Lay Ean Eng (Kee) from Penang, Malaysia
Hi! I am Lay Ean.
I am a Nyonya from Penang, Malaysia and came to Australia to study and ended up settling in Australia more than 30 years ago with my beautiful family.
When I first arrived in Australia, I discovered that to cook an authentic nyonya cuisine can be quite challenging. Asian ingredients were not readily available here, I had to rely on ingredients carried back from home (Penang) to cook those dishes. The alternative was to visit Malaysian and fill up with one year’s worth of food craving in a few weeks!
Also, when my children came along, I sort of diverted to easier dishes, such as steamed, or oven-baked; or dishes that required less than 4 ingredients. the reason was my children were not used to the spicy flavour of nyonya cuisine, and also it was less time consuming. Thus our meals revolved around my children’s needs at that time.
Secondly, to cook nyonya dishes, it needs ample time to prepare the raw ingredients. Due to the lack of time on my part, I did’t make the time to prepare the necessary ingredients for the dishes.
RECONNECT TO MY ROOTS
NOW that my children have grown up, I am taking this opportunity to reconnect to my roots and I am re-learning how to cook the nyonya dishes that I grew up with.
I am delighted with the amazing array of Asian grocery shops and ingredients we can now find in Australia. The possibility of successful nyonya cooking is now endless.
It has been many years since I last properly cooked my childhood dishes. I am now re-learning and reconnecting to these amazing dishes, and I would like to share this journey with all of you who are interested in the Nyonya cuisine … and, being well aware of the challenges that I personally faced, I’m making it my mission to make cooking Nyonya cuisine as simple as possible, so that everyone can easily learn how to cook them, and most importantly, enjoy the experience.
I’m fired up! I want to introduce the amazing Nyonya cuisine to the world! And I’d like to invite the peranakan community to reconnect to their roots, and share this amazing cuisine with the next generation.
MY MISSION – Simple, Do-able and Authentic in taste!
Therefore my mission for Nyonyalicious is – make nyonya cuisine as simple as possible, using ready-made ingredients that can be found in Australia as well as in other places in the world.
What is Tok Panjang?
“Tok”, means Table in Hokkien, and “Panjang” means Long as a Malay term. Tok Panjang in Malaysian / Baba Nyonya (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peranakan) means Long Table.
In traditional terms, when we mention Tok Panjang, we usually refer to a type of feast associated with weddings and special occasions, and the amazing peranakan cuisine that is served on these occasions.
For my family back in Malaysia, we had a “Tok Panjang” (long table), where family members would gather during special occasions, festivities or during meal times, and be served delicious baba nonya dishes.
A little bit about Nonya Cuisine
First let’s talk a bit about Nyonya cuisine. Nyonya or peranakan cuisine is a fusion of Chinese and local Malaysian dishes.
A proper nonya cuisine is very labour-intensive as the nonyas are meticulous about their food presentation. For example, vegetables, like carrots, were crafted into floral designs, or were very finely chopped, while kaffir lime leaves were finely sliced etc.
It the olden days, in order for the nyonya ladies to be considered an ideal nyonya bride, they were expected to be proficient in preparing delectable cakes and dishes. Thus, the training in cooking and domesticity would start at a very young age.
For me personally, I grew up in a nonya family and enjoyed nyonya cuisine almost every day of my life until I left for Australia, and I still crave and cook nyonya dishes at home. I am sure many Peranakan will agree with me… once you were brought up with such fine dining, it stays with you forever!
However, due to the smaller community (Peranakan community) cooking such amazing dishes, not many restaurants are able to replicate the refinement of such dishes locally and overseas.
Also, with more and more nonya pursuing careers of their own, the art of nonya cooking is, sadly, gradually becoming a thing of the past.
Therefore, I would like to bring back the amazing nonya cuisine to the Peranakan community and the public in general, irrespective of where they live in the world.
However, I am aware of the following practical cooking considerations:
- Lack of time due to careers.
- Lack of knowledge of understanding how to blend and harmonise the spices together.
- Lack of raw ingredients for people who live in another part of the world.
Thus, in order to overcome these three issues, the best solution is to use ready-made ingredients, ranging from pastes, tamarind pastes etc. My mission is to show you how to create different nonya dishes from these amazing ready-made ingredients that I have been using for my own cooking for the past 20 years.
My mission is to introduce the amazing Nyonya cuisine to the community, irrespective of where you live. However, I want to do it in a way that is conducive to the 21st century.