Recently I got the chance to attend my first supper club and to try out Malaysian Nyonya food – there was no hesitation in accepting the invitation.
It feels like we are quite familiar with the best known bits of Malaysian cooking, laksa noodles and satay spring to mind, however I am also aware that just as curry doesn’t begin to describe food from India, the local Malay cuisines are highly distinct and varied. I also know that Malaysian friends are seriously passionate about their food and so was confident that this home-cooking evening would be a no holds-barred event!
Nyonya comes from the word for womenfolk in the Peranakan communities, those that developed from the mixing of Chinese and Malay peoples. Mainly from Penang and Malacca there are also influences, perhaps more Indian, from the southern Singapore region. Our host/chef Guan Chua – aka www.theboywhoatetheworld.com – left a life in finance to study at a cordon bleu school, take part in ITV’s The Taste and now runs Nyonya supper clubs and tastings when he is not travelling and reviewing.
There were only 8 courses, so we had better get a move on.
Most of the menu was well-known to our Malaysian friends, it was the sort of cooking they grew up with, while I found it vaguely familiar yet also excitingly new. The “top hats” were handmade and the fillings had taken hours of chopping. The Vermicelli was fresh and clean while the Tamarind Prawns were simply outstanding with the sweet and sour tamarind sauce delicately inspiring the seafood.
Having polished off the starters with ease we faced up to two classic Nyonya dishes – Kapitan’s chicken and pork belly. The former, named after a misunderstanding between a ship’s cook and it’s Captain, was a moreish dish with only a hint of coconut while the Braised Caramalised Pork Belly was a melt-in-your mouth favourite and guaranteed showstopper. Served with rice we also had a vegetable Sambal – for some around the table a childhood dish not appreciated yet now received with acclaim.
Six courses in and everyone was feeling the pressure. At this stage Guan Chua introduced a slightly different element to proceedings as he brought some of his cordon bleu training into the Nyonya puddings! The Palm Sugar and Praline Parfaits were divine, the palm sugar adding an oriental hint and the fried banana contrasting well. Last but not least the warm Madeleines were flavoured & coloured with the tropical Pandan leaves – a unique taste and take on the classic french sponge.
The food was super and the explanations fascinating. The informal supper club setting and being amongst friends, some of whom were Malaysian, added greatly to the event – I would whole-heartedly recommend trying out the Malaysian Nyonya supper club or getting in touch with Guan Chua for your own event. My appetite has also been thoroughly whetted to head back out East to explore Malaysia again and in particular to try out Nyonya food in Malacca and Penang.