While many ancestral customs and traditions
of their Chinese forefathers are still practiced, Babas and Nyonyas
assimilated the local Malay way of life. This unique marriage of
cultures resulted in a novel marriage of cuisines, both Chinese and
Malay, and is popularly known in Malaysia as Nyonya food.
While Nyonya food contains many of the
ingredients of Chinese food and Malay spices and herbs, Nyonya cuisine
is eclectically seasoned and different than either Chinese or Malay
food. As in Malay cooking, a key ingredient in Nyonya cuisine is 'belacan',
pronounced blah-chan, a dried shrimp paste. A tiny amount of this paste
adds sweetness to meats, intensity to fish and seafood and a 'kick' to
vegetables like Kangkung Belacan.
It makes a flavorful base for sauces and
gravies, adding depth and an intriguing taste that can't be deciphered.
Best described as a natural flavor enhancer, belacan gives the authentic
zest and flavor underlying the dense fabric of spice and herbs.
Nyonya food from the North of
Malaysia-Penang has a preference for tangy or sour food such as the
famous Penang Assam Laksa. Tamarind paste is normally used as a souring
agent. A famous black color molasses-like paste, locally called 'haeko'
pronounced hey-ko or Otak Udang in Malay, normally accompanies Nyonya
Nyonya cooking from the South of Malaysia is
generally sweeter, richer in liberal use of coconut milk and more
traditional Malay spices. In Malacca, Nyonya cooking is heavily
influenced by Portuguese-Eurasian style of cooking. One can easily spot
authentic Nyonya food in Malaysia by its cooking style and the word, "Nyonya",
as a prefix, such as Nyonya Chicken Curry, Nyonya Shrimp Sambal and
Nyonya Fried Rice. Nyonya food is in a unique gastronomic realm of its
own, with specific and subtle nuances of tastes and flavors, quite
undiscovered still in the international culinary world.
Nyonya cuisine is also famous for its Kuih
(cake or dessert), with strong Malay influences - made from local
ingredients such as sweet potatoes, yams, agar-agar, gula Melaka,
coconut milk, glutinous rice and Chinese ingredietns such as red beans,
green beans or mung beans.
Other popular Nyonya dishes are Inche Kabin
(Chicken Bites), Chicken Kapitan (Chicken Curry), Kangkung Belacan (Belacan
Water Spinach), Bubur Cha-Cha (Dessert Porridge), and Cendol (Coconut