Reliving Nonya memories
Stories and recipes from a Singaporean Nonya.
When I was asked to review a Nonya cookbook, I jumped at the chance with glee.
Anything Nonya just reminds me of my paternal grandmother who is a Nonya. But after the initial excitement died down, I was worried that the book would fall short of my Nonya expectations.
For me, everything that my Ah Ma shared with me will always have a special place in my heart – from sewing a pair of beaded shoes to wearing Nonya kebaya, from cooking the most delicious kapitan chicken curry to steaming the perfect kuih talam. Ah Ma has definitely enriched my childhood with these experiences.
Sharon Wee, the author of Growing Up In A Nonya Kitchen, is a Singaporean Nonya whose Nonya memories are slightly different from mine.
The book, in my opinion, is foremost a tribute to Wee’s mother and her wonderful Nonya memories, and then a Nonya cookbook.
Wee fills the book with many anecdotes from her childhood during the different celebrations and family meal times. In between these stories, you can find recipes that are associated with these occasions.
She dedicates the first chapter to recipes for Chinese New Year. Flipping through her recipes for Ngo Hiang (which we call lobak), Ayam Kormak (or Hong Kay), Achar, Itek Tim and Golden Agar Jelly bring back so many wonderful memories of my Ah Ma cooking these dishes for Chinese New Year and sometimes for Cheng Beng too.
I find that some of Wee’s recipes are differently named than what I am familiar with – because her family is Singaporean Nonya while my Ah Ma is a Penangite Nonya – but after a look at the ingredients list and the accompanying photo, it is not that hard to figure out what the recipe is.
Wee also provides recipes for Sunday Family Gatherings – Nasi Lemak, Otak-Otak, Mee Siam and Mee Rebus – while A Very Festive Family has recipes for special family occasions such as Nonya Kueh Chang for Dragon Boat Festival, Kueh Ee for Tang Chek (Winter Solstice) and Kueh Ku and Red Eggs for babies’ Full Moon celebration.
Wee dedicates a chapter, Life of the Party, to entertaining Nonya-style. The recipes include Pai Ti, Nonya Pork Satay, Popiah, Popiah Goreng and Curry Puffs.
You can get recipes for Pineapple Tarts, Cashew Nut Cookies, Sugee Biscuits and Kueh Bolu from The Housewives Baking Club.
The Secrets of Arab Street showcase recipes such as Nasi Biryani, Ayam Rendang, Lontong, Soto Ayam and Beef Rendang, which Wee’s mother picked up from her Arab and Indonesian friends.
Recipes for everyday dining are featured in Our Daily Fare. In this chapter, you can find goodies such as Udang Garam Asam, Ikan Gulai, Tau Yu Bak (Braised Pork), Sambal Telor and Ikan Sumbat. Oh, how I crave for these dishes now!
Wee does not forget to include recipes for desserts in Sweet Rewards. Choose from Kueh Ko Swee, Kueh Talam Hijau, Ondeh-Ondeh, Goreng Klodok, Pulot Hitam or Bubur Cha Cha to complete your Nonya dining experience.
The more I read about Wee’s experiences and adventures, the more I am reminded of my own Ah Ma.
Page after page of this book give me the chance to relive my growing up years with my Ah Ma who has since passed on.
I would highly recommend this book to those who have Nonya parents/grandparents or those who wish to learn about the Nonya way of life and would like to relive those memories through cooking and food.