Options: What is the most important element of Kristang cuisine?
Nunis: To me, it would be spices — especially since the Portuguese came here to trade spices in the first place.
What would you say is a signature Kristang dish for special occasions?
It would definitely be devil/debal curry. But it also depends on the occasion. For Christmas we would have Christmas pie and roast chicken with stuffing — roast turkey was unheard-of then. We would also have sebak (similar to siew bak) — made with chicken or pig’s ears — and feng, which is made with the innards such as liver and the pork meat itself. Feng is a dry curry that has Indian influences. There is also agar-agar made from seaweed.
Why did you choose orange for the colour of your chef’s uniform?
It is a reference to a popular Kristang card game called patui — the cards are orange on one side. When I was young, my older relatives would come over to my family home to play this game. I remember my mother used to cook snacks such as curry puffs and serve them with tea.
What advice would you give those who are just learning to cook?
There is no right or wrong in cooking, you just have to learn as you go along … Cooking is fun! For those who would like to try Kristang cuisine, I would advise preparing some of the ingredients beforehand and keeping them in the refrigerator to shorten the cooking time. For instance, the herbs and spices needed for sambal can be ground beforehand and stored for usage when the need arises. This way, cooking may not seem too time-consuming and beginners would not be put off by the preparation time.
What is your favourite thing about cooking?
Feeding people! I like to see people enjoy their food. I really enjoy this gift I have because I am a people person.
Recreating the delights of Kristang cuisine guided by chef Melba Nunis
Pong Teh Chicken
• 600g chicken (cut into bite-sized pieces)
• 2 potatoes (cut into bite-sized pieces)
• 75ml cooking oil
• 1 litre water
To blend together:
• 80g shallots
• 80g garlic
• 2 tbsp tauchew or fermented bean paste
• ½ tsp dark soy sauce
• 3 tbsp light soy sauce
• 2 tbsp sugar
1. Heat the oil in a wok, add the blended ingredients and sauté over medium heat until fragrant.
2. Add in chicken, water, seasoning and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the chicken is almost cooked.
3. Add in the potatoes and cook till done.
4. Transfer to a serving dish and serve with steamed rice.
Pong Teh Chicken is a great Kristang favourite and is said to taste best when the flavours are allowed to infuse overnight. Most families make a big pot and refrigerate portions to reheat and enjoy with steamed rice over the course of a few days.
This interview is part of 'A Historial Gourmet Trail' article, which appeared on Feb 26, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.