The Chinese have always excelled historically as travellers.
Centuries before Marco Polo made his famous journey half-way across the
world, the Chinese traders, scholars and monks had voyaged as far west
as Afghanistan and as far south as Sumatra. And when Melaka (Malaysia)
was established as one of the world's great trading centres in the
fifteenth century, even more Chinese flocked to the city. Some of the
Chinese traders decided to move there permanently and took Malay wives.
And this is how the Nyonya culture begins.
The basic essentials in Nyonya cooking are lemon grass (serai),
galangal (lengkuas), coconut milk (santan), chilies and limes as well as
palm sugar (gula Melaka), glutinous rice flour and screw pine (pandan)
Look at the colorful
Talam range of
Nyonya Kuih which are very pleasing to the eye as well as the taste buds.
Kuih Lapis and
Pulut Tekan with its accompaniment of
Seri Kaya can
be used as centerpieces for any functions. Of all the Talam, Pulut Tekan
is the most exciting and appealing. Talam means tray and so the kuih
presented here will all be done in the steaming tray. Coconut milk,
grated coconut, eggs, glutinous rice, rice flour are used in endless
ways in the making of the Talam range with delectable end results.
Certain iron-clad rules must be followed
for the results to be perfect anytime. For example, the coconut must not
be too old, and only the white part must be used. Otherwise, the kuih
will be too oily. If there are droplets of water on the bottom layer,
the top layer will not be able to stick. So use a cloth on gently dab
such droplets away.
Basic to Nyonya cooking
are numerous spices, chilies, spring onions, lemongrass, and pungent
roots, pounded to just the right consistency in a mortar and pestle.
This rempah is cooked in oil for a few minutes before being stirred into
the other ingredients. Nonya cooks are very proud of their skill when it
comes to pounding spices. It is said that an experienced cook can tell
from listening to the rhythm of the pounding, whether the person is a
good cook or not, and from the sound made by the pestle which spices is
A Nyonya cook will use
Malay spices, coconut milk, and
sambals (dipping sauces) to create her dishes, but adds less
chili, peppercorns, and turmeric than would a Malay cook. Nevertheless,
nyonya food is spicy compared to Chinese food. Rich with coconut milk,
it incorporates roots, such as turmeric, ginger, and galangal, as well
as aromatic leaves and
belacan (shrimp paste). Nyonya cooks have developed a line of
desserts and cakes from
Malaccan palm sugar (Gula Melaka) and syrup, and freshly
grated coconut and coconut cream. A particular favorite is naga sari,
a soft white jellylike pudding made of mung beans, sugar, and coconut
milk. Nyonya cooking is considerably sweeter and milder than