A Malay word that means “locally born”, Peranakan is a unique culture that historically dates back from the 15th and 16th centuries – the years when many traders from the southern regions of China immigrated to Singapore and eventually married a local Malay woman.
Today, in the Chinese district of Singapore, a lot of buildings and shophouses have been restored to honour this distinct culture. The clothing and food by Peranakans are usually distinguished with use of colourful flower designs.
For someone who would love to learn and try the culture, it is often said that starting out with learning their food and how these were prepared would be a good idea.
Also known as Nyonya cuisine, the Peranakan cuisine is the result of combining both Chinese and Malay influences, ingredients and ways of cooking. The key ingredients to a typical Peranakan dish include coconut milk, galangal, laksa and pandan leaves, tamarind juice, candlenuts, rice, eggs, noodles and a salty shrimp-based condiment called cincaluk. With these, a Peranakan food has famous for being aromatic, spicy and tangy.
A Nyonya is usually determined by its spices. These spices are usually combined and pounded with the use of pestel and mortar. This process is just one of the many ways a Peranakan dish is prepared. Often, a Peranakan dish takes time to be prepared and best served at home. It is also usual that a Nyonya family-recipe is handed down to generations.
Unlike most Peranakan food, Laksa is an exception to the unspoken rule that a Peranakan food is best served at home. Laksa is spicy noodle soup made from coconut curry, thinly sliced noodles and ground dried shrimp and also served in most Peranakan-themed restaurants. It is best consumed with fish cake, prawns and tau pok. What makes this dish a standout is its noodles as it is easy to eat and consumed with just the use of a spoon. Laksa comes in two kinds: the asam laksa and laksa lemak. The asam laksa is distinguished for being sour.
Other notable Peranakan specialties are otak-otak, ayam buah kelauk and itek tim. An otak-otak is dish with blended chilli paste, coconut milk, fish and herbs and wrapped in a banana leaf while an itek tim is classic soup that simmers the combination of duck, tomatoes, salted vegetables, green peppers and plums.
For the ones who love desserts, the kuih, a colourful cake, is the one you might just need to satisfy your sweet tooth.
In some parts of Asia, the Peranakan way of cooking has also been adopted. One example would be in Penang, where a Nyonya dish shows more Thai influences such as the use of tamarind and various sour ingredients.
Feature Image Source: Alpha/ [email protected] Flickr