Roti Babi is a Penang Peranakan dish which I have been quite curious about since I read the recipe in Debbie Teoh’s book. Bread slices coated generously with an egg batter reminds me much of traditional French toast, a childhood delight for my sister and I, only that in Roti Babi the bread is much thicker and stuffed with an “inti” (filling) made up of minced pork and onions. What is more intriguing is the “rempah” (spice paste) used in the filling, which consist of ketumbar (coriander seeds), buah pala (nutmeg) and cekur (lesser galangal aka “sand ginger”). I can already imagine how wonderfully perfumed the inti will be just from reading the recipe and yet at the same time, wonder how cekur actually tastes like as I’d not used it in cooking before!
Babi Ayam Pongteh is very old-school cooking from the Peranakan home. It usually manifests as the pork, or the chicken version and never quite the both of them together. But then, their flavours compliment each other very well. If pork bones and an old hen are the quintessential ingredients to good stock making in Chinese cuisine, I don’t see why it cannot be extended to this dish as well!
For me, the Peranakan culture is probably the most intriguing bit of Southeast Asian history. There are so many stories and theories which attempt to explain their origins but none so far has been rock solid. And precisely because of this shroud of vagueness that lends the Peranakan heritage a veil of mystery. Yet, the inter-marriage between the Chinese and Malays then yielded the “Straits Chinese” community which encapsulates the very essence of these two cultures, alongside influences from the Indians and even Europeans which colonised this part of the world. It is this “melting pot” of cultural and historical bearings that nurtured the Peranakan culture to be rich and colorful as we know it today. Through their architecture and handicraft like sewing and beadwork, we saw how the Peranakans brought together elements of the East and West and slowly over generations yielded it to become their uniquely own. But personally, I feel that the spirit of Peranakan culture, like many other cultures, lies in their food.
My first experience with Peranakan food outside of the household was actually at the most uncanny of all places, Pow Sing Chicken Rice 報喜 at Serangoon Gardens. Their chicken rice is fairly decent but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the standard of the Nyonya dishes on their menu. Alas, the quality of the food wasn’t fantastic but the liberal use of tau cheo (fermented bean paste) in addition to a hoard of spices, and the eccentricity of buah keluak’s appearance which can only be matched with its taste… the dining experience left quite an impression, both good and bad…