The Baba-Nyonya or Chinese of the Strait are the descendants of the Chinese colonists of the 15th century. The story goes that at the time the Emperor of China had sent a princess to marry the Sultan of Malacca. Princess Hang Li Po brought with her 500 Chinese nobles and servants; they in turn married native Malay women. The fusion of these two cultures has created something completely new. The Chinese have adopted the Malay customs and the Malays have taken over the Chinese religions. The male descendants of these marriages became known as Baba, women known as Nyonya.
As women cook in these communities, food is often referred to simply as Nyonya cuisine.
The Nyonya food was originally a kind of compromise; Husbands wanted their favorite Chinese dishes, but women cooked what they knew with the ingredients available to them. This mix of cooking styles gives incredible dishes with fresh herbs and pepper and lots of spices!
Favorite Peranakan herbs include; galangal (lengkuas) which is similar to ginger, turmeric (kunyit), kaffir lime leaves, laksa leaves (daun kesom) which are sometimes known as Vietnamese Mint or Vietnamese cilantro, wild ginger flower buds or torch ginger (bunga kantan) and screwpine or pandan leaves which add a sweet, soft flavor. These herbs and spices all these add that distinctive Malaysian flavour to the dishes.
Traditionally, cooking in Nyonya was extremely laborious and involved a lot of preparation. The spices were ground with a pestle and mortar into noodles. Huge blocks of ice were shaved by hand to serve as the basis for sweet desserts. She had prepared meals all day and the woman’s cooking skills were a major factor in determining whether she was fit to become a stepdaughter. Today kitchens are equipped with mixers, which makes the production of Nyonya food much easier. Although some would say that this is not a real Nyonya kitchen if it is not done by hand, it certainly makes it much more accessible.
Nyonya recipes are passed down from generation to generation and because of the lengthy preparation of these dishes, this is an ideal home kitchen. When you prepare these dishes with Chinese influences, you say that all elements must be perfectly matched to create the consumed feast of Nyonya.
Listed below are some of Baba Nyonya dishes:
Laksa Nyonya (curry noodles with coconut milk)
Laksa Nyonya, a tantalizing coconut curry soup, is a pillar of Baba Nyonya’s cuisine. There are a number of Laksa variations and the ingredients vary from region to region. It is traditionally prepared with a fish-based prawn sauce, often combined with chicken and served with rice noodles that are thick. The final dish is topped with a variety of ingredients, Vietnamese cilantro, cucumber slices, omelette, clams, fish balls and a foo chok with sambal add the spoonful of chilli.
Ayam Pongteh (chicken cooked with Nyonya)
Ayam Pongteh is a juicy meat dish of baked chicken and potatoes in a thick sauce, usually served with steamed rice. Shallot shallots and garlic in a thick paste and fried until fragrant. They are accompanied by a black soy sauce and palm sugar, which give the dish its dark color. Add chicken, water, potatoes and mushrooms and cook until the sauce thickens and the chicken is tender. The ingredients are often soaked overnight to enhance the taste.
Udang Masak Lemak Nenas (Prawn Curry Pineapple)
These dish is known as a creamy dish of shrimp and pineapple, and the dish is known to be fruity, spicy and sour at the same time is always prepared traditionally in special occasions, especially during New Year and family reunion. The pineapple taste which is both sweet and sour goes well with the tamarind and lime leaves. A spicy pepper paste is skipped, wok and transferred to a pot of water and pineapple pieces, where it simmered with coconut milk and shrimp, which makes an exquisite dish full of flavor and flavors.
Ayam Buah Keluak (Chicken with “black walnuts”)
This exotic dish is made from the seeds known as “black walnuts”, a large tree native to the mangroves of Malaysia and Indonesia. The Nuts in the black walnut are known to be poisonous, that is why it is being cooked to quench the poison. They are soaked in cold water for at least two days, after which the pulp is extracted and minced with salt and sugar to a paste before being placed in the shell. , Chicken and Kepayang seeds are simmered for hours and coated with spicy paste and tamarind puree, which gives a spicy dish that melts in the mouth.
Nyonya Mee Siam (fried rice noodles with chili paste)
Siam Siam, a fried vermicelli shrimp dish, was influenced by neighboring Thailand (the name translates to “Thai noodles”). It is served with a boiled egg, a shredded omelet and fish cake. Squeezing Limes Calamansi on the noodles, which are often served with a chili-sambal paste side, give the dish a sour and spicy kick.
Nyonya Cendol (dessert with coconut)
Very similar to cendol, a popular dessert from Southeast Asia, which is made from cinnamon nyonya coconut milk, flavored pandan, gelatinous noodles, red beans and crushed ice added sweetness from Gula Melaka (sugar palm). This delicious frozen dish is refreshing especially on hot Malaysian days.
Assam Laksa (Pasta with spicy fish soup)
Thick rice noodles are served in a spicy fish soup made from fresh herbs and Mackeral. A fresh side dish of grated cucumber, lettuce, pineapple, onions and mint completes the dish. In general, the term Laksa refers to Laksa in the Malay style. There are slight Laksa variations in different parts of the country. This version of Laksa comes from the “Falconer Capital” Malaysia – Penang, famous for its Penang Laksa or Penang Assam Laksa.