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"Nyonya cuisine, a traditional fusion food"


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This wonderful cuisine, which is "said to be fading" but has exerted such powerful influence on many generations of people throughout Nusantara, is the subject of a feature article in the current issue of The Jakarta Post. I will quote some exerpts below:

[Malaysian chef Amy] Koh believes[...]Nyonya cuisine[...]should be learned from the heart, and [by] seeing[...]experts in action[:]

"Having done it before is helpful because it's not only about[...]ingredients but also the fire, how to stir fry the spices, when to put the ingredients in and how to season the dish."

"The dishes are usually based on intricate recipes and (involve) hours [of preparation] but [are] usually[...]finished in around 10 minutes," said Datin Amy Hamidon, president of the Malaysian Embassy Ladies' Association in Jakarta.
Koh used her family recipes and to ensure authentic flavors she brought some of the ingredients[...]from Malaysia to Jakarta.

Please read the rest of the article, and please comment on what you think is most important in Baba-Nyonya cuisine, how its influence has spread from its origins in Malacca, and what your favorite Baba-Nyonya foods are.

P.S. There's also a review of a Peranakan restaurant in Jakarta in this issue of The Jakarta Post.

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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the Malaysian cultural ambassador, HE Mr Laderman strikes again.

will check out article, but in the meantime, favorite nonya dishes:

- enci kebin (fried chicken)

- otak otak (fish mousse)

- petai sambal udang (um, smelly beans with prawn sambal, lol)

oooohhh, and loads more, i'm gonna go eat some tonight... Melbourne's got some great places to go eat such things these days...

love your work Pan, will be checking this thread in weeks to come.

"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

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Oh dear! The links are time-sensitive and no longer work! In order to access them, go to www.thejakartapost.com, then click on "Past Editions." You will find the stories under "Features," but only for the remainder of the week, unless you complete a free registration form which enables you to have free access to their archives dating from May 28, 1999. Here are the titles you'll want to click on:

"Nyonya cuisine, a traditional fusion food"

"The spice is right at meradelima in Pondok Indah"

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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This is the current link to the article. Not sure how long the link will stay live.

Nyonya cuisine -- the blending of Malay and Chinese culinary influences which developed in the coastal port cities of Malaysia and Singapore -- is said to be fading in prevalence as people give in to grabbing a fast food meal on the run instead of cooking at home.

I think it's misleading to say Nyonya food is fading in prevalence. That seems to imply that people are forgoing Nyonya food for "Western" fast food. Some of the best (and most popular) "fast food" to be had in Malaysia and Singapore are Nyonya food, like mee siam, rojak and laksa (!).

Perhaps it's the long hours of cooking at home that's giving way to the convenience of eating out.

Michael, as Malaysia's cultural ambassador to NYC, how about organizing a NY eG get-together at a Malaysian restaurant? The last one you organized at S&T was such a success!

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I'll consider it, but I don't know of any Malaysian restaurant in New York (including Flushing) that would come close to matching the quality of Spicy & Tasty. If there are any Malaysian restaurants in New York that you'd recommend, please post about them in the New York Forum.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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My fav foods: kueh pie tee, babi buah keluak, achar kunyit ikan, nasi ulam and, of course, desserts like kueh bengka ubi kayu and kueh pulot seri kaya!

Ok, now I'm drooling just thinking about that list. Gramma taught me the basics ages ago, but it's hard getting the ingredients if you're anywhere out of Indonesia or Singapore! And even in Singapore, it's difficult to get things like buah keluak.

P.S. When i was a kid. no one "was" peranakan. Now, it seems like everyone is claiming entrance into that club. I even see people wearing the baju kurong . . .and they don't speak the patois!

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Welcome, Huien!

A couple of questions:

Nasi Ulam is a Baba-Nyonya dish, not Kelantanese?

And what patois? I didn't realize there was a traditional Baba-Nyonya patois.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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P.S. When i was a kid. no one "was" peranakan. Now, it seems like everyone is claiming entrance into that club. I even see people wearing the baju kurong . . .and they don't speak the patois!

