Melaka is a charming UNESCO Heritage site in Malaysia, which is well known for its architecture and food, but less known for its people. It seems that everyone’s focus is the Jonker Walk and a rickshaw ride. Tourists who visit Melaka don’t care about complicated legacy, and this is why we want to tell you about one particular heritage – Kristang Cuisine. If you still remember Peranakan or rather Nyonya cuisine, you will find some similarities. So similar and yet so different.
- Origins of Kristang Cuisine
- Forces that shaped the Kristang Cuisine
- Where can You Taste the Kristang Cuisine?
- Who is Melba Nunis?
- Kristang Food Examples
- Kristang Dessert
- Final Thought on Everything Kristang
Origins of Kristang Cuisine
What is known as the Kristang cuisine now, has started with the Portuguese invasion of Malacca, in 1511. Portuguese conquered the already successful trade settlement and ruled it for over 100 years. Before Portuguese arrival, Melaka belonged to its founder, the Sultan Parameswara, last prince of Singapura.
Soon after the arrival, Portuguese immigrants developed a liking for the Chinese, Indian, and Malay cuisine and women. With intermarriages happening, cuisine took some unique turns. Ongoing supply of fresh seasonings and an introduction of pork also played a vital part in the development of the Kristang cuisine.
Important to realize is that Portuguese descendants had to live under the Dutch rule for over 150 years. In that time, Kristang people adopted some of the Dutch customs before Britain came into the picture. In a century British presented their traditions and food items that Kristang people incorporated into their cuisine.
Forces that shaped the Kristang Cuisine
Kristang cuisine follows Christian traditions and is deeply intertwined with Melaka’s multicultural community. Kristang cuisine was in the making for roughly half of a century and includes signature dishes that were always part of holidays and significant events like weddings.
Popular activities with an abundance of food include game nights, where hostess proudly prepared her specialties, Christmas feasts, desserts, stuffed sweet pickles, and everything in between. The majority of the dishes are inspired by Melaka’s favorite Chinese, Malay, and Indian dishes. Of course, Portuguese roots are very well alive and evident in generous protein portions. Kristang people enjoy the chili heat, curries, different kinds of soy sauce and proudly use local ingredients with their flavor-packed twist.
Where can You Taste the Kristang Cuisine?
There are a few places in Melaka, Singapore, and lately, Kuala Lumpur, where you can try some Kristang food. Naturally, you should give the first chance to Melaka, where the offer is most authentic and abundant. Having said that, we must admit that if it weren’t for Majestic Malacca, we wouldn’t know about Kristang heritage at all, let alone about Chefs Melba Nuni’s efforts for saving the Kristang heritage.
Who is Melba Nunis?
Melba Nunis is a successful Chef who is doing her best to preserve Kristang cuisine and culture. She grew up in a Portuguese Settlement in Melaka, where her family of Portuguese descendants shared a house with a tropical garden. This garden provided a tasty bounty that her mother, Mercy, found very useful. From the early years, Melba Nunis showed her interest in cooking and carefully observed her mother and grandmother working in the kitchen. Later on, she started saving her mother’s recipes and followed them after she had her own kitchen and family. Her career as a Chef is relatively new, but she is a Kristang cook for all her life. That is why we grabbed a chance of authentic food and tried some dishes of Melba Nunis at the Majestic Malacca Hotel.
Kristang Food Examples
A house restaurant at the Majestic Malacca Mansion is Melba’s brainchild. She prepared the Kristang menu, taught the staff how to cook it, and shared the secrets of Kristang home-cooking with them. Now Majestic Malacca offers a Kristang cooking course where you can also get Kristang family cookbook. We will post about class, accompanied by Kristang’s recipe, next time.
Traditionally this dish is served first at the bride’s home and has European fundamentals. Basically, this is a beautiful chicken soup with gentle flavors. While carrots, potatoes, and croutons are from the West, deep-fried onion is not.
Kristang’s version of originally Peranakan dish kept the lightness but added some depth to the flavor profile. Numerous ingredients include different vegetables, fungi, tofu, fish balls, and al dente cooked glass noodles. The use of fermented soybean paste adds some zing to the already very flavourful mix.
Eggplant in Soy Sauce
This has to be the easiest Kristang recipe, with an always satisfying outcome. Once the eggplants are deep-fried, they marinate in the dark, sweet & sour sauce. This way, the soft eggplants soak up the juices like a sponge and compliment any main dish.
Rice with Fermented Krill
Fermented krill is proudly standing its ground in the background of every bite. Its funky taste is pleasant and goes wonderfully with pineapple, chicken, and seafood in the rice. This is a flavor-packed one-course meal we haven’t come across through our South East Asia travel.
Fiery Fish Curry
The Peranakan inspired coconut curry is seasoned with fragrant kaffir lime leaves, tamarind juice, and chilies. Munching on tomatoes and fish cuts through the heat, but will not leave you coldhearted.
Semur Beef Stew
A mix of different soy sauces takes over the first lead with intense saltiness. At first, it was a little too much, but we quickly diluted it with potatoes to find the umami bomb. After that, we could savor the tender, slow-cooked beef with a touch of vinegar and onions. Now we can see why Melba’s grandmother prepared this dish for their British friends when they came over for drinks.
We indulged in the bowl of tapioca pearls with smokey Gula Melaka palm sugar in the peak of the afternoon heat. It was fantastic to cool down with chilled coconut milk and bouncy tapioca pearls.
Coconut sponge cake is another sweet Kristang treat we had a pleasure to taste. This soft and juicy sponge cake includes the freshly grated coconut meat that adds taste and texture to the aromatic dough.
Last Kristang cake we had at Majestic Malacca hotel is traditionally eaten at the wedding and Christmas. Although it was an ordinary day, the Sugee cake with almonds and rose fragrance, felt special with royal icing on the top.
Final Thought on Everything Kristang
Kristang food is reflecting 500 years of constant adaptions and time-honored traditions. Keeping the traditions alive must have helped early Portuguese settlers overcome the longing for home while it helped the young to found a place in the community. Once the Dutch and British come into the picture, the European customs might even help make some new friendships. Undoubtedly that encouraged the creation of new dishes and accepted the multicultural environment.