Peranakan Food & Wine

published in Time Out Singapore

Peranakan (local born) cuisine combines exotic and aromatic Malay spices with Chinese textural cooking. Peranakans are, after all, descendants of Chinese male immigrants who married the Malay women of Straits Settlements in the 17th Century.

When ordering wines to accompany, note that these hybrid culture cuisines are also influenced by geography. Dishes from Singapore and Malacca have a greater Indonesian influence, with say, the use of coconut milk in curries. Creamy chardonnays mirror tastes here. Buah Keluak – chicken with Indonesian black nuts is chocolatey and rich so venture something rustic like Tannat, Carmenere, Pinotage or Cotes de Bourg.

Penang peranakan cuisine’s sour overtones suggest Thai influences. Pork is stir fried with Cincaluk – the condiment of fermented tiny prawns. If limes are squeezed over to brighten the dish’s taste, wines such as Vin de Savoie, Picpoul de Pinet or dry Riesling or Vinho Verde play a similar role. Also, contrast Itek Tim or Kiam Chye Ark Th’ng (salted vegetable duck soup) with a redish and sweet wine – Marzemino or White Zinfandel.

The Portuguese peranakans (Eurasians) spawned the Kristang ethnic group whose signature dish is Curry Devil. It’s rich and fiery, from the mustard, vinegar, candlenuts and chilli. Chicken, pork or wild boar, could feature but ultimately, it’s the hot curry you have to match. Go for sweet Muscat, served icy cold.

Similarly, Chitty or Indian Peranakan food will be assertive so let the dishes take the lead with a generic red or white wine.  There’s also Jawi peranakan (Muslim Indian) and Yahudi peranakan (Jewish) and rosés work here.

The most common Peranakan food remains the Chinese Malay style – typically tangy, aromatic, spicy and herbal thanks to ingredients such as coconut, laksa leaf, candlenuts, pandan leaf, belachan, lemongrass and kaffir lime.  And the most versatile wines to match? Riesling or a fruity Merlot.

Find out more in the books “Pairing Wine with Asian Food” or “Wine with Asian Food”