The Baba Nyonya Food of Malaysia A Micro Cuisine
The delicious hybrid cuisine of Malaysia’s Baba Nyonya is a fusion of Malaysian and Chinese culture. The Peranakan people are the descendants of early Chinese immigrants who settled in the area of Malacca and integrated with the local people. The name Baba (the men) and Nyonya (the women), denotes those of noble Chinese descent who moved to the area and integrated with the local communities. This has been a gradual process lasting over 400 years. Over the centuries, the Baba Nyonya have developed a distinct and fascinating culture and cuisine that is unique to Malaysia’s west coast.
Over time with the influences of these migrant populations, the cuisine of Malaysia became exquisitely blended with the Indian, Thai and Chinese influences. The successful adaptations of the migrants’ native food and the nuances created from the crafting of traditional dishes with nontraditional ingredients became the centre point of Malaysian Nyonya cuisine.
Nyonya cuisine fuses Chinese wok cooking styles with Malaysian ingredients and sauces when you add Indian and Middle Eastern herbs and spices into the mix you have a truly distinctive cuisine that simply explodes with flavour.
Favourite 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 flavour. These herbs and spices all these add that distinctive Malaysian flavour to the dishes.
Nyonya curries tend to use all fresh ingredients from the market (rather than curry powders), and these ingredients get ground into a paste. This curry paste is critical to the development of flavour in every Nyonya curry.
Nyonya recipes are handed down from one generation to the next, and because of the time-consuming preparation of these dishes, it is a cuisine that is at its best when served at home. When preparing these Chinese-influenced dishes, it is said that all the elements must be perfectly balanced to create the consummate Nyonya feast.
Here are the Baba-Nyonya dishes you have to try:
These are the best Baby Nyonya dishes to try as recommended by Nyonya Food.
Chicken Bites or nuggets: Small bite-sized pieces of chicken that have been marinated in oyster sauce, soy sauce, ginger, scallions, black pepper and 5 spice powder they are dipped in egg and flour and deep-fried. Served hot or cold they are considered a great snack after a night out.
Chicken Kapitan: this curry is a distinctly Nyonya flavoured chicken curry using tamarind juice, candlenut, fresh turmeric root and belacan [also spelt belachan or blacan], a shrimp paste, among other ingredients. Besides the usual steamed white rice, this dish is excellent served with Roti Jala.
Kangkung Belacan: Belacan Water Spinach. Kangkung [also spelt Kangkong] is similar to spinach. It is also known as Water Convolvulus, or more commonly, Water Spinach. One of the most popular Malaysian vegetable dish – stir-fried with a blend of chillies, dried shrimps and belacan [also spelt belachan or blacan].
Assam Laksa: Noodles in Tangy Fish Soup – Thick rice noodles are served in a tangy fish soup/gravy made from mackeral and fresh herbs. Fresh garnishing of shredded cucumber, lettuce, pineapple, onion and mint leaves finishes the dish. In general, the term Laksa refers to Malay style laksa.
There are slight variations of laksa in different parts of the country. This version of laksa is from the ‘hawker food capital’ of Malaysia – Penang, famous for it’s Penang Laksa or Penang Assam Laksa.
Laksa – photo courtesy of FindingBeyond
Laksa Lemak: Noodles in Spiced Coconut Soup – Laksa Lemak, usually refers to the Chinese-Malay or Baba Nyonya style of laksa sometimes called Nyonya Laksa, or even Laksa Siam in Penang. Lots of fresh aromatic herbs go into the making of the broth. The key ingredient of this laksa is coconut milk. A mouthwatering coconut curry soup, laksa Nyonya is a mainstay of Baba Nyonya cuisine.
There are a number of laksa variations and ingredients change from region to region. It is traditionally made with a fish-based gravy of prawns, often combined with chicken, and served with thick rice noodles or thin vermicelli. The final dish is garnished with a beautiful array of ingredients, including Vietnamese coriander, sliced cucumber, omelette, clams, fish ball and foo chok (fried bean curd) with a dollop of chilli sambal paste – it’s a must-try.
Ayam Pongteh: Miso Soy Chicken – Chicken is cooked with preserved soybeans [Miso], dark soy sauce, sugar and other ingredients. This recipe is also made with pork Babi Pongteh. Ayam pongteh is a succulent meat dish of stewed chicken and potatoes in a heavy gravy sauce, commonly served with steamed rice.
Belacan Clams: Fresh clams [Lala, in Malay] harvested off the coastlines of Malaysia are stir-fried in a spicy blend of chillies, shallots, lemongrass, galangal and belacan [also spelt belachan or blacan].
Mee Siam: Siamese Noodles
A prawn-flavoured dish of fried vermicelli noodles, mee siam was influenced by neighbouring Thailand (its name translates as “Siamese noodles”). It is served with hard-boiled egg, shredded omelette and fishcake. Calamansi limes are squeezed over the noodles, which are often served with a side of chilli sambal paste, giving the dish a gentle sour and spicy kick.
Rojak: Exotic Malaysian Salad – also called Penang Rojak, is a fruit and vegetable salad tossed in a special sauce. Rojak Sauce, which is made from a thick black molasses-like paste called haeko, pronounced ‘hey-ko’ or Prawn Paste [Otak Udang, in Malay].
This is combined with palm sugar, tamarind paste and other ingredients. Pineapple, apple, guava, green mango, jicama and cucumber are tossed in this sauce with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. Thai Bird chillies are added to give this exotic salad a fiery kick!
Nyonya Cendol (coconut dessert)
Very similar to cendol, a popular Southeast Asian dessert, Baba Nyonya cendol is made with coconut milk, flavoured pandan leaf, jelly noodles, red beans and shaved ice with added sweetness from gula Melaka (palm sugar). This delicious ice-cold delicacy is particularly refreshing on a hot Malay day.