The Malaysian noodle soup dish, laksa comes in many tastes and variations. Curry laksa and asam laksa are very different and there’s quite a few kinds of laksa; usually with slight differences in taste or flavour and varying from state to state. Johor & Sarawak have their own signature laksa. Other versions can be found in Indonesia and Singapore, too.
Nyonya (sometimes nonya), or Peranakan refers to the a group of Chinese settlers who created a unique culture within South East Asia and specifically Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. They married into local families, created a new cultural system and had created fusion food long before it was a restaurant phrase.
Melaka (sometimes spelled Melacca) is one of the best place in Malaysia to sample Nyonya flavours and traditions, although there is Peranakan history all over the country. Pinang Peranakan Museum, in Penang for example, has an excellent collection of family heirlooms and historical items, however there is absolutely no information or signs. I would suggest it’s better to go to the Musuem in Penang which is much more informative if you actually want to learn about the history of the culture – There is also a musuem in Melaka.
A Peranakan laksa incorporates similarities to Curry laksa, but without quite such bold hard hitting flavours – Curry laksa flavours are more in line with Indian or Mamak spices, whereas Peranakan laksa favours more subtle Chinese/ South East Asian spices. That’s not to say it cannot be spicy as sambal can be added to taste also.
Peranakan, or Nyonya laksa features more herbs & root flavours, including turmeric, lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste, laksa leaf and candlenut to make a flavoursome coconut broth. The broth is also enriched with prawn and chicken stock. It can also be called laksa lemak which refers to the coconut broth.
Just to confuse even more, the end product features ingredients used in asam laksa (julienne cucumber) and also curry laksa (blood cockles). As well as boiled egg, tofu puffs and prawns served with a mix of yellow egg noodles (mee) and thin vermicelli rice noodles (beehoon)
There’s loads of great places to try a laksa in Melaka including Baba Low 486, outside of the city on Jalan Tengera, Po Piah Lwee, near the Jonker walking street on Jalan Kubu and my favourite, Laksa Sayang, which is located at the Irish Harrier Pub, Plaza Mahkota. They’ve left out the blood cockles and replaced it with saltfish. The sambal is insanely addictive.
Other great dishes Nyonya/Peranankan dishes you can eat in Melaka include mee siam, pai tee, putu piring and nonya dumplings and a many dishes we will conquer next time.
Phrases worth knowing
Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih – Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry
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