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The 101 on Nonya cooking


Sometime in the 15th century, Chinese migrants settled in British Malaya (or Malaysia and Singapore today) and Indonesia. Their descendants through marriage with local Malays became known as Peranakans. 


Today, the most well-known aspect of Peranakan culture is possibly their cooking, also known as Nonya cuisine. A type of fusion cuisine, Nonya cooking blends Chinese ingredients with spices and cooking techniques used in Malay or Indonesian culinary arts.


Similar to Malay cooking, a key ingredient in Nonya cuisine is belacan, made from dried shrimp paste. It is used in a great number of Nonya-style dishes, forming a base for sauces and gravies.


Another important ingredient in many Nonya recipes, like laksa, is the rempah, or spice. The various combination of spices are traditionally pounded into a paste with pestle and mortar. And the texture and density can vary for different dishes.


Preparing these ingredients can take hours, which is why Nonya cuisine is best served at home. Fortunately, the use of food processors like the Electrolux EFP5300 can cut the preparation time down to mere minutes with its 2-speed function and multifunctional knife that can chop, mince or shred as needed.


Here are some iconic dishes that are still popular today:

By Tomoaki INABA

Acar – A dish featuring various pickled meats and vegetables. The most common variant is acar awat, or mixed vegetables, although there is also acar keat lah (honey lime/calamansi), achar hu (fried fish), acar kiam hu (salt fish) and acar timun (cucumber).

By Alpha

Assam laksa – Asam laksa consists of a bowl of white rice noodles served in a spicy soup made of fish, tamarind, and laksa leaves. A dollop of pungent belacan is usually served on the side.

By Tomoaki INABA


Ayam buah keluak – A chicken dish cooked with the black nuts from the Kepayang tree, which grows in mangroves in Malaysia and Indonesia.

By Midori

Cap cai – The Nonya take on Chinese-style stir fried vegetables. It also incorporates tofu and dried shrimp. 

By Alpha

Laksa lemak – The southern cousin of Assam laksa, it uses a rich coconut gravy, served with prawns, cockles, lime and a dollop of sambal belacan.

By a_b_normal123

Otak-otak – A mixture of fish pieces and rempah, wrapped in a banana leaf and char grilled. Other regional variations call for steaming instead, with a more custard-like texture.

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