Peranakan cuisine is fondly cherished by Singaporeans. It is a unique blend of culinary traditions, laborious preparation, and deliciously bold flavours. Due to its many influences, people are quick to label its flavours. However, these chefs are here to prove that it is, indeed, distinctly Nyonya.
“It’s only because of passion. To prepare Peranakan food, you need to have passion and a sensitive palate.“Florence Lim
Chef Juliana Tan
Juliana grew up with mouth-watering Peranakan food on the table and was introduced to kitchen duties at the young age of nine. As an adult, she worked in the beauty industry for 15 years but could not ignore her passion for cooking.
While she loves experimenting with cooking styles, methods, and flavours, she admits that traditional practices remain superior. Traditional cooking methods are the crux of Peranakan cuisine. It requires a lot of effort, but the taste is always worth it, just like her Tu Thor Th’ng.
Tu Thor Th’ng(Pepper Pig Maw & Ribs Soup) is a traditional Peranakan delicacy is known for its distinct peppery flavour. It is a nutritious soup made with pig maw, pork ribs, white peppercorns & ginkgo nuts. The peppery broth has many benefits, including helping a weak digestive system & warming the stomach.
Like most dishes of the cuisine, it is hard to make. Cleaning the pig stomach is the most strenuous part. 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
Peppercorns are the most challenging ingredient in this recipe. Getting the right 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.
Chef Florence Lim
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 must-haves in a Peranakan kitchen. Forced to pounding spices for Rempah is an experience she’s very grateful for now, she says.
It helped her develop culinary insight into various tastes and a keen eye for detail and measurements. She proudly credits her father and grandma for helping her hone these skills.
Since the recipe was not recorded, the only way Florence could perfectly recreate her family’s Ayam Buah Keluak was tasting and recalling. Ayam Buah Keluak is a traditional Peranakan festive dish made of juicy chicken, baby pork ribs, rich tamarind gravy, pounded spices and buah keluak (Pangium edule).
Curing the seeds is a critical part of the preparation. The Buah keluak is known for being deadly poisonous, so she is meticulous in cleaning them. Florence begins the process by soaking and boiling them daily for 7 days to remove all traces of cyanide. She carefully chisels a hole into the hard exterior and simultaneously smells and tastes each seed to ensure its freshness.
Adding her freshly hand-pounded Rempah to the stew, the aroma that lingers in her kitchen often takes down memory lane. Ayam Buah Keluak is known for being a laborious dish. For Florence, being able to preserve her culture and cuisine by sharing this authentic 40-year-old recipe makes it all worth it.
Joining forces with Esseplore to share their passion with treasured age-old Peranakan recipes, Chefs Juliana and Florence show off their great professional relationship.
They understand each others’ cooking styles and highlight their strengths, as seen in their menu, Baba Nyonya Delicacy. It seamlessly spotlights the uniqueness of the traditional cuisine and accentuates the chefs’ individual best dishes.
*this post has been updated since December, 2020.