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The History of Malaysian Cuisine...

By Jo Lee, Apr 17 2017 01:50PM

The history of a location will influenced the cuisine of that location. Malaysia, initially consisting of the Malay Peninsula, became important because of the need of the British East India Company, to get a foothold in the region. The Spice Trade, was a very lucrative venture and in the early days, the Portuguese and the Dutch had a stranglehold in the region around the sea-routes.

Sir Francis Light, originally a clerk with the East India Company, had the idea of having a presence along the Straits of Malacca. This led to the acquisition of Penang, for the British East India Company. By this time, the Dutch had already superseded the Portuguese as the controlling sea power along the Straits of Malacca. Numerous battles between the Dutch and British, eventually led to the formation of a formal agreement between the two rivals, to crave up the region, in the interest of ‘profit’, as both parties were losing profit. Battles needed huge financial resources.

This culminated to the exchange of Acheh to the Dutch and Malacca to the British. The British had Penang Island, situated on the Northern section of the Straits of Malacca; and this soon followed with the acquisition of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles, at the southern end of the Straits. With the acquisition of Singapore, the British East India Company, had complete control of the Straits of Malacca.

The control of this sea route, allowed the British to further attain political control of the whole of the Malay Peninsula. In line with the aims of the British East India Company in the region, rubber was planted in mainland Malaya, tea was planted on the highlands of Malaya, tin was discovered and mined, so the production of tin was centred in Perak. In order to achieve these business ventures, immense demand for human resources were required. So labour resources were acquired from Southern China and Southern India, where the British had political and commercial control.


Most of these human resources were acquired by fair or foul means, and with the influx of immigrant labour from China and India, this led to inter-racial marriages and associations. The formation of the cultures of the Nonya was born. This initially started in the 15th Century, encouraged by the new Ming Dynasty, with the marriage of the Chinese princess to the Sultan of Malacca. The later influx of the male Chinese migrants, led to the acquisition of Malay wives, who tried to cook Chinese cuisine, using local ingredient and spices. Hence of the birth of the Nonya Cuisine. In recent years, the word ‘Nonya’ was superseded with the word ‘Peranakan’. Peranakan means decedents of the immigrants.

Hence the Malaysian Cuisine was born. The most prominent of Malaysian Cuisines are as follows

Nonya – the fusion of Chinese and Malay, mainly centred in the Straits Settlements consisting of Penang, Melacca and Singapore.

Mamak - the fusion of Indian and Malay; with influences of Nonya

Malay - the original Malay cooking

Indian - mostly Southern Indian cuisine

Chinese - mostly Southern Chinese, Cantonese, Hokkein, Hainan, Shanghai, and Teochew

Thai - especially in Penang. Penang was the administrative centre of the British Colony; where it had the most English schools. This led to the Thailand sending their children to study English in Penang. Hence, this led to the cooking styles of Penang, influencing Thai cuisine and Thai cuisine influencing Penang Cuisine

Therefore, Nonya Cuisine can be split into Northern Nonya or Southern Nonya.


Following the divorce of Singapore and Malaysia, there had been many disagreements on the origin of some dishes. Singapore lay claims to Singapore Laksa and Chicken Rice. However, prior to coming to England, I did not know that there was such a dish as Singapore Laksa, as in Penang it was known as ‘Curry Mee’. Hainan Chicken was the dish, seldom eaten in my young days as Street Food, as it was too expensive. This originated from China and it is debatable as to its origin. In Hainan, there is no such dish, in the form that the dish is served in Singapore or Malaysia today.



At Eurasia:


The cuisine served in Eurasia, is influenced by my upbringing. On my paternal side, my father is the eight generation in Malaysia on his maternal side. On my maternal side, my mother is the second generation in Malaysia on her paternal side. This had led to my food experience being Nonya, Fukein ( Hokkein), Teochew and Penang Street Food.

I started being interested in Food and Nutrition, since the age of 13; and arriving in England in early 70s, the Oriental food scene was very basic. There were also difficulty getting the ingredients. As food is the major focus and connection to my upbringing, I started to experiment with available ingredients and making my own variation of the traditional recipes.

With the passing of times, the ingredients of my childhood, became available due to cheaper travel, and more people travelling the world; and the supermarkets success in sourcing the varying products. The tasks of creating my home-style childhood cuisine became easier.

Food is an evolving science and Cuisines should be a witness to this evolving science and the environment it is in.

The Satay sauce in Eurasia was put together by me for my children for barbecues in the 1970s. That was before Malaysian cuisine hit the UK restaurant scene. I gave the recipe to my friend, the former and original owners of Chiana Restaurant in Seal, Sevenoaks in the early 1980’s.

The original owners of Ming Restaurant, tasted ‘Kueh Pi Tee’ in my home. This became the dishes served in their restaurant known as ‘Golden Cup’.

The Singapore Laksa, served in Eurasia, evolved from a challenge, issued by a customer in the early days of Eurasia. He wanted Singapore Laksa, and after two years of nagging and complaining from him, I decided to ‘shut him’ up and took to analysing available recipes (over ten recipes); thus evolved my spices, which today, I named as ‘Singapore Sambal’. This spice is then used to influence the dishes with the best combination.

The ‘Rendang’ served in Eurasia, has evolved to enable this characteristics of this spice combination, to be appreciated, in an ala carte environment. This was achieved with the same standard of analysis, applied to the Singapore Sambal spice.

Today, my Satay Sauce, my Singapore Sambal and my Rendang Spices, will have travelled to many places, from former staff travelling through my kitchen.

These are the ways, Cuisine evolved. THIS IS EURASIA








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