As early as the 13th century Chinese from Southern China came to Malacca. Known as Babas, many married local women and the Peranakan or Nonya race was born. (Nonya actually refers to the women.) As Bee Lee tells us, "The Nonya believe food should not only taste good, it should also be well presented". Hence the elaborate care taken with Nonya sweets or kueh. Made with coconut, glutinous rice flour and sugar, they are often coloured with natural ingredients like pandan or screwpine leaves which are soaked and then squeezed to produce a green juice. Once they also used coloured flowers and other leaves for pink and blue effects (these days they are more likely to use food colouring!)
Bee Lee makes kueh koci, balls of sugar, palm sugar and coconut milk sealed inside a pandan, glutinous rice flour, sugar and coconut milk dough and steamed inside a banana leaf.
She also makes onde onde from a paste of boiled sweet potato, rice flour and pandan, filled with white sugar, brown sugar and palm sugar. They are boiled and rolled in coconut... when you bite into them, the melted sugar mixture drips into your mouth.
Her other specialties include kueh lapis, bright pink layers of steamed rice flour cake; little cup cakes called wah koh kueh, which open up like a flower when steamed, and pulut tai tai, blue glutinous rice topped with kaya or coconut custard (made with eggs, coconut, sugar and pandan).
"The Nyonya cakes take years of practice", says Bee Lee, "and not everyone can do them but look at the result. It's interesting, isn't it?"