My Citizens, few things are as universally adored as a good fried chicken – add in some uniquely Asian spices and cooking techniques with the goodness of coconut milk and you will fall in love with this style of cooking!
“Inchi Kabin” is a highly unusual name for deep fried chicken. Apparently “inchi kabin” used to be known as Encik Kabin, which means Mr. Cabin – perhaps he was the originator of this recipe?
Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine comes from the Peranakans, descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Singapore and Indonesia inter-marrying with local Malays and combines Chinese, Malay and other influences.
The old Malay word nonya (also spelled nyonya), a term of respect and affection for women of prominent social standing (part “madame” and part “auntie”), has come to refer to the cuisine of the Peranakans.
Nonya cooking is the result of blending Chinese ingredients with various distinct spices and cooking techniques used by the Malay/Indonesian community. This gives rise to Peranakan interpretations of Malay/Indonesian food that is similarly tangy, aromatic, spicy and herbal.
In other instances, the Peranakans have adopted Malay cuisine as part of their taste palate, such as assam fish and beef rendang.
Key ingredients include coconut milk, galangal (a subtle, mustard-scented rhizome similar to ginger), candlenuts as both a flavoring and thickening agent, laksa leaf, pandan leaves (Pandanus amaryllifolius), belachan, tamarind juice, lemongrass, torch ginger bud, jicama, fragrant kaffir lime leaf, rice or egg noodles and cincaluk – a powerfully flavored, sour and salty shrimp-based condiment that is typically mixed with lime juice, chillies and shallots and eaten with rice, fried fish and other side dishes.
There are regional variations in Nonya cooking. Dishes from the island of Penang in the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia possess Thai influences, such as more liberal use of tamarind and other sour ingredients.
Dishes from Singapore and Malacca show a greater Indonesian influence, such as the use of coconut milk. A classic example is laksa (a spicy noodle soup), which comes in two variants: the sour asam laksa from Penang and the coconut milk-based laksa lemak from Singapore and the southern regions of Peninsular Malaysia.
The flavor of laksa and other Nonya recipes is determined by the rempah, which in Malay means spices. The various combinations are pounded into a paste with pestle and mortar, with a very specific texture and density. It is said that a nonya can determine the culinary skill of a new daughter-in-law simply by listening to her preparing rempah with a mortar.
Nonya 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 at its best when served at home. Laksa is a notable exception to this rule.
Examples of Nonya specialities include otak-otak, a popular blend of fish, coconut milk, chilli paste, galangal, and herbs wrapped in a banana leaf; Ayam Buah Keluak, a distinctive dish combining chicken pieces with nuts from the Pangium edule or kepayang tree to produce a rich sauce; and Itek Tim, a classic soup containing duck, tomatoes, green peppers, salted vegetables, and preserved sour plums simmered gently together.
Nonya desserts include colourful cakes (kuih) and sweet, sticky delicacies.
Citizens, my version of this fantastically flavorful recipe is based very closely on one from Little Penang restaurant, in Wellington NZ. I’ve adjusted the spice ratios to my taste and added in some optional red fermented tofu for some serious Nyonya flavor notes. Omit if you so prefer. I also substituted chicken wings for the original version’s whole chicken, as I love deep-fried chicken wings and their super-crispy skin!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
The Hirshon Malaysian Nyonya Fried Chicken – Inche Kabin
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