Nyonya food, also referred to as Straits Chinese food or Lank Embok Embok, is an interesting amalgamation of Chinese and Malay dishes thought to have originated from the Malaysian State of Malacca over 400 years ago. This was the result of inter-marriages between Chinese immigrants and local Malays, which produce a unique culture. Their descendants, the Straits born Chinese, were known as peranakan – the ladies were called nyonyas and the men babas.
Straits settlements was also set up in Penang. Over the years, however, distinct differences evolved in nyonya cooking found in Malacca and Penang. Malacca nyonyas prepare food, which is generally sweeter and richer in coconut milk. The Penang nyonya, meanwhile, drew inspiration from Thai cooking styles, including a preference for spicy, hot and sour ingredients.
Nyonya recipe is also above the blending of spices, employing punget roots like galangal, turmeric and ginger; aromatic leaves like screw pine leaf, fragrant lime leaf and laksa leaf; together with other ingredients like candlenuts, shallots, shrimp paste and chilliest. Lemon, tamarind or green mangoes are used to add a tangy taste to many dishes.
Penang Nyonya cuisine is a taste of Chinese with a dash of Malay herbs and Thai spices; cooking in Malay style but using Chinese wok or Thai curries pot.