Thursday, January 27, 2005

Perot Rumah 1

The kitchen is the centre of household life and activity in a Baba house the matriach of the house and the womanfolk would gather here to prepare food and even entertain relatives and friends. That is why the Baba akin the kitchen as the Perot Rumah or The stomach of the house.

" My grandmother's friends never had to venture beyond the comforting embrace of the kitchen when visiting her. It is from here that my grandmother entertained traders, family friends and relatives as the the mistress of the house" Lim Kean Siew, The Eye Over the Golden Sands - Pelanduk Publications

In the days before refrigeration, live fowls were kept in cages in the backyard. Food had to be stored away from ants and cockroaches, so a long hook will hang from the ceiling and on this hook a small wooden box enmeshed with fly screen doors was suspended. The meat storage boxes were later replaced by tall almari cupboards with fly screen doors. The four high legs of the almari stood in small bowls made of ceramic which were filled with water to deter ants.

Cooking was done on long brick stoves with several holes over which the cooking pots were placed. The fuel source would be firewood in the early days, charcoal was only available later.

The furniture would be a square or long wooden table with long bangku (benches) for preparing food as well as for the servants dining.

Wooden drying racks hung on the walls were use to store the many tools required for food preparation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Loak Embok Embok - Nyonya Cuisine

The correct term to describe Peranakan food - Is Nyonya Food or Loak Embok Embok. Why ??? It is because the food is cooked by Nyonyas..but now with more Babas stepping into the kitchen this may not be so.

In the old days the Nyonyas view cooking as an accomplishment to be proud of, daughters were trained in the art of cooking at an early age.

In her book Mrs Lee Chin Koon recollect....

"We were taught to sew and to perform domestic duties expected of us as Peranakan daughter-in laws. Most important of all, we were taught to cook well. We would start by doing simple things around the kitchen like peeling shallots (bawang merah). Even that can be considered an art, as we had to learn to peel the shallots without shedding tears. We were taught to peel the shallots at an arm's length so that the wind would blow the shallot juices away from our eyes.

Matchmakers played an important role in those days. They would call at 10 o' clock in the morning. That was the time when we all prepared our rempah (pounded ingredients), and they could tell by the sound of the mortar and pestle if there were good cooks in the house. There should be a rhythm to the pounding. From the sound of the pounding, we can tell which ingredient is being pounded and also whether the person who is pounding is an experienced cook.

Our Nyonya food is so complicated that it takes years to learn and master. We had to learn to pound our rempah to just the right texture, we had to learn to fry garlic until it was golden brown, light and crispy, we had to learn to combine and measure our spices so that they would harmonize, and we had to learn how to fry our dishes so that the gravies would be clear and bright, not dull, in colour. All these require training, experience and skill. In those days, we didn't use recipes and measurements such as tablespoons, and everything was done by agak (estimation). Everything had to be learned by watching and practice."