Nyonya Food

The early Chinese Traders many of whom became wealthy men, married Malay wives. Their descendants are called Nyonya (the ladies) and Baba (the men). I read that Penang Nyonya cooked food that were more sour (tamarind, lime), spicy (fiery hot chilis), pungent black prawn paste and fragant herbs because they were closer to Thailand. Malacca Nyonyas’ food is generally rich in coconut milk, more sugar and malay spices (coriander, and cumin). For example, Penang Asam Laksa has “Daun Kesum” as opposed to Malacca laksa which has coconut milk.

It is my plan to introduce the Nyonya food that I had growing up, here in my blog. Sweet and sour fish (Nyonya Manis Masam Ikan), Savoury glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaf (Nyonya Bah Chang), Nyonya Pork Stew,

Nyonya Sweet and Sour Fish (娘惹甜酸魚)

is “heavenly delicious”. Did you notice that the following fish is also the banner on my blog? There is a reason. Perhaps one day, I will share the reason. Pardon the blurriness, I took that photo before I knew the “best shot” function on my camera. My Mom can make this dish with her eyes closed. I still have to use measuring spoons, but what’s important is the mouth watering end result.

Ingredients: (Reference: Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian Cuisine by Wei Chuan. )

  • 2 whole trout marinated with 1 tsp each salt and lime juice 1/2 onion sliced,
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed, 4 ginger root slices
  • 1 cup tomato pieces, 2 Tbsp shredded chili peppers
  • 1 cup water, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 1/2 Tbsp each sugar, vinegar, 1 1/2 Tbsp ketchup 1 tsp cornstarch, 1 Tbsp water


  • Score fish in thick areas. Rub with salt and lime juice; Let stand for 30 minutes and then pat dry. Lightly coat fish with corn starch.
  • Heat 4 T oil. Pan fry fish over medium heat for 2 minutes, until both sides is golden brown. Move the fish to the side of pan. Stir fry onion, garlic and ginger in remaining oil until aromatic. Add tomato and chili peppers and lightly stir fry. Move fish back to center. Add water, salt, sugar and vinegar mixture and cook for 5 minutes until fish is cooked. remove fish and put on a plate. Add cornstarch mixture to the remaining mixture in the pan. Stir to thicken. Pour over fish. Serve with rice.

The following photo is a more recent photo. Much clearer now because it is taken with the “best shot” feature on my camera.

Nyonya Bah Chang (in Hokkein language)

My first attempt at making Nyonya Chang. Also known as Nyonya style Glutinous Rice Bamboo Leaf Dumpling in English or Nyonya Chung in Cantonese or Nyonya Zhong Zhi in Mandarin.

I followed the recipe on Lily’s website, but used less sugar: http://lilyng2000.blogspot.com/2006/05/nyonya-chang.html.

My baby’s small hand reaching out to get the chung. Loved this photo!

There are many variations to this type of Nyonya dumpling:

This one added ground nuts and ginger in addition to what Lily had, http://www.asian-recipes.com/celebrations/chinese_festivals_foods/nyonya-rice-dumpling.php

Check out this website. The author was kind enough to share with me the secret ingredient to yet another variation, dried shrimp:

This recipe adds black eyed beans to the rice:

Thanks to Nuttiegrl from mybuddies.net:
Here’s a recipe from Nyonya Flavours recipe book for Nyonya Chang (Puah Kiam Ti Chang)
(makes 15-18)
500g glutinous rice
2 tbsp indigo blue colouring (extracted from butterfly pea flower)
2 tbsp cooking oil
Spice paste (ground)
1 tbsp peppercorns
4 tsp coriander powder
50g (8 cloves) garlic
20g cekur ginger root
300g belly pork, cut into small cubes
2 tsp salt, or to taste
2 tbsp sugar, or to taste
150g candied winter melon, chopped
100g roasted peanuts, pounded
250ml (1 cup) thick santan mixed with
1 tsp salt
30 dried bamboo leaves, soaked until soft and wiped dry
1-2 bundle hemp strings, soaked
2 pandan leaves, cut into 3cm lengths

Wash glutinous rice until water runs clear. Remove 150g of the rice to a seperate bowl and add 2 tbsp blue colouring. Mix well. Soak both the rice overnight in water and drain before use.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok to saute the spice paste until fragrant. Add the pork and stir until cooked. Season to taste with salt & sugar. Add the candied melon, fry for a few seconds before removing from heat. Leave the filling to cool and mix in the pounded peanut.
Bring water to boil in a wok and steam the glut. rice for 1 hour or until cooked. Stir in the coconut milk and steam for another 10 min.
To wrap: Overlap the bamboo leaves together and fold into a cone. Fill cone with 1 heaped tbsp rice, 1 tbsp blue-coloured rice, 1 tbsp filling and another of the glut. rice. Top with a piece of pandan leaf. Fold the loose ends of the bamboo leaves over the rice and wrap dumpling into a pyramid shape before securing with the hemp string. Repeat until you have a dozen or so dumplings all tied to a bunch. Continue wrapping the dumplings on another bundle of hemp string until the rice is used up.
Steam the dumplings over rapidly boiling water for 20-30 min.

Jo’s Deli and Bakery has photos showing how to make and wrap Turmeric Sambal Dumplings. Click on “Recipes” and then “Chinese Pastries, Dim Sum and Desserts”.

Amy Beh’s recipe in kuali using Black Glutinous Rice, mushroom, mung bean, dried shrimp, lotus seed candied winter melon and black bean sauce, in addition to the regular nyonya spice ingredients (shallots, coriander powder, cekur root and garlic) that were mentioned in the other websites.

