Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Peranakans in Singapore

We went out for Peranakan food tonight, which was delicious and strange; actually, it is one of my favorite Asian cuisines. We had pork ribs in a delicious sauce which included large (kiwi-size), hard nuts. I think they were inedible (there was certainly no way to open them without a hammer), but have no idea what they were exactly. Other dishes included Assam chicken (chicken in chili and tamarind sauce, along with many other spices I am unable to identify), Ngoh Hiang (pork and shrimp meatballs, with onions; it came with a sweet sauce; this was B's favorite), and crispy chips (not salted) made out of a kind of nut. It tastes like a mixture of Chinese, Thai and Indian food: appropriate, because it actually is a fusion cuisine.

Peranakans are very interesting to me, because in many ways they are the natives of Singapore. The Peranakans are themselves a fusion people, the offspring of Chinese (or Indian) merchants and native Malay women, created by the trading opportunities in Singapore. Under British rule, they formed an elite, more educated and Westernized (many spoke English and were Christian) than the general population. Before British rule, Singapore was a mostly uninhabited tropical island; the British made it into a globally important trading emporium, and the Peranakans were the people who ran it.

While they aren't as culturally distinct nowadays (they are now counted as Chinese by the Singapore government), they are still rich and influential. For example, the founder of modern Singapore (its de facto dictator for many years) is Peranakan. Because the Peranakans tend to be Christian, Christian beliefs thus have a lot of influence on Singaporean decision-making (even though only 18% of the population is Christian). There was recently a big scandal over planned Halloween celebrations at the Singapore Zoo, which ended up cancelled for not being "family friendly" (I think the pagan origins of Halloween were disapproved of; Christians in Singapore tend to be fairly conservative).

The Peranakans are not limited to Singapore. The other two British trading centers, Malacca and Georgetown (Penang), also have large numbers of Peranakans. It will be interesting to see the differences between the various groups when we visit Georgetown next month.

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of that culture- but the food sounds delicious! Very interesting, thanks for sharing.