Gēn Restaurant Is A Treasure Trove Of Malaysian Culinary Ingredients

Abundant flora and fauna species thrive on Malaysian soil, but its spectacular produce is frequently overlooked in the fine dining sphere, with chefs preferring to venture to foreign lands for delicacies such as the white Alba truffle or Beluga caviar. However, that is not the case at Gēn on Penang Island, a Michelin Selected restaurant where Malaysian quality products are given prominence through innovative interpretations.

Gēn is now in its fifth year, and its 33-year-old chef-founder, Johnson Wong, was recently bestowed with the MICHELIN Guide Young Chef Award in 2024. Joining him in his commitment to local ingredients is Head Chef Yau Chin Wong, who was promoted to the role in 2023. “We try to do three or four new menus a year, which is very much produce-driven,” Chef Johnson says. “We go around selecting ingredients that inspire us and come up with different combinations.”

On a recent visit to Gēn, I embarked on a culinary journey through its 11-course dinner menu, starting with the bounty of Malaysian seas: a slice of tender Mackerel glazed with the sauce of the sour young pulp of tamarind, which complements savoury dishes perfectly. This was fitted in between crackers made from the same sweet-tasting fish, which has a distinct taste profile and topped with ulam selom, ulam raja, and roselle leaves.

This was accompanied by what Gēn does best, a delicate and aromatic mackerel fish broth with peppermint leaves and tamarind oil.

The next conceptual course captivated my tastebuds and imagination as it appeared like a lily pad plucked out of a pond from a fairytale. The beautifully lush Nasturtium leaf, which carries a mildly peppery flavour with an aroma reminiscent of mustard, was layered with lemon gel. Tucked underneath the peltate leaves were grilled mantis prawn with its intense sweetness, mussel and crispy braised lotus root with lotus seed. This was accompanied by a favourite ingredient of Chef Johnson, buah kulim sauce, which gives it a truffle and nut finish.

Steak lovers may naturally turn to wagyu or Kobe beef for their exceptional quality, but the chefs at Gēn, interestingly, set their sights on retired dairy cows, a nurtured premium beef product. This was coated with buah keluak, an ingredient which “brings out a chocolatey or cacao profile”, according to Chef Johnson.

Grilling the beef tenderloin to medium wellness on binchō-tan charcoal resulted in a lovely caramelised texture that was tender within. This was paired with a side of milk corn pudding sauce, cincalok and spinach turmeric oil for a spicy finish.

At the end of the meal, every diner is left with a sense of pride in the quality of Malaysian dishes and appreciation for the dedication to ingredients that are unfamiliar to even locals.

More photos of Gēn Restaurant

Gēn Penang

Photography: Law Soo Phye

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