Embracing the Peranakan Culture

Being a Peranakan (Malay term  which means “locally born”) I’m blessed to have an extremely rich heritage which draws from both Chinese traders from the 14th century to the 19th century who married the local womenfolk in Malaysia. Peranakans are famous for their elaborate decorations on furnishing and clothing and for their unique blend of food. Peranakan Cusine is generally spicy and lots of different herbs and spices are used in each dish.

Brief History

Most Peranakan Chinese were originally living in Malacca and around the coastal areas of Java and Sumatra. However as the South East Asia developed many migrated to Penang and Singapore seeking greener pastures. My father’s side of the family still have relatives staying in Penang and during our recent trip back to the town of Penang we visited the ancestral home where one of my great grand aunt still resides.

Being offspring of traders my ancestors are well versed in English and all of them had the ability to speak two or more languages. The older generation like my grandmother and her siblings use Baba Malay besides English and Teochew  to communicate with each other. This is a mixture of Hokkien (Chinese dialect), Malay and English.  My parents learned Malay and English in school while for my generation we were taught Chinese and English. None of us speaks Baba Malay unfortunately.


Our traditional costume is the Nyona  Sarong Kebaya (as shown above).  The ladies are always dressed in their brightly coloured Sarong Kebaya’s and beaded glass slippers on special occasions. The Kebaya is fastened together using a “kerosang” which is a set of 3 brooches which are made out of precious stones silver or even  gold. The blouse is handmade  and beautifully decorated with flowers, butterflies or leaves and have exquisite embroidery.


Peranakan Cuisine stems from a unique blend of  Chinese ingredients and wok cooking techniques with spices used by the Malay/Indonesian community. The food is very tasty, aromatic and spicy. Main staples in recipes include coconut milk, candlenuts, pandan leaves, belachan, lime juice and lemongrass.

My favourites from the Peranakan dishes which my grandmother cooks are Ayam Buah Keluak, Beef Rendang, Her Peow Soup and Sambal Kangkong.  Making one dish needs 12-15 different ingredients and it can be laborious following all the steps. I’m lucky I  get to savour them during Chinese New Year when we go visiting.

How do you embrace your culture?

Dominique Goh, Singaporean elementary school teacher, freelance writer and mom of three who is passionate about parenting and educating kids. In her free time you can see her dabbling in photography, cooking and cake decorating and blogging at Dominique’s Desk.


  1. Only the peranakan from Malaysia and Singapore that are well versed in English


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