My story begins in my childhood growing up in Singapore, the daughter of Straits Chinese, the Nonyas and Babas of south east Asia whose heritage belongs to the coming together of Chinese from the mainland with the people of the Malay archipelago known today as Malaysia and Singapore.
Food is a national obsession in Singapore, with a wide variety and freshness of ingredients available wherever you look. When I moved to Europe I adapted to produce available here and, adopting the cosmopolitan spirit of my Nonya mother and Baba father, I took the sauces that had been passed down from my ancestors and I began to create my own cuisine firmly rooted in my heritage. With my husband, we went on to open five very successful and popular restaurants in the City of London known as Singapura.
The Peranakan Chinese are marvellous cooks, hosting legendary feasts at festivals and wedding celebrations. In the early days the role of the daughter of a Peranakan family was to learn the skills of embroidery, study traditional arts and culinary practices for the enjoyment and advancement of her husband, his friends and their livelihood. Growing up in more liberal times, nevertheless I was put to use in the kitchen and I learned in the traditional way. Fastidious and attentive, my mother was the perfect teacher for a budding chef and I learnt the full and varied repertoire of Nonya specialities. Nothing pleased my mother more than the looks of delight and appreciation on the faces of her children as we tucked in to family meals.
Even with the benefit kitchen gadgetry, Nonya sauces require painstaking and lengthy preparation. There are a vast number of herbs; rhizomes such as galangal, turmeric, ginger together with onions, garlic, chillies, lemon grass. They all need to be carefully measured, sliced and ground to a fine texture to produce the sambals and smooth curry pastes which are then cooked so that the onions caramelise and the ingredients come together in a melange of hot and sweet, spicy and smooth.
Today, using our Nonya Secrets, you are able to share my family heritage and create in your own home the healthy, complex and delicious cuisine of south east Asia.