Peranakan cuisine is cherished by Singaporeans and represents heritage and tradition. It is a unique blend of culinary traditions, laborious preparations, and deliciously bold flavours. Due to its many influences, people are quick to label these flavours. However, these chefs are here to prove that it’s distinctly Nyonya.
Peranakan home chefs and best friends Juliana Tan and Florence Lim make up the culinary business Nonya_licious. They’ve been friends for over 25 years, and their bond has only grown stronger through their shared Peranakan roots as they often cook, eat and even travel together. Nyonya food is known for its long, time-consuming preparations but these chefs always bring their A-game.
“It’s only because of passion. To prepare Peranakan food, you need to have passion and a sensitive palate.“Florence Lim
Juliana grew up with mouth-watering Peranakan food on the table and was introduced to kitchen duties at the age of 9, mostly in charge of pounding spices. As an adult, she worked in the beauty business for 15 years, though her passion remained the same: cooking. Growing up with those tastes and flavours gave her the ability to easily distinguish between dishes made using traditional methods and instant pastes. She loves experimenting with cooking styles but maintains traditional practices will always be superior. It takes a lot of effort, but the taste is worth it; just like her Tu Thor Th’ng or Pepper Pig Maw & Ribs Soup.
This nutritious Peranakan delicacy is famous for its rich pepper flavours, but like most dishes of the cuisine, it is hard to make. Cleaning the pig stomach is the most strenuous aspect. Juliana makes sure to clean the interior and exterior meticulously, removing all slime and foul smells.
‘Most people are scared to eat this soup outside because they don’t know how it’s cleaned. We understand that because we are also like that. That’s why we take extra care.’Juliana Tan
She says the peppercorns are the most challenging ingredient. Getting the right amount of flavour is difficult, but with years of practice, Juliana has mastered it. The dish is now known among her friends to be one of her best.
The other half of the duo, Florence also grew up in a Peranakan family and had to help out in the kitchen at a young age. Mortar and pestle are a must-have in the Peranakan kitchen and she would help pounding spices for Rempah, an experience she’s very grateful for. It was through this she gained culinary insight into various tastes and an eye for detail, which was influenced by her dad and grandma. Like her father, she loves measurements and recently ventured into baking because of it.
Since there wasn’t a recorded recipe at that time, Florence was able to recreate her family’s Ayam Buah Keluak by tasting and recalling. This traditional Peranakan festive dish consists of juicy chicken, baby pork ribs, rich tamarind gravy, pounded spices and buah keluak (Pangium edule). Curing the seeds are the most important part of the preparation. Florence begins work by soaking and boiling them daily for 7 days to remove all traces of cyanide. The buah keluak is known for being deadly poisonous, so she is meticulous in cleaning them. She carefully chisels a hole into the hard exterior, simultaneously she smells and tastes each individual seed to ensure its freshness. Cooking freshly pounded Rempah with the other ingredients, the aroma that lingers in her kitchen takes her back to her childhood. Ayam Buah Keluak is known for being a laborious dish, but for Florence, being able to preserve the Peranakan cuisine by sharing this authentic taste from 40 years ago is worth it.
Joining forces to share their passion for Peranakan food with fellow Singaporeans, Chefs Juliana and Florence have a great professional relationship as well. They understand each other’s cooking style and highlight each other’s strengths. With Esseplore, they’re keen to expand their culinary horizons by sharing their generations-old authentic Peranakan recipes and build a loyal customer base.