: Jawi Bamieh which is a distinguished Jawi Peranakan stew prepared using boneless lamb in a tomato base with plenty of herbs. It is topped with raw okras and served alongside thick slabs of toasted Benggali bread. The Jawi Laksa Lemak also deserves a mention: It is a beautiful symphony of typical Malay indulgence and traditional Jawi elements that elevates an ordinary bowl of rich, creamy laksa with very carefully selected choice of spices.

Jawi Bamieh (RM27)
A stew of boneless lamb, tomatoes and peranakan herbs served with okras and toasted Bengali bread.

Jawi Laksa Lemak (RM21)
Rice noodles served in spiced coconut milk with flaked local tuna, mackerel and raw greens.

An impressive and colorful array of mains served at Jawi House, Penang.

The rice dishes at Jawi House are unbelievably gratifying and a sight to behold. The ingenious play on colors and brilliant assembly of ingredients on each plate have triumphantly ignited our appetite even before we tasted them. The favorites include Nasi Lemuni served with Beef Rendang and Prawn Biryani.

Lemuni rice (RM10)
Rice cooked with lemuni (vitex trifolia) leaves and bunga telang (butterfly pea) flowers and flavored with garlic, lemongrass, onion, ginger and fragrant coconut milk. Recommended to be accompanied with beef rendang or fish sambal.
Photo by Jawi House

Prawn Biryani (RM38)
Three large prawns grilled with spices, butter and mint on a bed or aromatic basmati rice layered with herbs and spices, and served with papadom, fruit chutney, raita and dalca.

Want to try something different on your next trip to Pulau Pinang? Be sure to drop by Jawi House for a local treat you will very likely enjoy!

Jawi House Cafe Gallery
85 Lebuh Armenian George Town, Penang
Website | Facebook
Email: reservation@jawihouse.com
Tel: +6042613680
Opening hours: 11.00am–9.30pm (closed on Tuesdays)

For related restaurant & food reviews, please click here.