27 March 2016: Penang authentic Nyonya cuisine

Bee Lee Tan’s critically acclaimed cookbooks brought her recipes and culinary skills into the kitchens of both Western and Asian homes. By articulating the culture and cuisine of the Peranakan community, she has enlivened the memories of some of these recipes while helping to preserve and promote her nyonya heritage.

pg_nyonya_cuisinepenang-hawker's delightWhat is it about Nyonya food that is so compelling? It reflects the tremendous variety of taste of Malaysians. Like their art, culture and languages, the Baba-Nyonya have a unique style of their own. These two cookbooks not only give you the pleasure of cooking and eating authentic Nyonya cuisine, but they also provide an insight into the diminishing culture of the community.

Even though one is spoilt for choice when choosing a Nyonya cookbook from the myriad titles available, it remains extremely difficult to find traditional and authentic recipes. Inexperience on the part of some author-cooks, working without the full understanding of Nyonya food culture, often result in producing ‘fused’ cuisine. In these two volumes which have been made available again in Malaysia, the author uses her four-generation-old Nyonya heritage and her own childhood memories as the backdrop to the unveiling of her most treasured culinary secrets.

In writing Penang Nyonya Cuisine – Hawkers’ Delight, she selected over 200 authentic recipes, ranging from simple sweetmeats to elaborate savoury concoctions, giving you the opportunity and the pleasure of both cooking and eating Nyonya cuisine and sharing the results with friends and family. The companion volume,Penang Authentic Nyonya Cuisine – Mother’s Recipes features even more: recipes, priceless tips, tricks and techniques behind every signature dish. More than just another cookbook, the reader is also treated to glimpses inside the author’s childhood memories, and a succinct history on the culture and culinary practices of the Baba-Nyonya.

Both experienced chefs and intrepid aspirants will have little trouble following the simple sequence of steps in the recipes. In the quest for authenticity, the writer has travelled to Malacca and sought out friends and relations to verify her recipes. She is careful to keep everything as traditional and ‘fusion-free’ as possible.

About the author: Malaysian-born Bee Lee Tan descends from a Nyonya family of exceptionally good cooks. Once banned from the kitchen for her curiosity as a child, she is now an expert in Nyonya cooking. Bee Lee has conducted master classes at Beaconfield, Fremantle, Australia as well as cooking classes in Perth’s T.A.F.E. Technical Colleges and elsewhere. She owned a Nyonya restaurant in Perth, where she also lives.