Peranakans are made up of people descended from marriages between Chinese or Indian men and local Malay or Indonesian women from around the Malay Archipelago. A rich hybrid of these ethnic traditions with a touch of Portuguese, Dutch and Indonesian influences, the Peranakan (meaning ‘locally born’ in Malay) culture refers to men as ‘baba’ and women as ‘nonya’.
Dress was a significant form of cultural and individual expression for the Peranakans. Apart from a whole repertoire of exquisite ornaments, jewellery and intricately beaded footwear, they are famous for their beautiful nyonya kebayas, a traditional blouse-dress combination of intricate costume embroidery.
However the Peranakans are most famous for their imaginative and creative cuisine which is infused with delicate flavours. Peranakan or “Nonya” food is a blend of Chinese and Malay culinary traditions made with a range of indigenous herbs and spices. Employing chillies, belachan (spicy prawn paste) and coconut milk as vital ingredients, wok cooking techniques of the Chinese and spices used by the Malay and Indonesian community produce tangy, aromatic and spicy dishes.
Choose from several restaurants to sample Peranakan cuisine, one being Blue Ginger in Tanjong Pagar which is nestled amidst a row of quaint shophouses and complete with nostalgic decor reminiscent of Singapore's colonial heritage. Featuring many aspects of Straits Chinese living, it creates a distinctly peranakan dining atmosphere in which to indulge the many authentic peranakan dishes. Baba Inn is a Peranakan seafood restaurant in Siglap, and has been a favourite for as long as anyone can remember. Apparently the famous Peranakan dish ngo hiang is touted as one of the best in town, while the dishes of the House of Peranakan Cuisine at Frankel Avenue have been handed down personally through generations, with its Curry Fish Head being named by the Asian Wall Street Journal as the best dish in Singapore in 2002.
Although Peranakans settled in several areas throughout Singapore, the Peranakan legacy is best showcased in the Katong/Joo Chiat district. Named after wealthy Chinese landowner Chew Joo Chiat, this area is dotted by colourful shophouses and homes that are adorned by sculpted facades of animal reliefs and hand-crafted ceramic tiles. Visit Peranakan home museums The InTan and NUS Baba House for added insight into the past, or indulge at traditional coffee shops that sell local delicacies.
Former home of many members of the wealthy Peranakan community, Emerald Hill is located just off famous shopping thoroughfare Orchard Road. Emerald Hill Road was laid out in 1901 and construction of the Peranakan-style shophouses began shortly afterward. Terrace houses built between 1901 and 1925 feature Chinese Baroque architecture, and today the area remains an upscale neighbourhood, and locals and visitors flock there to chill out at the various trendy bars.
The Peranakan Museum is a gallery exhibition which houses the world’s largest and best overview of Peranakan life over three floors, and is not to be missed. Explore documents and artefacts, Peranakan wedding rituals and accessories, or learn about their religious choices, public life and food.