In the third week of the Malaysia Kitchen Blogger Summit, I will like to introduce a cuisine much closer to my heart – The Peranakan, the Straits Chinese or also known as Nyonya or Nonya. There are 3 countries in the world where most Peranakan lives – Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Peranakan is a marriage of Chinese settlers to local Malays. The Peranakan itself is vaguely divided into two main groups. The ones in the East coast (Kelantan and Terengganu) which are more Malay influenced and the ones in the West coast like Malacca which are more Chinese influence. The communities in both Penang and Singapore were established later. There is so much history behind this very special, vibrant and fusion culture and I am so proud to be part of it.
My search for a good Nyonya restaurant that is representative of the culture has been quite fruitless. A few claims that they are Nyonya restaurants but sorry, it did not qualify in my books. I am a little more picky and so this week even though I am taking you to a Nyonya restaurant, the main focus is on the peranakan kueh. Ingredients such as coconut milk, sweet potatoes, tapioca, palm sugar and pandan leaves are the usual suspect in a kueh. It is also usually quite starchy as it uses rice flour, glutinous rice flour and/or tapioca.
This is the first time that I have driven so far on my own for food. Mister has gone to Sydney for work and I am currently alone in Melbourne with mum. I have been thoroughly spoilt by Mister. He was my chauffeur and partner in crime like forever. It was kind of strange not to have him around. I did not have to research on how to go to a destination and now I do. But thank God for GPS! My mum was my companion and away we went. I did arrive in one piece and without too much hassle. But did Lim’s Nyonya Hut deliver?
Mum and I shared everything. We ordered a Hainanese chicken rice and a popiah to share. The popiah arrived first. Popiah is a type of spring roll. The popiah skin is very crepe like. The popiah that I am used to has a underlaying sweet sauce like hoisin and then slathered with an optional chilli sauce. The popiah at Lim’s had either. We were told that it is a rather dumbed down chilli garlic sauce. Mum requested for it to be more spicy but the wait staff declined her by saying that all the popiah were pre-prepared and not made fresh. Hmmm….. that is seriously disappointing. The ingredients in the popiah was even less appealing. There were bits of chicken and prawns with layering of cabbage. And where is the sweet or chilli sauce? Overall, it was quite bland.
The Hainanese chicken rice was quite pleasant. The rice was nicely flavoured with chicken stock but it was quite gluggy. The chicken was pretty succulent and both mum and I enjoyed this dish. Not quite the same as mum is used to but she happily finished everything on the plate. The little set back was the amount of fresh chilli paste and minced garlic offered. We did end up asking for more as it only lasted us a mouthful of chicken.
Our teh tarik only arrived after we finished the chicken rice and popiah. Teh tarik is also known as pulled tea. The YouTube video below illustrates how teh tarik is meant to be made.
When tea is pulled, it always leaves the froth in the glass. It is obvious that this tea has not been pulled and also been very diluted. Lacks the black tea flavour. It is almost impossible to find a good teh tarik in Melbourne as pulling tea is a skill that is not easy to pick up. Looks simple but not.
Ondeh Ondeh is made from glutinous rice flour and flavoured with pandan. It is filled with dark palm sugar and it turns to liquid when the glutinous rice balls are dropped into boiling water to cook the dough. When it is cool, the ball is covered with grated coconut. The green exterior is a soft chew and and then followed by a sweet liquid palm sugar. It is delicious. I could have at least a dozen if no one stops me. Mum and I finished these green balls in no time.
Traditionally, ang ku kueh are eaten during special occasions like birthdays, first month newly born and weddings. To translate it literally, it means red tortoise cake. Tortoise represents long life and hence they are so popular during these occasions. Why tortoise? Don’t you think the shape is like one and also the patterns are quite similar to the patterns on a tortoise back. Mum reckons that the skin of these ang ku kueh are pretty good. Quite thin, a nice chew and the fillings aren’t too sweet. I quite like it except it will be better if there were more attention to detail on the pattern. It seems that they were all just done in a rush.
The next 3 kuehs are all quite similar in cooking method. I love the thousand layered cake. It is the one with thin dark and light brown stripes. Many eggs are required to make this which is why it is quite expensive if you get the whole cake. This cake is not difficult to make but just very tedious. Each layered needs to be cooked and then followed by the next. And this method is the same with the other 2 kuehs.
The coloured kueh lapis is not to be confused with the thousand layered cake which is also known as kueh lapis to many. The coloured kueh lapis is made from rice flour and coconut milk. As a kid, I remembered that I will eat it layer by layer. And I also remembered that my fingers will get all sticky and I will just wipe on whatever I wore that day. And yes, Grandma was definitely not impressed.
I have not had the Indonesia kueh lapis before. The layering method is the same. The brown stripes has a chocolate flavour. How weird but I don’t know enough of it to comment. Mum loves all three and according to her, the thousand layered cake is her favourite. I have to agree.
This is just a short introduction to Nyonya cuisine. And my search for good Nyonya restaurants in Melbourne continues.
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