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Travel Logs August 2013

Compulsive Traveler

Learn about Singapore’s Peranakan Culture

By Sandra Scott

The cooking instructors are stay-at-home mothers many of whom have seen their family leave the nest. Their cooking expertize is “tried and true” having been tested by the most critical of diners – their family. They share their passion for cooking in an entertaining and relaxed manner. 

Singapore, an island located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, is a wonderful mix of Chinese, Malay, and Indian. During the 15th and 16th centuries many Chinese traders came to Singapore; some stayed and married local Malay women creating a unique culture referred to as Peranakan. The word “Peranakan” is a Malay term that means “locally born.” Traditionally they lived in shophouses, two or three-story attached row-house-style buildings with the store at street level and the living quarters on the upper floors. The buildings were often colorfully painted. Today, in the Chinese historic district of Singapore, many of the shophouses have been beautifully restored. Peranakan clothing and dishes are distinguished by colorful floral designs.

Typically Peranakans are well-educated and quite prosperous. The Peranakan Museum is the place to learn more about this unique culture. The museum is located in what was the Tao Nan Chinese School, built in 1912, and has one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of Peranakan objects. The Perankans retained the Chinese tradition of ancestor worship but the clothing styles tend to reflect their Malay heritage. Galleries display examples of their colorful clothing and dishes, a typical kitchen, and even funeral practices.

One way to learn more about a local culture is to participate in a cooking experience. Food Playground located at 4 Craig Road in the historic Chinese district is one place to learn how to cook typical Peranakan recipes. Food Playground opened in December 2012 on the second floor of a shophouse and breaks the mold of the typical cooking school. The cooking instructors are stay-at-home mothers many of whom have seen their family leave the nest. Their cooking expertize is “tried and true” having been tested by the most critical of diners – their family. They share their passion for cooking in an entertaining and relaxed manner.

A typical Peranakan cooking class might include laksa, a concoction of thick rice noodles with a smooth rich gravy of fresh coconut milk mixed with spices, dried shrimp, and chili topped with prawns, cockles and fishcake. Or participants may learn to make Udang Pedas Nanas, a pineapple prawn curry. The name says it all; in the Malay language udang means prawns, pedas means spicy, and nanas means pineapple. So when it is put altogether it is an irresistible Peranakan dish of prawns cooked in a spicy pineapple-infused gravy.

A classic dessert is Ondeh-ondeh made from glutinous rice flour with pandan leaf juice and filled with palm sugar then lightly dusted with fresh grated coconut. Or possibly, Kueh Dadar, a favorite Nonya Peranakan snack or dessert – the easy to make recipe follows. Nonya refers to the female side of the Peranakan marriage which is traditionally Malay.

For more information about the Peranakan culture and cooking experiences check with Peranakanmuseum.sg and Foodplayground.com.sg. Singapore is a dynamic and innovative city. For more things to see and do in this amazing city log on to Yoursingapore.com.

 


 

Kueh Dadar (Pandan Pancakes with coconut filling)

Makes about 20 pancakes

Filling

4 to 5 tbsp palm sugar, thinly shaved (can substitute maple sugar)

1 tbsp dark brown sugar

2 tbsp water (or as needed)

1 ½ cup grated coconut

 

Pancake

1 egg

2/3 cup coconut milk

6 tbsp pandan juice

¼ tsp salt

1 ¼ cup plain flour

1 ½ cup water or more as needed

 

Combine palm sugar, dark brown sugar and water in a pot. Heat over a medium flame until sugar dissolves. Stir in the grated coconut and continue to cook for a few minutes until mixture is wet but not runny. Set aside.

To make the pancake, mix egg, coconut milk and pandan juice. Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in mixture of egg, coconut milk and pandan juice. Mix well; it should not be lumpy. Add water as need to make a batter similar to pancake batter.

Heat up a small shallow frying pan over a low flame and grease lightly with oil. Pour about ¼ cup of the batter in the center and swirl the pan to form a thin crepe about 6 inches in diameter. When it starts to brown, flip over, cook a few minutes more and remove. According to the teacher remember “The first one is a test. Experiment with the batter thickness and temperature to get it right.” To prepare the roll, place 2 tbsp of filling on pancake and roll up like a spring roll. And enjoy.

 

Sandra Scott travels the globe recording the top attractions at every destination.

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