As I’d mentioned on several occasions on this blog, Penang Peranakan cuisine differs quite significantly from their southern counterparts in Malacca and Singapore. The babas and nyonyas from the island state near the northern end of the peninsula has their own menu of dishes which are unique to their own culture. Perut Ikan, Inche Kabin, Jiu Hu Char and Kari Kapitan are just some examples. The art of kerabu making, inherited from Thai cuisine plays a significant part of the culinary repertoire of the Penang Peranakans. Kerabu Kacang Botol, Kerabu Hai Tay, Kerabu Bok Hnee are amongst my favorites. They are refreshing sides which can be served along with more hearty dishes, or good with just some ikan goreng and sambal belacan as part a simple meal. Speaking of simple meals, there is even Kerabu Beehoon which is perfect as one-dish meal on its own!
It had been a long and eventful month for MFF Penang and it is with mixed feelings that it has finally come to an end. The few weeks prior to June was particularly gruelling, having no clue on what to cook and what to present. Like the other MFF events, whipping up dishes for Penang MFF provided an opportunity for me to get to know more, not only about the food in Penang but also the people behind them.
A big thank you to one and all who has taken the time to come up with these delectable dishes. Many of you like Cynthia, Amie, Lena, Phong Hong, Cindy, Doreen, Mary … etc shown great support by whipping up multiple dishes. The event also drew the attention of several Penangites who had expressed interest or shown concern over the authenticity of the dishes prepared. Well, the objective of MFF is to promote the awareness of some of these localised dishes, some of which are already dying in the trade as we speak. While staying true to the originality of the actual dish is important, it is not of utmost priority… at least not for me. What was more important, is the effort put in and willingness to try, despite the need to venturing into unfamiliar and undulating terrain to prepare dishes which one has never tried before, both in cooking and in eating. So kudos to you all! Now you can really say that you’d been there and done that!
Penang Straits Chinese cuisine is heavily influenced by Thai cuisine owing much to its geographical proximity. About 500 years ago, Penang was part of the Kedah Sultanate which was ruled by the Siamese overlords. So the exertion of cultural and hence culinary imperialism stemmed back long and far. The earliest Peranakans in Penang were said to have been from Phuket, further ascertaining and strengthening the inseparable links between Penang Peranakan cuisine and Thai cuisine. This is very apparent in Penang Otak Otak, which bear uncanny resemblance to the Thai Hor Mok Pla. But the one culinary discipline in Penang Peranakan cuisine which is truly exemplary of Thai influence is the art of “Kerabu” making.
This month’s Malaysian Food Fest brings us to Penang! To date, MFF has brought us on a virtual culinary tour to almost all the states in Malaysia. As we come almost to an end of this long journey, it is time for us to pay a long due visit to this beautiful island found on the northern tip of the Straits of Malacca.
“Modern” history of Penang stretches back almost half a millenium ago when it was part of the Kedah Sultanate that was ruled by the Siamese overlords who named the island Koh Maak to mean “Areca nut palm Island” in Thai. Admiral 郑和 Cheng Ho from the Ming Dynasty then pinned this place as 槟榔屿 on his maps, the Chinese equivalent of its Thai name, when his entourage passed through the Malay Peninsula as they set sail for the west. This formed the basis of its name in Malay “Pulau Pinang” which was later anglicised to become “Penang” as we know it today.