The Baba Nyonya Chang
Anyone who knows us knows, that we are big fans of Nyonya food. Unfortunately great Nyonya food is really hard to come by these days.
A lot of work goes into the preparation of this wonderful cuisine and it never fails to amaze me just how fragrant the dishes can actually be. This is due to the “rempah”- a combination of spices pounded into a paste traditionally with a pestle and mortar, to give a specific texture, density and distinct flavour. Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine combines Chinese, Malay and other influences into a unique blend. Peranakans are descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Indonesia and Singapore, inter-marrying with local Malays. The old Malay word Nyonya, a term of respect and affection for women of prominent social standing, has come to refer to the cuisine of the Perakanans.
Chef Debbie Teoh
I’ve told this story before, and I’ll tell it again. It is said that a Nyonya can determine the culinary skill of a new daughter-in-law simply by listening to her preparing rempah with a mortar. Nyonya recipes are handed down from one generation to the next, and because of the time-consuming preparation of these dishes, it is a cuisine that is often guarded jealously like a prized secret. They keep all the perfect recipes for their own daughters, so that they can marry well. You see, back then, the most highly sought after Nyonya bride was one who could cook, and cook well, might I add. Oh yes, she was totally worth her weight in gold, or rempah as the case may be.
Hoo Pio soup is a fish maw soup served with prawn balls, cabbage leaves, carrots & yam bean in a slow simmered chicken stock. This soup is served at weddings, CNY (chinese new year) or birthdays
So, it was with great happiness that we accepted the invitation to dine at the table of Chef Debbie Teoh at the Park Royal Chatz Brasserie this week. Boolicious of Masak-masak had told us that Chef Debbie’s cooking is pretty amazing and as we all know, Boolicious’ opinion is worth its weight in rempah too.. so we knew we would be in good hands;)
Debbie herself is a charming and accomplished person – she is a chef, foodie, author, food stylist, ambassador for the Nyonya cuisine and culture, and now, will be at Chatz Brasserie as its guest chef. With more than 15 years of experience in the food industry, Debbie is a true-bred Nyonya who hails from Malacca, whose father is a Baba from Malacca, whilst her mother is a Nyonya from Penang. It comes naturally then that her forte lies in Nyonya cuisine for both Southern and Northern Nyonya styles. Born and bred in Malacca, with both sides of her family being inspiring cooks, it was only a matter of time before Debbie began to immerse herself in the culinary profession.
Debbie is also the author of numerous acclaimed cookbooks such as ‘Underwraps’ and ‘Asian Titbits’, a comprehensive ‘Penang Food’ guide and cookbook and ‘Nyonya Flavours’, with her latest book entitled ‘Authentic Nyonya Tastes’. She is currently working with ‘Her World’ on their annual cookbook which is set to be published in June. On a monthly basis, she also contributes regularly to magazines such as ‘Flavours’ by Star Publications and ‘Oriental Cuisine’ by Nanyang Press.
The Amazing Ayam(chicken) Buah Keluak
OK so enough about the gorgeous Chef Debbie Teoh, how good exactly was her food?
Well, to tell you the truth, all the dishes were fabulous but the most outstanding one for me was the Chicken Buah Keluak. The amount of labour that when into this dish was just astronomical. This dish is a staple Peranakan favourite , but perhaps it is most memorable because it is an acquired taste. Strong traditions have resulted in this golden recipe being passed down from generation to generation, making it a truly authentic Peranakan dish.
Made with chicken pieces (and sometimes pork) combined with “keluak” nuts (a black nut with a tough shell exterior) it produces an appealing yet unique flavor that must be tasted to be believed. Before cooking, the contents of the nuts are white in colour. Good nuts after cooking, should be richly black and oily, with the contents variously described as “opium” or “soft tar”. Once Debbie is through pounding the nut she then mixes and cooks it with egg white and spices till it became a black, tarry, piquant slurry, that is as addictive as opium! With regards to the nut, you have to scrub every shell, soak it in water for two days, chop off one end of the nut and dig out the hard nut inside. Then you have to pound or blend it with some spices. You have to neaten the nut’s opening with a cutter so that it’s presentable before you put the flesh back in. And that’s just the nut. Don’t even start to think about all the other spices that goes into the chicken dish. Woah, talk about loves labour! Finally, you put the stuffed nuts, chicken and rempah on a simmer for another half a day until the sauce thickens. Now that takes a lot of work. I was totally blown away by the Ayam Buah Keluak dish!
Other wonderful dishes that night:
Kapitan Chicken -Nasi Kunyit served with Nyonya chicken curry and sambal kiam hoo (red paste on the left)
Sambal kiam hoo is a salt fish sambal which is eaten together with curry chicken -this is the first time I’m eating this way, by adding a small dollop of red paste into the curry. Of course everyone knows how superbly well curry goes with turmeric glutinous rice and that’s exactly how we are meant to eat it. The sambal kiam hoo itself, actually boosts the flavour of the kapitan chicken up a notch making it more fragrant than when eaten alone. Another Nyonya all-star dish.
Sambal Goreng Prawns
The Sambal goreng prawns cooked with belimbing, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk, topped with shallot & garlic crisps not forgetting cashew nuts is another great dish. Despite the name, “sambal” , this dish is not spicy, and the Chef only adds a couple of chilli padi inside for some colour.
The grand finale.. desserts! First the O’giou Jelly
O’giou jelly is an old fashion Nyonya dessert of jello served with a simple syrup and kalamansi lime juice.
Then the sweet-savory hand made and wrapped Nyonya Bachang. Loved the generous amount of spices and chicken meat, mushroom and candied wintermelon, that went into the center of the glutinous rice.
The Nyonya Bachang or Chang has an interesting color difference from the normal one, as it has a blue hue which is obtained from the Butterfly Pea Flower (Bunga Telang) juice. Its filling of minced meat is sweet and aromatic from the use of spices. Its size and shape is the same with the other dumplings. You may use pork or chicken for the filling – in this case chicken. This was not on the menu. Debbie made it just for us!
All in all a sensational gastronomic journey into the Nyonya realm of cooking. I thoroughly enjoyed dinner and if you would like to sample Chef Debbie’s food, for the month of May, i.e. from the 13th of May to the 3rd of July to be exact, Parkroyal Hotel in Kuala Lumpur will be showcasing her cooking at Chatz Brasserie through lavish buffets, interactive cooking classes for kids and ala carte selections of Nyonya dishes. Buffet Lunch is priced at RM58++, Buffet dinner RM78++, Weekend Hi-Tea at RM52++ per person. Father’s day Brunch special (19th June) at the Chatz Brasserie will be an opportunity for kids to become “Little Nyonya’s” and cook for their dads at the workshop. This is priced at RM65++ per adult and RM35++ per child.
Take our word for it and don’t miss the opportunity to check out Debbie Teoh’s Nyonya cooking!
PARKROYAL Kuala Lumpur
Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50250 Kuala Lumpur
Within Malaysia: 1800 220 021
UOB, American Express and PARKROYAL Prestige cardmembers receive 20% discount off the Nyonya Cuisine promotion, as well as guests staying at PARKROYAL Serviced Suites Kuala Lumpur. Diners of ‘A Touch of Nyonya Influence’ will also be eligible to win a lucky draw prize of a stay in PARKROYAL Penang Resort in Penang, home to the eclectic Nyonya culture. For reservations or enquiries, please call 03- 2782 8301 or email [email protected]