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.
10 Nov 2021 - 12:48 PM  UPDATED 10 Nov 2021 - 12:49 PM

--- Explore Australia's Malaysian flavours with Adam Liaw and Poh Ling Yeow in Adam & Poh's Malaysia in Australia, 8.30pm Thursdays on SBS Food and SBS On Demand from 7 October, with subtitled versions available to stream on SBS On Demand in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. For recipes, articles and more head to the program page. ---


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.

Kueh koci

Kueh koci are a vibrant Malaysian dessert consisting of a coconut and palm-sugar filling in a rice and sweet potato dough, wrapped in banana leaves.

Roti canai

Roti ('bread' in several languages, including Malay) is Indian by origin, but almost universal in Asian kitchens. It's commonly served in Malaysia with spicy curries.

Malaysian chicken satay (satay ayam)

A good satay should taste delicious even without a sauce. Give the chicken a long marinade and season it well, then grill and serve with Poh’s delicious Nyona peanut sauce.

Rendang terlagi-lagi

Perak is known for its different varieties of rendang. Terlagi-lagi means “more and more” and once you try this rendang you’ll see why.

Episode guide | Adam & Poh's Malaysia in Australia
Adam and Poh’s Malaysia in Australia brings two of Australia’s favourite cooks together on-screen for the very first time.