Malaysia is known for its food. Chinese, Indian, and Malay are all here, often integrated into the most delicious of dishes. I’m in Malaysia right now feasting and learning as much as I can about a cuisine not that well known to North Americans.
Nyonya (or Nonya or Peranakan) cuisine is one of the original fusion cuisines.
The Peranakan (a Malay word meaning “half caste”) are people descended from Malay women and Chinese men who came to what is now Malaysia as early as the 16th century. They are also called Straits-born, Nyonya, or Baba-Nonyas (in Peranakan, baba means men and nonya means women).
The Peranakans had opulent houses and dress, befitting their status as weathly traders. They also had delicious food, and many of the recipes are still popular.
Malay spices are added to more traditional Chinese ingredients, and then cooked with the Chinese wok stir fry method. The result is sour-sweet dishes with just a touch of spice.
I was hosted by the Taj Hotel at their gorgeous Rebak Island Resort, a private island just off of the larger island of Langkawi, in northern Malaysia. Chefs taught me how to make Nyonya Asam Prawns, a surprisingly easy recipe, that I share with you here. I hope one day you can cook it on their lovely beach!
Nyonya Asam Prawns from Rebak Island Resort—Taj Hotel
300 g king prawns (you can take off the heads and peel them first if you want, or go authentic and cook them whole)
1 tbsp asam jawa (tamarind paste)
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soya sauce
1 tbsp dark soya (provides color and aroma; you can leave it out if you can’t find it)
1 tbsp sugar
2-3 tbsp cooking oil
- Mix the tamarind paste, oyster sauce, both soya sauces and sugar. Marinate the prawns in the mixture for a few hours.
- Heat a pan to medium-high and add the cooking oil.
- Once hot, add the prawns and cook both sides until pink.
- Serve hot with rice and, if desired, with sambal (hot sauce).