Tropical Spice Garden hosted us to the recent Meet the Chef’s event during Penang International Food Fest 2017. We sampled a beautiful Nyonya course dinner with a detailed narration of the culture and cuisine. This privilege gave us a peek into the schooling of the Peranakan or Straits Born Chinese Nyonya daughter-in-law by the Matriarch.
WHO IS NYONYA SU PEI
Nyonya Su Pei is the wife of the eldest son, Baba Jerry. Su Pei who is not born a Peranakan had to endure the demanding and exacting principles that a Peranakan mother (the Matriarch of the family) would teach her daughter.
The common traits of a Nyonya are her fastidiousness about certain cultural practices, and her pride in cooking and meticulous sewing. When a Nyonya sews, she embroiders elaborate kebaya tops and intricate beaded slippers!
The pride of the Peranakan culture is found in the kitchen. The cuisine’s distinct and complexity of taste is achieved by finding perfect balance of taste.
The five taste of Nyonya food has notes of salty, sweet, sour, spicy and fragrance, beautifully layered.
Good colour, freshness of ingredients and bold flavours of crushed toasted spices are the standard bench mark for good flavouring.
Each process is traditionally made by hand and requires hours of laborious preparation.
The life of a Nyonya revolves around mastering these skill sets where everything is homemade and hand made. Hours are spent using a mortar and pestle to pound, crush and grind, chillis, shallots and spices for the daily cooking.
THE TASTE TEST
Have you seen an old Nyonya eat? She tastes a tiny morsel and rolls it around in her mouth, tasting the flavour with her tongue.
All Nyonyas are trained in the same manner, however the secrets of cooking lies with the Matriarch. Only the favoured Nyonya is taught the nuances and finer points in seasoning. They are able to replicate traditional recipes accurately.
The dishes prepared by Nyonya Su Pei are comfort foods. The dishes are simple staples that are eaten daily in a Peranakan family.
Special dishes that are cooked for festivities and prayers that are more complex and requires days of preparation.
KERABU ONG LAI
Pineapple | Citrus | Chili | Pounded Spices | Herbs
The bright, colourful and fragrant Nonya pineapple salad is a fine balance of taste.
HUAN CHOO HEOK MASAK LEMAK
Sweet Potato | Potato Leaves | Coconut Milk | Spices
The sweet potato cubes and leaves are cooked in a peppery spicy and rich creamy santan based soup.
Fish Stew | Sour | Spicy | Fruity
This hot spicy soup is made with whole fish and has a spicy sour and peppery taste.
Chicken | Potatoes | Coconut Milk | Spices
The mark of a great Gulai Kay is the layer of oil on top. This is achievable from a slow method of frying the ground wet spices until the oil breaks.
BEE KOH MOY
Black Glutinous Rice | Sugar | Coconut Milk
A sweet porridge dessert made with black glutinous rice, water, sugar, and topped with slightly salted thick coconut crème.
Nyonya Su Pei’s ability to replicate the authentic balance of taste is honed from sheer hard work, patience and fortitude.
Her years in the kitchen are now celebrated with her diners’ big smiles and empty plates.
I salute you, Nyonya Su Pei.
Nyonya Su Pei Private Dining | Facebook
2, Lebuhraya Bodhi, 10400 George Town, Penang
Call: Baba Jerry 016-4106116
Business hours: Only Friday and Saturday dinner, reservation required.