Way back when Charlotte came to visit, she and I toured Singapore's Peranakan Museum but it seems I left that part out of the blog. And when we were in Penang in November, we visited the Peranakan Mansion there.So we've gotten a good dose of Peranakan culture in museum format.
As a rough reminder:
"Peranakan Chinese" or "Straits Chinese" or "Baba-Nyonya" are all roughly terms for the Chinese communities of the Straits Settlements (i.e. Singapore, Penang, and Malacca). They were the descendants of Chinese traders that came to Malaya in the 15th and 16th centuries and then created their own unique rich cultural blend of Chinese, Malay, and Colonial British traditions. Nyonya is the respectful term for ladies and Baba, for men.But a huge part of Peranakan culture is food and we hadn't actually gone to a Peranakan restaurant. Until one opened in the neighborhood.
A little stall tucked in with the others next to a porridge place we like and across from a closed popsicle stand, I've been eying it for months. But I'm usually there to pick up porridge and head home, so we haven't stopped. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we were together looking for food and decided to give it a try.
Just like the Peranakan culture is a mix of other traditions, Peranakan food is a unique and spicy stew.
On our first visit, Kyle had char kway teow(a Southern Chinese dish of rice ribbon noodles fried with egg, bean sprouts, cockles and chives with a hint of chili) and I had beef rendang (Indonesian/Malaysian dish of beef slow cooked in coconut milk and spices; recently named one of the world's 50 most delicious foods). Both were yummy and we finished with dessert of gula malaka sago (shaved ice and sago over coconut milk with palm sugar on top). Extra yum.
The gula melaka sago, though, did prompt frantic intervention by the restaurant staff. I started by scooping a small spoon full of ice and palm sugar to taste, and someone quickly ran over to tell me to stir it all together and make sure my coconut and sago and ice and sugar were well mixed before I dug in again. Can't have the foreigner eating it wrong!
We enjoyed the food (and the attention) so much that we've been back twice. And we've made a friend. The 77-year-old Baba who was pointing us to seats was hilarious and certainly took us under his wing. He chose our dishes for us (or at least made pointed recommendations). He asked about or work and whether or not we liked Singapore. While Kyle was placing orders, he asked me if Kyle was an engineer. I said no, scientist. Once Kyle returned to the table, Baba "read" his palm and discovered he was in science--with a theatrical wink in my direction.
He recommended more chili for my soybean and pork stew. When I (once again!) was about to make a horrid food-related-gaffe by sprinkling the chili on my pork he ran over and actually grabbed my arm to stop me. He then instructed me in the correct procedure: Pork onto rice plate and then add a drop of chili to that bite.
He tried to order us durian chendol for our dessert, but another staff member stepped in to assure us, "Out already!" Which was good. Kyle likes durian, but we did not want durian chendol (another shaved-ice based dessert which has green worm-shaped jellies in it). We had gula melaka sago instead (stirred correctly this time). We left assuring him we'd be back often.
The very next night, we were walking through our town when I felt a whack on my shoulder. We turned around and there was Baba, walking home himself. We discussed our Chinese New Year plans, his reunion dinner, the stall's holiday hours, and New Zealand. Then we wished him well and told him we'd see him soon.
It's totally my favorite place to eat now.