Saturday, January 10, 2009

Little Nonya - Peranakan Culture

Little Nonya ended its run on 5-JAN 2009, after a 34 episode run. Despite a number of misgivings and criticisms on the show (e.g. on the selection of the actresses, how could the Peranakan culture be portrayed and described in Mandarin etc), the show certainly garnered a large following - well even my 5 year old son, Elijah was following almost every episode. Enjoy the video and theme song of the "Little Nonya" below.

I was personally also attracted by the show - more from the depiction of the richness of the Peranakan culture to which I am close to (having relatives both in Malaysia and Singapore who are Peranakans).

The Peranakan heritage originated from the Chinese immigrants who settled in parts of Malaysia like Malacca, Penang and in an effort to assimilate into the local communities, partly adopted the Malay customs there. "Peranakan" mean descendents. The "Babas" refer to the male descendents and the "Nonyas" refer to the female descendents. Baba Malay, the language used by the Babas and Nonyas, is a unique dialect from Bahasa Malay with Hokkien (a Chinese dialect) words. Unfortunately though, the use of Baba Malay has been increasingly replaced with English and the demise of this language looks imminent in the horizon.

What I will remember (in no particular order of preference) from the rich Peranakan culture would be the following:
1. the mannerisms,lilt in the ways of speaking and gestures, with the various proverbs and hidden innuendos

2. the Nonya clothing (sarong kebaya) with its elaborate stitching and colorful beaded slippers
Have a look at the video below on the sarong kebaya.

3. the manners - like greeting all your elders at the dining table before starting your meal. Try imagine if you have your grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts etc at a large gathering and each of the children present had to go round asking every one of their elders for permission to begin their meals. I in fact carry on with this practice til this very day.

4. the quaint crockery set, which are a rare and rich find if you do have in your possession. Click here to admire the Peranakan crockery.

5. last but not least, the delectable and unique richness in Peranakan food
Many babas like myself will always swear by the fact that there are no restaurants who could live up to the culinary standards of their mothers (note: there are always variances in the Peranakan recipes in different families). One of my favourite haunts for delicious Peranakan fare (besides my mom's or aunt's place) include Charlie's in Katong. I find the bua keluak pretty good (a dark gravy mixture of chicken, pork and the pre-stuffed hard shell seeds of a kind of fruit). Note there are not many of good bua keluak around to my mind in Singapore. And so to me, good bua keluak is a test for the rest of the food fare at a Peranakan restaurant. Have a look at the video below which shows the bua keluak dish...

I recall fondly of the sweet Nonya Chang or dumplings which my grand aunt used to make. These rice dumplings are smaller than the usual Chinese meat rice dumplings, contain sweet meat and have tinges of blue coloring on the gluttenous rice. My closest fix these days to Nonya Chang would be to get from Kim Choo's.

My list of other perenial favourites in Peranakan food include Babi Pong Teh (sweet light brown bean paste gravy with pork), Satay Ayam (spicy satay sauce with chicken, the satay sauce here is made from chilli and coconut milk and not to be confused with the nutty sauce which accompanies the satay meat on sticks), Itek Sio (duck stew), Chap Chye (simple yet flavourful mixed vegetables made like a rich stew and especially nice when accompanied with blachan, i.e. hot grounded chilli paste) and the Achar which my mom makes - I reckon I can keep on going on the food front ... :)

One of my personal goals this year would be to get to know more of my Peranakan culture. Do drop me a note on books, places (food, places of interest), URLs, people I could contact on anything to do with the Peranakan culture.


more links about Peranakan can be found here:
1. Wikipedia's article on Peranakan

2. The Singapore Association for Peranakan

3. Charlene's blog post on Peranakan culture and customs

4. Blog on "Is Singapore taking away Malaysia's Peranakan Heritage"

5. A nice video on Peranakan culture which describes greetings at New Year, Sarong Kebaya, Nonya Chang and some Baba Malay phrases.

6. "Into the life of baba and nonya", another video with more on the Peranakan heritage below (shows the interior of the Peranakan houses as well). Enjoy!

and more links I just found ...
7. The Straits Times article on "Little Nonya, Big Ratings"

8. Mediacorp forum on the "Little Nonya" show

9. Post on "Little Nonya" & Peranakan Culture by Valerie

10. More from QingLing "I am the girl who reviews" on "Little Nonya"

11. And also on Facebook, the "Little Nonya" community site


Joy Tan said...

i feel so hungry of reading this article. :P

James Yong said...

What a great collection of Nonya news, Baba banquets and Peranakan paraphernalia! :-)