Rempah Udang (Glutinous Rice Rolls with Dried Prawn Filling)
300g glutinous rice, washed, soaked overnight and drained
200ml thick coconut milk mixed with 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp sugar
1 banana leaf, cut into 20 pieces (of 13x10cm rectangles), scalded to soften and wiped dry
40 pieces of 3cm-long bamboo picks, cut both the pointed edges
100g white grated coconut
50g dried prawns, soaked, drained and pounded
30g candied winter melon, chopped finely
1 tbsp oil
Ingredients (A) – (Ground finely)
1 tbsp roasted coriander powder
1 small piece cekur root (sar keong)
1 clove garlic
4 shallots
1 red chilli, seeded
Seasoning (B)
1/2 tsp pepper powder
1/2 tsp black pepper powder
3 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
2 tbsp water
Steam glutinous rice for 20 minutes then add salt, sugar and thick coconut milk to the rice. Return rice and coconut mixture to the steaming tray and steam for another 10 minutes until well cooked.
Panfry the grated white coconut until evenly browned then grind until fine (kerisek).
Heat oil in a wok and fry ingredients (A) until fragrant. Add the dried prawns, seasoning (B), kerisik and candied melon. Dish out and set aside to cool.
Place 2 tablespoonful of glutinous rice in the centre of a banana leaf. Spread one tablespoonful of filling in the centre and top up with another tablespoonful of rice. Wrap each roll firmly in the banana leaf, press the ends together and secure the ends with bamboo picks.
Grill the rolls over charcoal fire or in an electric grill for 15 minutes, turning the rolls occasionally. An alternative is to pan-grill the rolls in a frying pan, to brown the banana leaves all over, until aromatic.

Hip Chang

I call this chang, Hip because it is my invention. I was inspired to make this for a number of reasons:
1) no bunga telang to extract the blue color and I did not want to use artificial coloring.
2) ate a delicious “Taiwanese fan tuan” in the Yaohan supermarket in Richmond Vancouver that is made out of black glutinous rice.

I steamed the black glutinous rice for 20 minutes then add salt, sugar and thick coconut milk to the rice. Then, returned the black glutinous rice with coconut mixture to the steaming tray and steam for another 10 minutes until well cooked. It is true that practice makes perfect. This is my latest attempt. The translucent square piece is not lard. It is a piece of winter melon. The dark red color is from black glutinous rice. The filling is Nyonya Pork Stew.

Nyonya Pork Stew

(coriander seeds, shallots, garlic, cinnamon stick, sugar, black pepper, black soy and soysauce)


Deep fried lard…

(reference: Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian Cuisine)Ingredients:
1 1/3 lbs (600g) fresh bacon (as shown in the photo above)
1 T dark soy sauce
6 pre softened chinese black mushrooms
2 T each ground shallots and coriander powder
1 T ground fresh garlic
1 1/2 T preserved soybeans (Japanese miso may be used as a substitute)
1 cinnamon stick
1 T each soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar and pepper
1/4 t salt
1 cup water

Mash preserved soybeans into paste. Cut bacon into pieces and mix with the dark soy sauce. Let stand for 1 hour. Heat 2 T oil, pan fry the bacon until golden brown. Remove bacon and discard oil.
Heat 1 T oil; stir fry shallots, coriander powder, garlic, preserved soybeans, cinnamon stick until fragrant. Add in bacon pieces, mushroom and soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar and pepper, salt and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 1 to 1 1/2 hours until sauce is thick and meat is tender.

9 responses to “Nyonya Food

  1. Anonymous

    Why are you blocking the fish’s eye?

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    It was my toddler’s hand. She was trying to touch the delicious fish when I was taking the photo.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  3. Michelle

    Hi there,

    Hope this doesn’t sound too unusual… I’m trying to buy Pandan leaves in Auckland (NZ) and I’m wondering if you know where I can get them? Thanks in advance! Cheers, Michelle 🙂

  4. Dear Michelle,
    No, no question is too unusual. I live in the US. I can buy Pandan leaves (frozen) from an Asian store called Manila. I never bought frozen Pandan leaves because I am not sure if they are still fragrant. I am not sure where to buy Pandan leaves in Auckland NZ. My Mom and Dad used to live there. I will ask them if they remember seeing Pandan leaves.

  5. Pauline

    I live in Vancouver, BC. I buy my pandan in a Vietnamese grocery store and freeze them for future use. You just have to use a little bit more in cooking. That’s all. But you have to use the fresh leaves if you want to extract the juice for certain recipes.

  6. Dear Pauline,
    Welcome to my blog. Thanks for the information that we can use fresh Pandan Leaves that are previously frozen. I have not seen fresh Pandan Leaves here in Oregon, US.

    Hymm, I wonder if I can bring fresh Pandan Leaves across the border from where you live back to the US, where I live. If so, I will visit a Vietnamese store in Vancouver B.C.

  7. carmelita

    if u live in portland oregon, u can get frozen pandan leaves in fubon. u need to search for it in the frozen section . i use in for my barley soup..

    • Hi Carmelita,
      I haven’t bought any frozen pandan leaves from Fubon yet because I fear the frozen leaves are not as fragrant as the fresh ones. I should try it sometime. Adding it to barley soup reminds me of how my Mom used to make hers. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Lilian

    I love these dumplings, but where can I buy the bamboo leaves and pandan leaves after the festive season in Singapore?

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