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Peranakan dishes from a Nyonya master

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MALACCA: GEORGE Bernard Shaw once said: "There is no love sincerer than the love of food."

And Nyonya chef Khoo Eik May, who has been in her profession 37 years, will agree.

The newly-appointed head chef, who prefers to just be called May, at the Seri Nyonya Restaurant in Equatorial Hotel, Banda Hilir, here, said her knowledge of Peranakan cuisine was acquired from her mother Ching Chit Nyong, 71 and her late father, Khoo Eng Wah.

"I was born in a poor family and learned cooking from the age of 10. I had to cook for the family as I was the only girl among four children. Furthermore, my mother was busy running her traditional Nyonya cake-making business, so I had to pick up cooking," she said.

Married to a third-descendent Dutch, Wiliam Van Huizen, and blessed with a 15-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, May enjoys full support from her family.

"From my mum, I learned how to cook the best Peranakan cuisine using aromatic herbs and spices, all blended in a secret traditional recipe," she said.

"My fundamental philosophy is to offer diners home-cooked Peranakan dishes," said the third-generation of nyonya from Batu Berendam, here.

The media preview of the dishes prepared by May included such specialities as kacang bendi sambal belacan, ikan lemak nenas, ayam buah keras, nyonya chap chai and udang goreng cili garam.

The latter dish opened many eyes, as cili garam usually uses fish rather than prawn. However, this delicacy is likely to make many return to the Seri Nyonya Restaurant, as the stir-fried prawns with spicy chilli paste and fragrant wild beans is indeed a unique affair.

"The udang goreng cili garam recipe was inspired by my mum and I even went a step further to add chicken to this traditional dish. Mark my word, this special version can only be found at Equatorial Hotel Malacca's Seri Nyonya Restaurant!" said May.

Prior to the main courses, the meal had started with the Seri Nyonya Special Three Hot Combinations, which comprised otak-otak, pie tee and chicken roll.

The latter was not only crispy and tasty, but included a fusion of vegetables not usually found in other versions.

Then came the sop hee peow, a mixture of fish bladder with vegetables and garnished with homemade egg roll.

Among the five signature main course dishes was kacang bendi sambal belacan which was fresh lady's finger served with chilli shrimp paste for a balanced spicy and sour taste. This is a must-try for sambal belacan lovers.

The Nyonya chap chai was a combination of vegetables stir-fried in bean paste with Chinese black mushroom and bean curd as the main ingredients.

The mouthwatering ikan lemak nenas, prepared using steamed fish and juicy pineapple in spicy coconut gravy, is different because the sweet and sour flavours came from the pineapple and not from asam keping as in typical masak lemak dishes.

The combination of stir-fried chicken with candlenut and chilli paste make up the ayam buah keras dish, which basically looks like rendang but does not use a single drop of coconut milk. It is the candlenut that gives the lemak taste, and that is something that will not stop one from going for a second helping.

May also showcased her talent in preparing traditional Nyonya kuih like kuih koci and kuih ku as well as the cendol, which is made from the natural juices of the daun pandan.

Meanwhile, the hotel is having a promotion of Baba Nyonya dishes until the end of the year.

For enquiries or reservations, call 06-282 8333 and ask for Seri Nyonya Restaurant at ext 3380.

‘Sop hee peow’.

‘Kacang bendi sambal belacan’.

‘Ikan lemak nenas’.

Chef Khoo Eik May with her ‘udang goreng cili garam’. Pix by Rasul Azli Samad

‘Nyonya chap chai’.


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