Nyonya, the Malay term for the foreign women in the Straits Settlement, soon adhered to Peranakan women. Hence, Nyonya and Baba mean Lady and Man. The Peranakans, the word means ‘local born’ in Malay, were of Chinese descent; male settlers from the southern provinces moved to British Malaya and Indonesia between the 15th and 17th centuries, initially a small group had moved before that in the 10th century. These men married local women and often embraced the local customs while still retaining some of their cultures.
Nyonya’s Home is the room fragrance by Singapore Memories that celebrates the fusion of the two cultures, Chinese and Malay, which created the Peranakan culture and its unique tastes and smells found all over the former Straits Settlements.
A journey in Peranakan Culture
A walk through Joo Chiat offers a fine sample of Peranakan architecture and style. The streets are colorful, with each multi-storied house painted in its own distinct color. The ornate facades, wooden shutters, and intricate tiling are a fine sample of what the rest of their cultural heritage must be like.
On further exploration, the Peranakan Museum has a fine display of porcelain, embroidery, clothes, and jewelry to see. Nyonyas wore clothes depending on their culture and they often wore the long dress of the Malay tradition with a batik sarong and brooches. The Peranakan slippers (Kasot Manek) were ornately designed with glass cut beads and made by hand, taking time, skill and patience.
Jewelry and its display was not just a sign of opulence but was also considered to be insurance against hard times. Nyonyas were given their first piece of jewelry from when they were babies and wore a least one piece on special occasions. A bride usually left her maternal home bedecked in it. Ornate and bejeweled hairpins were used to wear their hair up in buns as Nyonyas only let their hair down for funerals and the ensuing mourning period.
Nyonya cuisine was heavily influenced by the Malay traditions and it is Singapore’s most loved food. Visitors to Singapore have a huge selection of restaurants available where they can get a sampling of some of the most famous Peranakan culinary delights. Most dishes incorporate a combination of shallots, chilies, preserved soya beans, coconut milk and a paste made from fermented prawn. Some delicious recipes include Chicken Kapitan, a drier version of chicken curry, and Inchi Kabin, a delicious version of fried chicken, and laksa, the spicy coconut noodle soup that can be cooked with fish, chicken or prawns.
Nyonya’s home is filled with exquisite and elaborate designs. These are reflected in the ornate designs of the architecture, furnishings, and crockery of the home. Nyonya is also exquisite in her beautiful clothes, shoes, and jewelry and her home is filled with the inviting smells of her delicious cuisine.