16 Jan 2015: Nonya Flavours

An excellent collection of Penang Nonya recipes shared among a circle of nonya ladies. Many of the dishes are photographed in beautiful, original nyonyaware to recreate their past splendours.

nyonya flavoursAt a casual glance, there is little to set nonya (or nyonya) cuisine apart from other local offerings  – the red and brown tinged sauces, the soups, noodles and whiff of spices. But the similarity ends there. Food connoisseurs will tell you thatnonya cuisine alone is broadly divided into two categories – northern and southern. The former possesses Thai influences, featuring liberal use of hot, piquant and tart; those from the latter displays a greater Indonesian influence, with coconut milk, spices, herbs and roots being dominant ingredients.

More than just another cookbook, the recently reprinted Nonya Flavours expands the experience with richly illustrated articles on Straits Chinese history, special occasion foods, dinnerware, cooking spaces, cooking methods and an incredibly useful pictorial glossary of ingredients. Here is where one gets to see what ingredients like fish stomach, black nut, alkaline water and dried sole look like. The chapter reads like the ingredients for a magical spell, and indeed, for those who have sampled nonya food, the experience is often likened to a magical carpet ride!

nonya-2The over 150 recipes are broadly gathered under 14 main groups, such as pickles, snacks, salads, soups, seafood, different meats, festive foods, sweetmeats and confinement food. The recipes, perfected over eons, have been handed down like precious, secret treasures from one generation to the next. Indeed, some of them have never before been published or featured on restaurant menus and a few are even elusive, seldom seen at all even in a nonya home! Each and every recipe is illustrated in full colour.

Despite the rigours of preparation and the quaint yet exacting standards of proper presentation, classicnonya cuisine has withstood changing lifestyles and culinary vogues. Over time, standards may have slackened as people take eating for granted. Through this definitive cookbook, perhaps the rich flavours of Penang’s nonyakitchens will be restored to its original splendour whilst imparting the most unique and elegant cookery techniques.