Nyonya Night - 5th October 2013

Post date: 29-Sep-2013 22:07:11

Nyonya is the name for the women of the Peranakan, or Straits Chinese. These are the Chinese immigrants that came to Malaysia to work on the tin mines and rubber plantations, and stayed, absorbing the local culture and foods into their diet. My mother is Nyonya so although we are Chinese by origin, I am the 7th generation born out of the country. We have Chinese traditions but these have been subtly, and in some cases not so subtly, altered by the other cultures around us, the Malays, the Indians, and even the British. My family speak a dialect of Chinese, but my grandmother wore a sarong kebaya, an item of dress that no Chinese would recognise, and made out of local batik fabric. My mother will actually be helping me with this one so it's going to be pretty authentic!

We have a family curry powder - obviously adopted from the Indians. Every few months the family get several kilos of cardamom, cloves, cumin and other spices, and take them to the miller. The resulting family curry powder is distributed throughout the branches of the family in any container, usually old squash bottles, that they can find.

Come and have a taste of Nyonya cuisine. Its origins are Chinese but it is altered by alien ingredients which are native to Malaysia like coconut and local herbs and spices.

This is what we would call a small family meal

The menu will be:

Stir fried Nyonya Pork and Veg - my mother's choice of dish, tasty and comforting, served on lettuce leaves. I don't know why she likes to make this as there's a lot of chopping, but it's very popular.


Our family's Chicken Curry - using the family's own curry powder - I once met a man who was in his 70s and could still remember my grandmother's chicken curry from when he ate it in his 20s! I'll tell you that story over dinner...

Otak-Otak - another classic Nyonya dish originating from the northern island of Penang, it's spiced fish which can be steamed or grilled with herbs and banana leaves; we will steam it. Obviously the banana leaf cooking method is adopted and you can see the influence of local herbs that you may recognise from Thai cuisine.

Sambal Goreng Kembing - spicy cauliflower made with sambal belachan, a fermented shrimp paste

"Fatty Pork" - a favourite childhood dish of my cousins and I, my grandmother used to cook this for us, made with meltingly soft belly pork.

Rojak - a spicy salad made with vegetables and fruit and a thick, rich, sweet-sour sauce

Shredded Veg - a family "concoction" made with egg, shredded veg and glass noodles. We don't really know what it's called! My mum was laughing. But it was a common dish on the family dining table.


Nyonya Kuih - these are local sweet snacks (there is not much concept of a "dessert" in Asia). Malaysians are thrilled to see them - because you really can't get these in this country, even at restaurants. I had to learn to make them myself if I wanted to eat them! Kuih Talam is a pandan-flavoured cake made with rice flour, with a coconut cream topping, and is my favourite of all the Nyonya Kuihs - I doubt very much Pandan could grow in China. Kuih Kodok is a kind of banana fritter (my mum's childhood favourite), which I don't usually make for the supperclub because it involves deep frying batches of fritters, but since you are all one group and can take it in turns to eat batches without jealousy, I'll do it for you! She thinks it's too much mess but I'll do it anyway...

Cost will be £45 of which £35 will go direct to Medecins Sans Frontieres.