A Living Heritage

I am a living heritage. I come from a city called Malacca, Malaysia, which is widely known as “The Historical City of Malacca”. I am part of a unique culture which is only found in the Straits Settlements of Malacca. We are called the Baba (male) and Nyonya (female) by the people who know of us. The word ‘Peranakan’ is also commonly used by the locals to distinguish us from the local Malaysian Chinese people. The origins of this culture started with the cross-cultural marriage between a princess from China, Hang Li Poh, and the Sultan of Malacca.

Throughout my years studying in a co-ed school with so many different races, there has been always one issue when I communicate with people. Language, particularly mandarin, is not one of my spoken languages. Despite the fact that my people are half Chinese, we speak Malay and a Chinese dialect, Hokkien. However, I do not see this as a weakness, but one of my unique strengths, as I am a part of this magnificent culture with only a few people left. Being in Nottingham has changed my life a little, as I tend to speak Mandarin with my friends, informally.

Besides languages, we have our very own delicacies. ‘Nyonya’ dishes are blends of Chinese ingredients and spices, used by the Malay people. Most of the dishes are aromatic, spicy and savoury. The ingredients which are normally used in cooking these foods are coconut milk, herbs and curry powder. One of our famous dishes is ‘Ponteh,’ which is the perfect blend of coconut sugar (locally known as gula melaka), soybean paste and spices, with other main ingredients such as mushrooms, potatoes and a meat of your choice. This is an awesome dish to try. It goes well with rice, and it is best to have it while it is steaming hot. This dish is usually served during special occasions and events, for example, Chinese New Year and Anniversaries.

Another must-try dish when you visit a ‘Peranakan’ restaurant is ‘Buah Keluak’. This dish, which takes its name from the fruit it’s made with, is very difficult to describe, and the fruit itself is incredibly rare – it can only be found in rainforests. From my experience indulging in this one of a kind dish, it is bitter and yet it is tasty, but the taste of the fruit really depends on the other ingredients it is cooked with.

‘Nyonya Kuih’ or ‘Nyonya Sweet Cake’ is one of our iconic foods which sometimes stands out more than our main dishes. ‘Ondeh-Ondeh’ is one of the best snacks you could ever find in Malaysia. It is a local dessert which mixes elements from the Malay community. ‘Ondeh-Ondeh’ is very easy tomake and eat, as it only requires ingredients which you can find in your local area. It only needs flour and gula melaka. Be careful when eating it though, as the melted ‘gula melaka’ will pop out of the flour. Try it once and you will know what I mean. Similar coconut-based cakes that people love are ‘Rempah Pulut’ and ‘Kuih Tayap.’

In my culture, weddings in the past always strictly abided by specific rules and customs. Baba weddings would last for 15 days and on each day there would be different ceremonies. They were extremely expensive and time consuming. Now, most of the ‘Peranankan’ people are Christians. As a result, people of this race tend to have weddings in churches rather than their houses.

Elders are extremely important in my culture. Many of the things which I have written for you, I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for my Grandmother telling me them. Sadly, the younger generations now are not exposed to their own cultures – which will eventually lead to cultural extinction. I cannot totally exclude myself from this statement, as I’m not as culturally-aware as I maybe should be, however I do still maintain some exposure to my culture as I am fond of the older generations back home.

My unique culture should be cherished and remembered by wider-society, particularly by young people, so that it can live on. I, along with my people, will forever have a place where we fully belong, and that place is Malacca.

Samuel Leo

"Zeal without knowledge is fire without light." - Thomas Fuller, 17th century historian


  • November 30, 2012

    Mai Lin

    Impressive dear nephew !

  • November 30, 2012

    Samuel Too

    Thanks =D