For those who love Japanese ramen, 一蘭 Ichiran Tonkotsu Ramen should not sound unfamiliar. Hailing from 博多 Hakata, Fukuoka, they are one of the the first to popularise this stye of ramen from the south characterised by a rich and creamy bone broth with branches all over Japan. It is not only their ramen itself that makes them unique but also the way of ordering ramen, and also the sheer experience of dining in an Ichiran ramen outlet itself that makes things interesting…
There are many kuehs which we grew up eating and enjoying, often not just because they taste good but also the other dimensions of the gastronomic experience that surpass that from just the palate that makes each bite memorable. Like lapis sagu or kueh lapis beras, which can be made more fun by peeling the kueh layer by layer, or in the case of ondeh ondeh, the sheer joy one receives as every one of these sticky and chewy balls explodes with each mouthful to unleash an avalanche of sweet and savory juices from within…
When one thinks about Peranakan cuisine, what comes to mind immediately are probably the elaborate dishes one would see being showcased in a Tok Panjang feast. Ayam Masak Keluak , Kuah Hee Pio, Itek Sioh, Ikan Gerang Asam etc… laok ari besair as they are called in Baba Patois, to mean dishes specially cooked for special occasions like weddings and birthday celebrations. But we often forget that there are many dishes which Peranakan households enjoy on a daily basis, simpler dishes requiring less time to whip up which are by no means less delicious. So here are some of these everyday dishes, laok ari ari which you can also whip up for your everyday meals.
Sambal Jantong Pisang is an interesting dish, and one which is uniquely Peranakan. I love it for its kerabu-like freshness and crunchy textures, intermingled with the richness and spiciness of the coconut milk dressing. It used to be commonly served as a dish on the Tok Panjang banquet on traditional weddings, for its tedious making process seems most befitting of the grandeur and scale of this solemn once-in-a-lifetime event. More importantly as I was told by an old Baba, the dish is particularly meaningful for the occasion as bananas are symbolic for one to be bountiful blessed with many children, the wish for the newly weds to bear so, hopefully as many as the elongated flowers one would find in each unopened banana bud, layer after layer, generation after generation.
We enjoy homecooked food a lot. And because of that, we enjoy cooking at home a lot. What seemed to be a chore in the past, helping my mum wash the vegetables, cut the ingredients, tumbok the rempah in the past became what I missed the most now that mum is no longer with us. The dishes are usually very simple, spanning across a good range of Peranakan fare, not forgetting dishes from Chinese cuisine which she’d learnt from my grandmothers, our neighbours, her colleagues-turned friends at work, our old neighbours, and even from the vegetable sellers, fishmongers, butchers and hawkers from whom she will steal a recipe or cooking tip from. From them, she expanded her culinary repertoire that stretched across other cuisines to cook dishes from these dialectal groups when she didn’t even know how to speak those tongues! Amazing how fast and effortless it was for her to learn new dishes, sometimes indirectly from just tasting it once or twice would she be able to decode the recipe or figure out the cooking methods. Those were the days when experimentation was the fun thing to do and authenticity was never a question in mind.
It is always exciting to be back in Melaka and even more so at Casa Del Rio. Tucked in an idyllic spot near to the mouth of Melaka River, the hotel offers the tranquility of luxurious lodging and hospitality complete with the the convenience of being so near to the heart of all the bustling sights and sounds this beautiful city has to offer. I’m so glad to be back here again, not just to stay and enjoy the comforts of its amenities but more importantly to sample the all new Ala Carte Dinner Menu just recently made available at Case Del Rio’s key restaurant, the River Grill.
Literature and publications on the Peranakan community are far and few in between, so when a new book on this unique group to the Malay Archipelago becomes available, it is always met with much excitement and anticipation, and the new “Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum – Home of a Peranakan Family since 1861” is no exception . Fresh and hot from the publishers just a couple of weeks back, many of us await gleefully for a glimpse and surely, it did not disappoint.