9 September 2010
The Peranakans (Straits Chinese or Babas and Nonyas) are descendants of early Chinese settlers in the Malay Archipelago from as early as the 17th century. The men were mostly traders, and their marriages with local non-Muslim women gave rise to this uniquely-eclectic culture, which also includes British and Indian influences.
To get a better understanding of the Peranakan culture, immerse yourself in one (or all) of our favourite Peranakan activities. A number of them centre around food as Nonya cuisine takes pride of place on the Peranakan culture mantle.
VISIT A PERANAKAN MUSEUM
What better way to start off your cultural immersion than with a visit to the Peranakan Museum? The museum boasts the world’s most extensive and finest collection of Peranakan artefacts. Get an introduction to the origins of the Peranakans on the ground floor, before learning about their elaborate wedding ceremonies as you walk through the galleries on the second storey. The rest of the museum features permanent exhibits on Nonya wear, cuisine, religion and society, as well as temporary themed exhibits. If you’re lucky, you may visit on a weekend when a celebration is taking place, where various Peranakan performances, art and craft activities, food stalls and souvenirs on sale will make your visit a truly multi-sensory one.
39 Armenian Street
Nearest MRT Station: Bras Basah
TOUR A REAL PERANAKAN HOME
After warming up with an overview to Peranakan culture, take a tour of an authentic Peranakan home. Alvin Yapp of The Intan is more than happy to put together a customised tour of his two-storey house which boasts a treasure trove of Peranakan antiques and collectibles. The tour provides interesting insights into the Peranakan ancestral altar, porcelain, jewellery and other unique objects found in the house. The three-hour tour includes a dinner featuring Nonya dishes prepared by Alvin’s mother. While you tuck into the dishes, Alvin will provide an overview of the Peranakan dining etiquette. Everything in the house is for sale so antique collectors can go wild! Note that visits are by appointment only.
TRY YOUR HAND AT NONYA BEADWORK
Nonya beadwork is a highly-valued artistry among Peranakan women. Starting from the tender age of 12, Peranakan women were known to spend many hours honing their skills in putting these miniscule glass beads together to create animal and floral motifs on shoes, clothing and accessories. It was important that they perfected their craft by the time they were old enough for marriage as the quality of their embroidery and beadwork were a reflection of their upbringing, and had a part to play in their being accepted by their new families. Watch beaders in action at Rumah Bebe or, better still, uncover the techniques behind the intricacies of Nonya beadwork by signing up for a class.
113 East Coast Road
Nearest MRT Station: Eunos
COME TO THE PERANAKAN TABLE
They say that the best way to experience a culture is through its cuisine, and that couldn’t be more true for the Peranakan culture. Peranakan cuisine is a special blend of Chinese ingredients and cooking techniques featuring Malay and Indonesian sauces and spices such as belachan, galangal and tamarind. The result? Flavourful dishes such as laksa, ayam buah keluak and otak otak, which you can sample at Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant, one of Singapore’s oldest Peranakan restaurant. Alternatively, a 3.5-hour long Peranakan Food Trail Tasting Tour by Tours in Singapore runs from Tuesdays to Saturdays, except on public holidays.
COOK LIKE A PERANAKAN PRO
For the food connoisseur, truly experiencing a cuisine means learning the fine art of whipping up that very cuisine. At Grandmothers’ Recipes, you can learn how to prepare ayam buah keluak from scratch and learn how to work with different spices to produce other Peranakan dishes under Rosaline Soon, who used to own and run a successful restaurant business and wrote Grandmothers’ Recipes – Tales from Two Peranakan Kitchens. To complement your learning, buy a copy of her cookbook.
81 Gardenia Road
Nearest MRT Station: Marymount
Photos courtesy of Peranakan Museum, The Intan and Singapore Tourism Board