A subsection of Malaysian and Singaporean cooking, Nyonya or Peranakan cuisine is best known for zesty laksas, dainty kuehs (sweets) and fiery sambal belachan. Earn your stripes by nailing these basics.
30 Oct 2020 - 11:47 AM  UPDATED 2 Nov 2020 - 9:15 PM

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The culinary history of Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine is a long and rich one and is built on a fusion of ingredients. Find out more about the Nyonya cuisine here. In Destination Flavour Singapore, Adam Liaw met Violet Oon, a Peranakan food legend who showcased some of her Nyonya style with her own beef lemak.

Here are 5 ways you can nail the basics of Nyonya cooking.

1. Sambal balachan

This much-loved chilli paste is a spicy accompaniment to any curry, stir-fry or noodle dish. Poh Ling Yeow might recommend using a food processor to grind your spices, but if you want to earn your Nyonya cooking stripes manual is a must ­, so grab that mortar and pestle! It’s believed the juices of the chilli will only exude when pounded, not blended, giving you a superior sambal belachan.

2. Coconut-palm sugar pancakes (kueh dadar)

Nyonyas must have a sweet tooth. What else would explain their dexterous dessert-making skills? These coconut-filled pandan pancakes are perfect with a cup of tea.

3. Assam laksa

“Unlike the more well-known coconut-milk based curry laksa, the base broth is made from fish, tamarind and torch ginger flower, resulting in a fragrant and sour soup. Serve with chewy, translucent noodles and garnished with the lively flavours of fresh pineapple, cucumber, red onion, and shrimp molasses.” Christina Leow, Poh & Co. 2

4. Sweet Nyonya zong (sticky rice cake)

They may look like triangular tamales, but these pyramid-shaped glutinous rice cakes contain a sweetened pork belly centre. Zong, or joong as they’re known in Cantonese, require a great deal of time and skill – try 9 hours combined time of preparation and cooking ­– so they’re best made in the company of fellow cooks you like. If you manage to master these rice cakes, you deserve Nyonya sous chef status. 

5. Nyonya beef lemak

A delicious example of Nyonya's fusion feels IS this meaty lemak taps into both Malay and Indonesian influences through the use of spices and coconut milk. Prepared by Peranakan food legend, Violet Oon, the recipe delivers melt-in-your-mouth beef shin and a moreish, creamy sauce, thanks to the coconut and candlenut combo.