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  • Aastha Trivedi

A Taste of Tradition: Discovering the Unique Cuisine of Singapore’s Peranakan Community

The bustling city-state of Singapore is well known for its cosmopolitan success. What was once a former colony and third-world country, is now a prosperous hub for trade, innovation, and education. Foreigners commonly discuss its immaculate cleanliness, soaring skyscrapers, and low crime rates. 

But what is particularly notable is Singapore’s multicultural population. Despite Singapore’s small population of just 5,866,139 (July 2021 est), it is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. Among these communities is the vibrant Peranakan Community.

Source: Museum in Penang

The Peranakan community is otherwise known as Baba-Nyonya or straits-born Chinese. Decades ago, their ancestors settled in the Malay Archipelago, an area of Southeast Asia that includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The noun “Peranakan” means descendants. It reflects the multi-racial nature of the community's heritage.

A delightful Fusion of Flavours

The Pernakan cuisine is a testament to its roots. Originating from marriages between Chinese and Malaysian, Indonesian, and other indigenous groups, the Peranakan community has created a cuisine that includes fragrant spices from many cultures. 

Source: Works of Life

A key ingredient often found in Peranakan dishes is Belacan, a spicy shrimp paste that pairs with several dishes. Sourcing the shrimp locally enhances the taste of this ingredient and supports our local fishing communities. Furthermore, the spice harmoniously mixes with lemongrass and galangal, a sibling of ginger. Galangal enhances dishes with a peppery-like taste.

Candlenut is another rare spice commonly used in Peranakan curries and sauces. Its subtle yet filling texture blends well with turmeric and adds to the cuisine’s overall quality. The rare spice is commonly used in gravies and sauces. It has a mild, almond-esc taste that finely complements turmeric.

Signature Dishes and Restaurants to Explore

One of the most savored Peranakan dishes is the Ayam Buah Kelwak. Due to its creamy texture, it is a favorite among many. Another beloved dish is the Nyonya Laksa, an aromatic noodle soup made from shrimp, coconut milk, tofu, and fish cakes. The essential spices of Peranakan cuisine are also present in Nyonya Laksa.

It is custom that the Peranakan cuisine is shared in a family setting. This dining etiquette reflects Peranakan values- family cohesion and harmony.

On a global scale, the Peranakan cuisine has yet to receive the recognition it deserves. With that in mind, let’s celebrate the Peranakan community by exploring a few restaurants:

Malcolm Lee’s Candlenut Restaurant is a must-try. It is famous for being the world’s first Michelin Star Peranakan restaurant. Its unforgettable dishes are a modern take on traditional Peranakan dishes.

                The Pangium

The name ‘Pangium’ is derived from the ‘pangium edule’ a plant species otherwise referred to as ‘Kepayang’ or ‘Buah Keluak’ nut. The owner’s goal is to preserve the authenticity of Peranakan dishes passing them down from one generation to another.

The eccentric chef, Damian D’Silva,  inspiration from  Rempapa was derived from his grandmother’s traditional cooking. The name is synonymous with the spice, “rempha” (Malay) which is also commonly used in Peranakan cooking.

With guidance from an expert chef, Bonding Kitchen offers customers the exciting experience of cooking their own Peranakan dishes. It is a wonderful experience for adults and children alike.

If you're searching for a restaurant with a lively environment and eclectic feel, Godmama is the place. Its modern twists of Peranakan cuisine are perfect for family gatherings.

So, why wait? Let's dive into the wonders of Peranakan cuisine, and celebrate the timeless flavors of local tradition, and local produce. Together, let's relish the essence of Singapore's heritage and fresh local produce, one bite at a time.

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