Among the female relatives of my parents' generation and also those my age (30s), many on occasions would wear the kebaya and sarong and I very much doubt that they are "claiming" entrance into any club. They are 100% Chinese, as far as I know. For them, I think it's more a fashion statement than a cultural claim.

To keep the post on topic, my mum made achar very often when I was still in Malaysia. It goes great with keropok udang or prawn crackers. You eat it like tortilla chips and salsa, except the prawn crackers don't "dip" very well so you gotta use a tiny fork to transfer achar from the bowl onto the crackers.

I find some of the new-fangled kebaya pretty sexy. More women, Nyonya or not, should wear them. :biggrin:

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Hey Pan

As far as grandma was concerned, nasi ulam was one of those dishes that we just had to learn. I think it's one of those dishes cooked by the Kelantan chinese as well.

There actually is a Baba patois, which isn't exactly spoken by a lot of babas today. It's sort of English and Malay mixed with Hokkien words and phrases.

Laksa, I like wearing the kebaya myself. Especially with diamond kerosangs!

Oops. Am off target, just a tad. . .

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huien, is your grandma from Kelantan?

It wouldn't surprise me at all if Kelantanese Chinese people cook any kind of local food also cooked by Malays. I think that most of the Chinese people who have chosen to stay in Kelantan and Terengganu (i.e., haven't moved out) are comfortable living among a Malay majority. Many of them have family with pretty deep roots in those states and speak the local dialect. I actually think that in Terengganu, the Chinese people are eating and cooking Malay food much more now than in the 70s. The restaurant I ate at a couple of times in the Chinatown in Kuala Terengganu last August served many dishes that, if they were halal, could have been ordered at Malay restaurants like the one I had lunch at once that was across the street from Mydin and down the block from the Pasar Besar.

But I'm doubtful that makes those dishes Baba-Nyonya dishes.

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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There are various strains of Peranakan (Baba-Nyonya) food - Malacca /Singapore Peranakan, Penang Peranakan, Indonesian Peranakan (mainly in Medan I think ... am only guessing since my Nyonya gran had relatives there and one of my neighbours from my previous house was a Nyonya from Medan too) and the Peranakans from Kelantan and Terengganu.

I'm more familiar with Penang Nyonya food than the rest as my gran was a Penang Nyonya. Some of my favourites are roti babi, gulai tumis, birthday lam mee, kari kapitan, inchi kabin, cinchalok pork and ju hu char.

On the issue of whether Nyonya cuisine is fading ... I guess it depends on how you look at it. It's probably a lot easier for non-Peranakans to be able to access Peranakan cuisine nowadays compared to say 20 - 30 years ago when there would have been hardly any Peranakan restaurants around. Nowadays, one can find Peranakan restaurants fairly easily ... though the best Peranakan food is usually found at home (my aunt usually dismisses the food at Nyonya restaurants as "karut" - inauthentic).

It is true however than many of the younger generation of Peranakans would no longer know the intricacies of Peranakan food as it simply takes too much time to cook it. One good example is my mum (though you can hardly call her the younger generation since she's 70 :biggrin:). She used to ask way too many questions in the kitchen suggesting this shortcut and that which annoyed my gran who would then usually send mum out of the kitchen :laugh:. Sigh.. as a result she never learnt many of my gran's recipes unlike my elder aunts.

For more on Peranakan heritage, here's a link to an article on the Singapore Peranakan Association's website - http://www.peranakan.org.sg/Resources/PeranakanSpore.pdf. Pan - if you're interested to find out more about Peranakans in Kelantan and Terengganu, I've seen a book on it in the bookshops in KL - http://www.aseanacademicpress.com/BOOKS/pe...kan_chinese.htm. Had a glance through it (quite a dry academic tome) and vaguely remember the author mentioning that the Peranakan community in Kelantan actually pre-dates the Malaccan one.

