THROUGHOUT history, Chinese people have left home to start a new life abroad and, wherever they went, they brought their local cuisine with them, introducing new dishes, spices, cooking techniques and even utensils to other cultures.
Nanyang, which literally means “south ocean” in Chinese, refers to Southeast Asia during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Chinese people who emigrated there started to blend their traditional cuisine with new, local flavors, thus creating Chinese dishes with a special Nanyang twist.
The people of Nanyang also started to adopt Chinese culinary methods and invented a series of new signature dishes.
Shanghai Daily took a look at some of those Chinese-infused Nanyang dishes from Singapore and Malaysia — and the best restaurants to eat them in the city.
Laksa is a mix of rice noodles or vermicelli with prawn, egg and curd puffs served in a spicy coconut milk curry.
It was likely created by Nyonya — a word that refers to female descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Southeast Asia and married locals.
They blended Chinese food ingredients with distinct spices and culinary techniques used by Malaysians and Indonesians, and then created tangy, aromatic and spicy Nyonya food.
Making a bowl of authentic laksa is time consuming. First of all, more than 40 spices are pounded together. In order to keep their original taste, traditional stone tools are recommended rather than modern culinary utensils.
Then, garlic, ginger, chilli and citronella and the pounded spices are fried until they start to release subtle smell. The mix is simmered with coconut milk, shrimp, fish fillets and noodles and then sprinkled with some lemon juice and ginger.
Laksa developed over the centuries and is today based on either rich and savory coconut milk or sour tamarind soup. Nanyang people adapted the recipe and created a series of variants.
Where to eat:
• Secret Recipe 食之秘
Address: B027, Hubin Intime Shopping Mall, 258 Yan’an Rd
Tel: (0571) 8587-0566
Wenchang Chicken Rice 海南鸡饭
The original version of this dish was the famous Wenchang chicken rice that was popular in Hainan Province. Later, early Hainan immigrants brought it to Nanyang.
Nanyang people adapted the Wenchang recipe and added local flavors. The present-day Hainanese chicken rice is now considered by gastronomes as the national signature dish of Singapore.
Today, the dish is still cooked in traditional Hainanese style. First, the entire chicken is stuffed with ginger slices and wrapped with layers of salt. It is then simmered until the meat boils. Then the chicken is put into cold water to make the meat tender and smooth. Finally, it’s coated with a layer of sesame oil.
The authentic Hainanese chicken rice is served with sauces, usually freshly minced red chilli, pounded garlic and soy sauce, but fresh cucumber is also popular.
This dish served in Nanyang Bistro is made of authentic Wenchang chicken from Hainan Province. The chicken bones are removed. The rice is boiled with a mixture of varied spices and oils.
Where to eat:
• Nanyang Bistro 南洋炉新加坡料理
Address: 55 Wushan Rd 上城区 吴山路55号
Bak kuk tek 肉骨茶
Bak kuk tek, also called meat bone tea in Chinese, is a meat dish cooked in broth that is common in Malaysia and Singapore, especially in the Hoklo and Teochew residential communities.
Despite its name, the dish in fact does not include any tea.
Although this modern dish is considered typical of the Nanyang area, it was created by Chinese people. In the 1930s, when groups of Chinese migrated there, the high humidity levels are said to have caused rheumatism. In order to remove “inner moisture,” the newly arrived Chinese applied traditional medicine to cook herbal dishes.
Meaty pork ribs were simmered in a mix of herbs and spices including angelica, medlar, dangshen (codonopsis root), cinnamon, fennel seeds, garlic and star anise for hours, turning it into flavorful and nutritious soup-like dish.
Back then, most Chinese immigrants made a living on arduous work and lived in impoverished conditions, but the dish featuring the flavors of the motherland is said to have had a soothing effect and helped many through hard times.
Today, meat bone tea is found in two different variants, namely the Malaysian and Singaporean version. The fist features pepper and garlic tastes, while the latter is characterized by herbal flavors.
The bak kut tek served in Shan Ping Fang Restaurant is traditional Singaporean style.
The restaurant uses an authentic recipe and simmers the soup with more than 20 herbs and ingredients. In order to cater to Hangzhou natives, the dish’s focus lies on the meaty flavor.
Where to eat:
• Shan Ping Fang Restaurant 膳品坊
Address: 56-1 Liubai Lane, Zhongshan Rd N. 中山北路六百弄56-1号
Source: Shanghai Daily