Nyonya Heritage and Food


Photo from http://www.peranakannetworks.com/blog/

Nyonya heritage or Peranakan is unique in Malaysia* (and Singapore), their diaspora can be found mainly in settlements along the Straits of Malacca, mainly Penang, Malacca and Singapore. The unique blend of heritage comes from the marrying of culture between the Chinese settlements in Malaysia and the local Malay culture. Through the decades, they have slowly infused the local customs from fashion to food into their lifes in their new home country. They are sometimes also known as the Baba Nyonyas (Baba – the men and Nyonya – the women). Most of the Peranakans have Hokkien ancestry like myself  being 1/4 Peranakan through my maternal grandmother.

The very close ties between China and the Malay Peninsula were further fostered particularly in the early 15th century between Parameswara and Laksamana Cheng Ho. 

* On a side note, I am not sure if there exists a similar marrying of cultures in Indonesia which may be called differently over there.


Fashion:  The nyonya kebaya is beautiful from the sarongs to the laced bodice for tops with kerongsang (chained brooches) as their accessories.  The shoes (kasut manik) are traditionally hand beaded.

Food: Nyonya or Peranakan food is experiencing a revival these days with many restaurants sprouting out showcasing the once home style cooking to now a  finer dining experience in some cases.  Examples of their food is Inchi Kabin (fried chicken), Curry Kapitan, Jiu Hoo Char (cuttlefish and turnip dish), Lor Bak (pork rolls), Perut Ikan, etc. while Buah Keluak is being predominantly used in Singapore due to the main influence from Indonesia.  The Nyonya dishes use a lot of local herbs – daun kadok, pandan, lime leaves , tumeric, chillies..fusion at its best! Not to be missed are the nyonya kuihs (sweet cakes) like onde onde, pulut inti, kuih bengka ubi kayu, many are made from rice flour, coconut milk and tapioca.

Some recipes to share:

Language: A blend of the malay/ chinese hokkien words in their daily conversations. Also known as Bahasa Melayu Baba


Peranakan museums:

  1. Malacca, Malaysia
    Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum
    48-50 Jl Tun Tan Cheng Lock Melaka

Restaurants (Penang) :

  1. Hainan Town (halal)
    Penang Jetty (Tanjung Marina)
  2. Perut Rumah
    17 Jalan Kelawei Road, Penang
  3. Nyonya Breeze
    50 Lorong Abu Siti, Penang
  4. Mama’s
    31 D, Lorong Abu Siti, Penang

 kuih kuih kohsui


Variety of nyonya kuihs (sweetcakes)*

* photos from rasamalaysia site and the gastronomic diary blog


5 thoughts on “Nyonya Heritage and Food

  1. hi Sui Yin
    Like yourself, I am a peranakan and also love food (obvious right?). My late maternal grandmother came from Melaka and I appreciate its culture from my mum.

    Over here in Singapore, we too have the Peranakan Museum (http://www.peranakanmuseum.sg) and our local television series “The Little Nonya” is a big hit.

    Before I get carried away with peranakan culture especially its food, I am a libraian with the National Library Board. We have a database called Infopedia at:


    Infopedia has lots of information on Peranakan culture in Singapore such as: personalities like Violet Onn (a celebrity cook and author), architecture buildings depicting the unique Peranakan motifs, dondang sayang and of course, food! Feel free to take a look at Infopedia.

    I have not been to Penang and hope to do so one day to savour and absorb the rich Peranakan culture there.

    Dennis Kweh

    • Thanks for the information. I will check it out. If you go to Penang drop me a line and I will see what I can help you with! 🙂

  2. Hi Sui Yin,

    i belong to the 3rd generation of a small nonya restaurant in singapore which my grandfather opened in 1953, Straits Chinese Guan Hoe Soon.

    I hope i could pass down the traditions of our food culture and keep this traditions going as it UNIQUE only to this part of the world

    Welcome if you drop by in SG.

    Cheers Kevin

    • i am happy to hear that you are keeping the tradition going. Where is your grandad’s place in Singapore? Thanks for the invite – will drop you a note if I run by SG one of these days.

  3. You may be interested in my book, “Penang Heritage Food”. It is about cooking traditional Penang food from a Nonya/Baba perspective and about heritage related to food.On

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