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NONYA FOOD & KUEHS
Nonya food is extremely spicy and delicous. It is actually the subtle blend of both Chinese and Malay elements. Chinese in that it retains pork dishes and many other hokkien dishes into a Peranakan context and it is Malay in that it uses malay styles of cooking and employs the use of malay spices or rempah in all its various dishes. European food particularly English food influences on Peranakan cuisine of old is almost practically non existant. The Peranakans of yesteryear preffered local nonya dishes to that of European food. Some popular Nonya dishes eaten in Peranakan Homes till this very day are: Babi pongteh, Ayam Buah keluak, Sambal Belachan, Fish Head Curry, Sayur Lodeh, Achar, Babi Chin, Ayam pongteh, Chincalok, Bakwan Kepiting, Itek Siow, Ayam Siow, Nonya Curry, Ikan Asam Pedas, Achar, Nasi Kuning, Ayam Tempera, etc. Popular nonya deserts would be apom balek, the numerous kuehs available, kueh lapis, agar agar jelly. If you would like to view our vast collection of Nonya Recipes Click on the [Archive} section at the bottom of this page and look for the Nonya Recipe Archives. Credits: Most of the below pictures have been kindly provided to us courtesy of the Straits Chinese Group of Restaurants in Singapore. You can view their restaurant locations in our [Links] page. Many thanks to them for providing us with the photos.
True Nyonya cuisine involved a lot of cutting, chopping, skinning, pounding and grinding of raw, local ingredients using the agak-agak (estimation) method of how much of each ingredient to put in or add in the preparation of each dish. Basically it involved the liberal use of local Malay home-grown garden produce like lengkuas, assam, bawang, cabai, serai, cukur, daun pandan and santan (for flavouring) - all of which were only too familiar with the Nyonyas. Ulam (fresh leafy shoots) and sambal belachan (toasted shrimp paste) with squeezed lime juice featured regularly at lunch or at dinner time. At other times, buahjering, buah petai or belimbing gave much added flavour to the other mouth-watering Nyonya dishes.
Common cooking terms or cooking methods adopted from the Malays included panggang (smoke), goreng (fried), tumis (lightly fried) or rebus (boiled). Results from frying fish etc. could be garing or sedap . Fresh scaly fish could be persiang (scales removed) and pork-leg or ribs cincang (chopped to suitable sizes). While batu giling (for grinding) and lesong (for pounding) were two common implements used by the Malays to grind or pound raw ingredients like bawang (onions), chabai kering (dried chillies) etc., the Nyonyas also used them for the same purposes. Influences aside, nyonya recipes are complicated affairs, requiring hours of preparation. Nyonya housewives of the past would spend the better part of their lives in the kitchen, but they were fiercely proud of their unique cuisine, preferring nyonya food to any other type of food.
Nyonya recipes are usually spicy, employing pungent roots like lengkuas (galangal), turmeric and ginger; aromatic leaves like daun pandan (screwpine leaf), daun limau purut (fragrant lime leaf) and daun kesum (polygonum or laksa leaf); together with other ingredients like candlenuts, shallots, shrimp paste and chilliest. Lemon, tamarind, belimbing (carambola) or green mangoes are used to add a tangy taste to many dishes. At the end of a nyonya meal, fruits are seldom served for dessert, but instead replaced by cakes. Nyonya cakes are rich and varied, made from ingredients like sweet potato, glutinous rice, palm sugar and coconut milk. In the past, festive occasions like weddings, birthdays and other ceremonial events would provide opportunities for young nyonyas to sharpen their cooking skills.
Unwed nyonyas were expected to be well-trained in cooking and sewing, if they intended to increase their chances of being matchmade with rich and respectable babe. A famous nyonya wedding dish is jantung pisang, made with the heart of the banana bud, coconut creme, chillies, shrimp paste, lemon and belimbing. Heepeow (fish and meatballs in a rich sauce) is usually served for lunch. Special nyonya dishes are prepared to mark auspicious occasions. For example, nasi kunyit (yellow rice) with hard-boiled eggs coloured red, is distributed by a nyonya to her friends and relatives to celebrate when her baby is one month old. This practice also marks the lifting of restrictions imposed on mother and child during the one-month period.
Another special rice dish is nasi lemak (coconut rice), which a nyonya mother-in-law would present to the mother of her son's bride 12 days after the wedding, to acknowledge that the bride was a virgin. An interesting nyonya dish served during Chinese New Year is ayam siyow (chicken in tamarind sauce). During the festivities, shops and markets would be closed for four consecutive days. As there were no refrigerators in their homes at the time, the nyonyas would buy several chickens, then cook the chickens with spices and use tamarind to preserve the meat. The ayam siow dish could then be served during any meal.
Nonya kueh or cakes are also popular not only with Peranakans but with other races as well. Kuih talam, kuih kochi For tea time especially, Nyonyas who expected daily visitors would make simple Malay cakes to eat: kuih talam, kuih kochi, seri muka, kuih kodok, kuih lapis, kuih bengka, pulot enti etc.they would probably have learnt the art of making simple cakes from their Malay neighbours. The famous cake shop Begawan Solo was founded by an Indonesian Peranakan Lady who helped her grandmother make such cakes in the past. If you would like to know more and learn how to cook the various nonya dishes and kuehs click here to go to the recipes archive section.
Peranakans used to eat with their fingers as a custom. However, as the generations have past, western influence has it that they now eat with forks and spoons. Preparation and time are the most important ingredients for cooking a Perenakan meal besides that of coconut, candlenut, turmeric and fragrant lemon grass are essential for this cuisine. On the dining table, one item always seen is the salad. There are two main types of Nonya salads, dry and moist. A spicy yet sweet dressing with a heavy taste of lime is always available with the salad and it is this that makes it unique. The salad is also often served with peanut sauce and blanched vegetables. Another special feature of Nyonya dishes is that food had to be in bite-sized pieces when served. All cutting and chopping are to be done on the kitchen, not at the dining table. Also, the Nyonyas consider it refined to cut foods into dainty decorative shapes.
Nonyas are renowned, too for their scrumptious and colourful
cakes and sweet, sticky delicacies to end the meal. Peranakan menus ignore
this, including regular favourites like Satay(skewers of barbecued meat
dipped in spicy peanut sauce), Mee(noodles flavoured with chillies) and
Laksa(noodles in tangy coconut soup), apart from curries, which are made
with rice flour and coconut cream, "Otak-Otak" (a wonderful
blend of fish and coconut milk, chilli paste, galangal and herbs, all
wrapped in a banana leaf), Buah Keluak(a distinctive dish combining chicken
pieces with dark nuts imported from Indonesia to produce a rich sauce),
Itek Tim(a classic soup containing duck, green peppers, salted vegetables
and preserved sour plums simmered gently together), Koey ee, the dessert
of glutinous rice balls ... ...
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