Nyonya food, as the name suggested, is the food of the Baba-Nyonya in Malaysia and Singapore. Known also as the Peranakan or the Straits Chinese (Straits-born Chinese), these groups of people are descendants of the very early Chinese immigrants to the Nanyang or 南洋 in Chinese–which literally means the “south sea” region.
The origins of the Baba and Nyonya could be traced all the way back to the Chinese Admiral explorer Cheng Ho, who sailed across the Indian Ocean more than 400 years ago to Melaka, a busy and prosperous trading port back in the early 15th century. Nanyang or 南洋 refers to the the Malay peninsula and the islands of Java.
Nyonya cuisine is generally referred to as the result of inter-marriages between the Chinese immigrants and the local Malays, which produced a unique cuisine where local ingredients such as chilies, belacan (Malaysian shrimp paste) lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, etc. are used. To assimilate to the local culture, these early days Chinese immigrants also adopted local Malay traditions–the men were called Babas and the women were called Nyonyas…
Some historians argued that the inter-marriage was not necessarily the roots of the Baba-Nyonya culture; they claimed that Nyonya is a precisely a word used to describe a Chinese lady who has adopted Malay dressing and cooking while maintaining Chinese culture. This is actually a true statement; my late grandmother who was a Penang Nyonya certainly didn’t marry a local Malay man. In fact, she married my late grandfather who came all the way from China during the Qing dynasty. I heard stories from my late father that he came complete with Qing dynasty’s costume and the signature “Queue” hairstyle: half shaved head with a long pigtail. However, my late grandmother was always dressed in Nyonya kebaya and sarong, with her hair braided neatly in a bun.
Regardless of the history and origins of Nyonya food, making Nyonya food is no simple affair. The unique and highly flavorful cuisine requires abundant amount of time, patience, and skills. A true Nyonya would spend hours and hours pounding her rempah (spices) with batu giling (a flat slab of stone to grind the spices) to cook up authentic Nyonya dishes such as Perut Ikan (pickled fish stomach with vegetables stew), Salted Fish Pineapple Curry(Gulai Kiam Hu Kut in Hokkien), and other scrumptious Nyonya concoctions.
In recent years, there has been an increased interest and urgency to preserve the unique Nyonya culture and Nyonya cuisine. I started this blog to share my passion in Nyonya food. Most importantly, I would like to document the recipes and food of my childhood. I would also like to educate the world about this slowly but surely disappearing–but exceedingly beautiful–cuisine and culture.
If you are in the United States, especially if you live in the New York metro area, you might have heard about Nyonya food from the famed PENANG Malaysian Cuisine chain and its sister restaurant “NYONYA.” And yes, now you can learn more about exquisite Nyonya food and recipes on this blog.
If you are Singaporeans who loved the series “Little Nyonya,” you have come to the right place. You will be able to delve more into Peranakan culture and learn more about Nyonya cuisine here, too. And if you are my fellow Malaysians–especially if you are from Penang or Melaka and of Nyonya-Baba or Peranakan descent, I hope this blog reignite your love, passion, and bygone memories.
Now for my loyal reader at Rasa Malaysia–my hugely popular Chinese recipes, Malaysian recipes, and Asian recipes site–I hope to win your support and readership here. Please subscribe to the feeds, leave me comments, add Nyonya Food to your blogroll and links, and don’t forget to tell your friends and family about this new site.
Now, let’s discover Nyonya culture and cuisine one post at a time. Thank you!
Other Nyonya resources, websites, and blogs:
More Delicious Recipes on Nyonya Food:
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