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."