History of Eurasian Food in Malaysia



History of Eurasian Food in Malaysia

What sort of food would you expect from a Christian cook living in Malaysia, whose ancestors were Portuguese, Malay, Javanese and Indian ? To find the answer, head for Malacca (Melaka), the historic town on Peninsular Malaysia's west coast, just 150 kilometers from the capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL).

When the sultanate of Malacca fell to Portuguese invaders in 1511, the new rulers sought to establish control by encouraging Portuguese soldiers to marry local girls, and by bringing a number of Portuguese girls to marry local men.

Portuguese rule ended more than 350 years ago, yet in the so-called Portuguese Settlement of Malacca, families have names such as Da Silva, Dias and Sequeira, and many of the people speak Cristao, a Portuguese-based dialect.

The only things Portuguese about Malacca's Eurasian community today are the Catholic faith and the names, and many of the people living here are often a mixture of several different Asian races.

The children of cross-cultural marriages during the 19th and 20th centuries, where one parent was most commorily English or Dutch, blend into Malaysian society today, and there are no enclaves of these Eurasians such as the one in Malacca.

Naturally, the mixed heritage of Malaysia's Eurasians has produced a fascinating cuisine with many excellent dishes. Cooks of Portuguese descent are renowned for their generous spicing, particularly in such dishes as Devil Curry, an adaptation of Goanese Vindaloo where vinegar and chilies vie for attention.

Perhaps the most striking characteristic of Eurasian cooks is their readiness to borrow ingredients from many cultures. Malay herbs combine with a favorite Chinese cut, belly pork, Indian brown mustard, vinegar and a paste of freshly pounded chilies. English or Dutch-style dishes are transformed from innocuous stews to distinctly Eurasian  dishes with the addition of a splash of oyster or soy sauce, a handful of spices, a few green chilies or sour tamarind juice.

With so many culinary traditions to choose from, it's not surprising that Malaysia's Eurasians have produced such as repertoire of unusual dishes.


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