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I missed this thread earlier, or I would have taken a pic. Last week, a friend with Malaccan roots, cooked a pot of ayam pongteh (which, incidentally, is my favorite nyonya dish, besides, ju hu char) for us. I haven't found another ayam pongteh which can rival his, even in restaurants. They are either too sweet or too dry. By the way, his dish has some pork in it...that must have been the secret ingredient! We ate it East Meet West style...with spaghetti, the pongteh being the sauce. :rolleyes:

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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TP, I'm totally unfamiliar with the dishes you mentioned (at least by name). I'd love it if you'd describe them further.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Pongteh is great comfort food for me. It's a stew of chicken/pork, potato and mushroom cooked in tau cheong (fermented bean curd sauce). Since it's non-spicy, it's also a hit with the kids. However, to merely call it a stew would take away the magic of the taste sensations and texture from this dish, cooked correctly. Don't think I can get the recipe from my friend; it's probably "agak-agak".

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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Am going to Melaka this weekend, I'll see if I can manage to get some pics of chicken / pork pongteh.

Pongteh is basically chicken or pork (some use pork trotters) cooked in soy bean paste (taucheo). There are slight variations by each family - some add cinnamon sticks (kayu manis), ground coriander (ketumbar), potatoes or dried shitake mushrooms.

Ju Hu Char means fried cuttlefish in Hokkien. It's julienned jicama fried with thinly sliced pork, cuttlefish, julienned carrots and french beans. It's a must have for all celebratory occasions.

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In Melaka, there is that famous chicken rice... it's the "wat-kei", meaning smooth chicken in Cantonese with the rice served as balls. Eaten with that sour/spicy/vinagrette type Hainanese chicken rice chilli sauce and lots of thick dark soy....

Wow... I'm dreaming now.

"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

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Hi people!

Am back but no pics I'm afraid.

Was in Melaka as part of a treasure hunt ... we were exhausted after a very draggy trip from KL to Melaka that took 8 hours or so - had to go through various back roads and decipher a set of garbled clues for answers on various signboards.

Tried chicken pongteh, nyonya laksa, chendol and taukwah & fruit rojak at this little eatery at 31 Heeren Street (Heeren St is one of those very narrow windy streets in Melaka with old Baba Nyonya shophouses). Had read about this place on the friedchillies forum but sadly it didn't quite live up to the recommendation.

There's no signboard on the front on Heeren St., one has to go to the back of the house and there's a small signboard advertising home-cooked Nyonya food and Baba Chye's chendol. The Chicken Pongteh with rice was ok ... but nothing spectacular. The critic (not me but a friend who is quite the ultimate fusspot) dismissed the Nyonya laksa as tasteless - too much santan and not enough rempah. The chendol was not bad but was again dismissed as KL style with the thin gula melaka and not the gooey thick Malaccan style gula melaka.

Sigh ... with comments like these, thought I would skip the pictures.

We did go onto abother place on Jonker St for another fix of chedol but by that time we were too full for chicken rice balls or the pork satay. The narrow streets were also choked with traffic, lots of Singaporean cars as it's a long weekend in Singapaore (it's Singapore's National Day today, 10 August).

Anyway, am going to Ipoh next Saturday - this is going to be purely an eating trip so I'll see if I can get some pictures (won't be Nyonya food though).

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  • 3 weeks later...

If I had to pick just one dish to be considered Nyonya, I'd pick Pong Teh.

I come from a Nyonya/Baba family and sorry to say, but I'm completely sick of Nyonya food . Everytime there're prayers (as you well know Nyonyas tend to be more Chinese in terms of praying than the Chinese themselves), my aunt and the whole gang bang would cook themselves dead.

Each time there's some sort of festival, we'd have approx 23 dishes.

The number 1 dish is always Pong Teh ( I hate it so much now that I can't even bear to look at it. This is what happens when your aunts stuff you with Pong Teh 7 days in a row for every single meal).

But there's also, Se Bak, Chak Bek, Pengat, Buah Keluok, Nyonya Curry, itik tim, jiu hu char, Chilli Garam (my favourite:-D ),sambal bendi, sambal timun, Chap Chai and a whole bunch of other stuff. If you don't know the dishes I mentioned above, just ask:-D

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