My great-mother is the first Eurasian with Dutch ancestry mix then my mother being the second with Portuguese ancestry from the Portuguese colonization in Malacca and I being third with French/Italian. Even though I look more western, doesn’t mean I do not identify with my Asian roots.
For those who don’t know about the peranakan people and it’s culture, here’s a little known fact.
(On the left is of my great-grandmother and my grandparents on the right).
My grandmother comes from a very long line of Peranakan ancestry. Born and raised in Singapore, she was brought up at a very young age to become a suitable housewife to her future family, which meant learning how to cook and sew by the time she was 9 years old. It is a family secret tradition to hand down recipes to their future daughters, because of the time-consuming preparation of these dishes, it is a cuisine that is often at its best when served at home. Most of the Asian cooking was taught by my grandmother and mother, since young I would stand and watch my mom or anyone in her family cook.Malaysia and Singapore are known to be multiracial with; Indian, Chinese, Malay as the biggest communities. Each practice their own culture and lifestyle that is shared among the other races. This has been practiced and cultivated since the early 15th century, in Malacca, where the town is known for it’s peranakan community; who refer themselves as “baba nonya.” Peranakan is translated as “descendant,” the peranakan tribe migrated from China who came to the Malay archipelago and British settlements.
The Chinese immigrant traders eventually settled in South East Asia, marrying and integrating into the local community, making peranakans commonly known as Straits Chinese. Many migrated and settled in places such as Malaysia (Malacca and Penang), Singapore, Thailand (Bangkok), Indonesia (Jakarta, Semarang, Surabaya). Most Peranakans are not Muslim, and have retained the traditions of ancestor worship of the Chinese, though some converted to Christianity.
The word “baba” is the term to address strait Chinese men, while “nonya” is for the strait Chinese women, a term respected/affectionate for women of prominent social standing known as “madame” or “auntie” among their community. They are known to speak their own language which is a mix of malay and hokkien that has been broken into a creole dialect that became their own style of communication. Peranakans have preserved their Chinese culture through furniture, crockery, art, jewelry, clothing and cuisine.
By inter-marrying with local Malays, Chinese straits and other influences, peranakan cuisine has it’s unique “nonya” style from the Malay influence developed using typical spices and the popular use of pork which is different to the local Malay cuisine that cannot serve pork due to religious purposes. Nonya cooking is the result of blending Chinese ingredients with various distinct spices and cooking techniques used by the Malay/Indonesian community. The diversity of cuisine has been increased further by the “hybridisation” of different styles that gives peranakan interpretations of Malay food that is similarly tangy, aromatic, spicy and herbal.
Though a dying culture, some are still trying to retain their language, cuisines and customs. Like Mrs Lee’s I hope to inspire others in continuing the Nyonya tradition to the future generation.
(Photo looking into the 3 generation: left is my mom, in the middle is my grandma and I am on the right).