Where do you eat when you go to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia?
Chances are, you scout for popular street food, settle down in a fine dining restaurant, or grab a quick bite at a Mall eatery. How about trying some authentic Perankan cuisine the next time you are there?
Perankans were descendants of the original Chinese immigrants who had settled in Penang, Malacca, Indonesia and Singapore, and inter-married with the local Malays. It’s also referred to as ‘Nonya’ (Also ‘Nyonya’), an old Malay term of respect and affection for women of good social standing. The male partner of a Nonya is called ‘Baba.’
What’s so special about Peranakan or ‘Nonya-Baba’ cuisine? The secret lies in the spices they use. The Chinese love for spices such as star anise and pepper joins the far-east fondness for tamarind, coconut milk, galangal, chillies and lemongrass to create the homely, splendid flavours of Nonya food.
Peranakan recipes involve a time-consuming and lengthy preparation and are handed down from one generation to the next. Each region offers subtle differences in its cooking style. In Penang, they use a lot of tamarind and other sour ingredients, displaying a Thai influence. In Singapore and Malacca, the Indonesia influence is stronger, so you have more coconut milk.
So if you are trying laksa, a spicy Nonya dish, you’ll find the sour assam laksa in Penang and coconut milk-based laksa lemak in Singapore.
Typical Nonya Cuisine Is…
Signature Perankan Spice: Rempah
Turmeric + Galangal+ Lime leaves+ Lemongrass+
Together, they compose a heady spice mixture at the core of Nonya cooking. Do you know how a Nonya judged the cooking ability of her new daughter-in-law? Merely by listening as she prepared ‘rempah,’ the signature spice mix of Perankan cuisine, with a mortar!
Classic Nonya Dishes:
Chap chye: stewed vegetables
Itek tim: duck soup with salted vegetables and preserved sour plums simmered together
Otak-otak: fish custard wrapped in a banana leaf
Babi pongteh: braised pork with fermented soya beans
Ayam buah keluek: Chicken stewed with an earthy Indonesian black nut, and a complex rempah paste made with blended shallots, garlic, galangal, turmeric, candlenut, lemongrass and belachan.
Rempah udang: prawn in spice paste
Bakwan kepiting:pork and crab meatball soup.
Penang otah: egg-and-coconut milk custard with a piece of sea bass fillet ensconced within.
Kerabu bok nee : black fungus and shredded chicken tossed in sambal dressing.
Nonya desserts include kueh or cakes enriched with the sweet flavour of coconut and sweet, sticky delicacies.
Popular Nonya Restaurants of South East Asia:
Kedai Tiga Nyonya, Jakarta TIS Square, Jakarta Selatan, Jakarta, Indonesia
Indocafe The White House, 35, Scotts Road, Singapore
The Bird Restaurant 5 Jalan 3/62D Medan Putra Business Centre | Bandar Menjalara, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia