Uniquely Singaporean Food
Few cuisines tickle the taste-buds as deliciously as the city-state’s national cuisine does.
By VIOLET OON
Singapore is home to one of the most interesting and delicious cuisines in Asia – Peranakan cuisine.
When some of the early Chinese traders (mostly Hokkien men from China’s Fujian province) settled down in the Straits Settlement of Singapore, Malacca and Penang, many of them eventually married local women, resulting in the Straits-born Chinese or Peranakans, also known as the Babas (men) and Nonyas (women).
From them evolved a unique cuisine. With its rich and spicy flavours, this is a cuisine that easily appeals to Indian palates which is not surprising when one considers that Peranakan cuisine combines Malay/Indonesian, Chinese and some Indian influences – especially through the use of turmeric, coconut milk and chillies.
It is commonly flavoured with shallots, chillies, belacan (fermented prawn paste), peanuts, preserved soybeans and galangal (a ginger-like root). Thick coconut milk is used to create the sauce that flavours the prime ingredients.
Here are three of the most well-known Peranakan dishes.
Buah Keluak Ayam
This is the classic Peranakan dish with which a Peranakan cook is judged. The black Buah Keluak nut is soaked for two days, scrubbed, then cracked open at the top, the black creamy flesh is extracted, pounded well into a paste and then stuffed back. It is cooked with a mixture of spices and chicken and results in a sour, hot thick gravy which is lightly blackened by the flesh of the nut. You eat it by extracting the flesh from the nut with a small spoon and mixing it into the gravy.
Satay Ayam Goreng
This is normally the first dish that a young girl learns to cook because it introduces her to the spice range without having to deal with too many spices – so it is an easy introduction for the young maiden.
Nonya Chap Chye
This is a dish which means “10 vegetables” and in the past this was part of a celebration meal as having 10 vegetables at a time in a Chinese meal was considered a luxury. It forms a part of the Peranakan meal experience and is part of the festive table called Tok Panjjang.
Chap Chye Nonya
- Fry prawn shells and heads in about 3 tablespoons oil till fragrant and red, add water and simmer till the stock is rich – add to the pork stock.
- Heat a wok, add about 1/2 cup oil, add the garlic and shallots and stir fry before adding the tau cheo and then stir till fragrant. Add the mushrooms and stir fry 3 to 4 minutes, then add the lily buds, stir fry and add all the rest of the ingredients, except the prawns and cabbage. Add enough of the prawn stock pork stock to cover the ingredients. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, add prawns, simmer further till cooked.
- This mixture can be made ahead and frozen. An hour before eating, simmer again, add the cabbage and enough extra stock to cover the gravy and boil till the cabbage is softened.
- Serve with sambal belacan.
• Small prawns (peeled): 800gms
• Water: 4 cups
• Belly of pork: 300gms (boiled in 2 cups water and shredded thinly, keep the water)
• Garlic cloves: 15 (pounded till fine)
• Shallots: 10 (pounded till fine)
• Tau cheo: 2 to 3 tbsp (pounded)
• Sweet tau kee: 2 pieces (soaked briefly, drain and cut and deep fry till crispy)
• Cabbage: 500gms (cut into pieces)
• Dark soya sauce: 1 tbsp
• Salt : 1/2 to 1 tsp
• Sugar: 1 tsp
• Vegetable oil: 3 tbsp + 1/2 cup
SOAKED TO SOFTEN
• Lily buds (kim chiam): 50gms (remove from water when soft, tie into knots, after removing the hard knob)
• Black cloud’s ears (bok gee) : 1 handful (remove from water when soft)
• Chinese dried mushrooms: 1 handful (removed from water and squeezed dry)
• Bean curd sticks (tau kee): 2 pieces (cut and deep fried till crispy)
• Bean vermicelli (tang hoon): 1 handful
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