Citizens, in Malaysia and in that region of the world there is a unique fusion of cultures, languages and cuisines that has resulted in some truly stellar recipes! Allow me the pleasure of introducing you to the world of the Nyonya! 🙂
Peranakan Chinese or Straits-born Chinese are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago including British Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, where they are also referred to as Baba-Nyonya) and Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia; where they’re also referred as Kiau-Seng) between the 15th and 17th centuries.
Members of this community in Malaysia address themselves as “Baba Nyonya”. Nyonya is the term for the women and Baba for the men. It applies especially to the Han populations of the British Straits Settlements of Malaya and the Dutch-controlled island of Java and other locations, who have adopted Nusantara customs — partially or in full — to be somewhat assimilated into the local communities.
Many were the elites of Singapore, more loyal to the British than to China. Most have lived for generations along the straits of Malacca. They were usually traders, the middleman of the British and the Chinese, or the Chinese and Malays, or vice versa because they were mostly English educated. Because of this, they almost always had the ability to speak two or more languages.
Peranakan Chinese commonly refer to themselves as Baba-Nonya. The term Baba is an honorific for Straits Chinese men. It originated as a Hindustani (originally Persian) loan-word borrowed by Malay speakers as a term of affection for one’s grandparents, and became part of the common vernacular. Female Straits-Chinese descendants were either called or styled themselves Nyonyas.
Nyonya (also spelled nyonyah or nonya) is a Malay and Indonesian honorific used to refer to a foreign married lady. It is a loan word, possibly borrowed from the Italian nonna (grandma), or more likely from the Portuguese word for lady donha. Because Malays at that time had a tendency to address all foreign women (and perhaps those who appeared foreign) as nyonya, they used that term for Straits-Chinese women as well. It gradually became more exclusively associated with them.
From the Malay influence a unique “Nyonya” cuisine has developed using typical Malay spices. Kam heong (金香) is Cantonese dialect that literally translates as “golden fragrance”. This aromatic spice blend is popularly used to stir fry crabs, chicken, prawns and in this recipe, clams. The aroma of the curry powder and curry leaves totally stands out in this dish and it is extremely popular street food in Malaysia.
This is one you will savor, my Citizens!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 ¼ pounds Manila clams
2 tbsp dried shrimps (虾米/hay bee/heibi)
¼ cup chicken stock
1 tbsp best-quality curry powder
2 tbsp cooking oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 peeled ginger slices, minced
2 Thai bird’s eye chili,sliced thinly
½ tbsp oyster sauce
4 sprigs curry leaves, leaves removed from sprigs, sprigs discarded
cornstarch slurry – dissolve 1 tsp cornstarch in 2 tsp dried shrimp soaking liquid
Scrub clams thoroughly with a hard brush. Soak the clams in salted water for at least an hour for the clams to purge out sand and impurities. Drain the water, rinse the clams and set aside.
Rinse dried shrimps in water, then soak them in the chicken stock until softened. Pat dry the dried shrimps on kitchen towels and chop finely.
Combine ½ of the soaking liquid with curry powder to form a paste, use more as required to make a paste and reserve remainder for cornstarch slurry.
Heat cooking oil in wok. Stir fry chopped dried shrimps for 1 minute. Then add the shallots, garlic, ginger, chili, oyster sauce and curry leaves. Stir fry until fragrant.
Add washed clams and curry paste prepared in step 2 to the wok. Stir fry for a brief moment to coat the clams in the sauce, then cover with lid to let the clams steam for about 2 minutes, until all or most of the shells are opened. Discard any that remain closed. Thicken the sauce with cornstarch slurry.