Saturday, November 17, 2012

Penang Roots

I had the pleasure recently of returning to Penang together with my extended family, to visit relativees there.  I had  earlier written about my previous visit to Penang.  This time around, our extended family trip made it easier for my cousin and I to get in touch with our Penang relatives.

My great-great grandparents
and my great-grandfather (on the right)
It was also a good opportunity for me to find out more about my paternal  grandmother and her family. According to family lore, it was my great-great-great grandfather who came to Penang.  His portrait hangs in the family home, dressed in the robes of a Mandarin.  His son, my great-great-grandfather, had a few children.  How many, I am not sure - but this photo (on the left) shows my great-great-grandparents with two of their sons - one of whom was my great-grandfather.  His  daughter would become my grandmother.  (Incidentally, the photo in the picture is actually a replica of the original - why it is relatively unfaded still.  The original, much  faded, is displayed opposite to this replica.) My great-great grandparents also had (at least) one daughter.  She would become my paternal grandfather's mother - as mentioned previously, my paternal grandparents were first cousins.

Front door
My great-grandfather married a KL girl.  She had three children, one boy and two girls.  But sadly, he died young, leaving his wife to bring up the children.  Two of them would stay in Penang, but my grandmother moved down to Singapore after her marriage to my grandfather.  But whilst she may have left physically, she would retain her Penang nonya upbringing all her life - always wearing her sarong kebaya.  And of course, according to her children, she was an excellent cook!

It was thus a nostalgic journey back to Penang, to revisit our family home, with its portraits on the wall of my ancestors.  It is not a magnificent mansion like the Pinang Peranakan mansion, just the home of a more humble Baba merchant and his family.  It is a traditional home, with the carved wooden doors opening into the reception room, containing the family altar, and ornate peranakan furniture, some of which are still there today.  (Supplemented by the desktop computer and printer in one corner of course).

Behind the reception room, the house opens up into the family areas, lit up by the airwell which lit up the interior of the home.  The plants and water feature bring the outdoors indoors, a quiet oasis in busy Georgetown.

My great-grandmother's pillow
My Penang uncle has spent quite a lot of time and effort restoring his home and also in supplementing his collection of antiques and curios - many displayed in his cabinets and on his shelves.  Some have sentimental value - in particular this little leather pillow, which was used by my great-grandmother for many years.  Hmmm... I must say give me my nice soft fluffy pillow anytime!  Note also the little pair of slippers on the right.

I venture to think, that if my great-grandfather were to come back today, he would still feel that he was in familiar surroundings.  A homecoming indeed.

More photos together with others of my Penang visit(s) here.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Chicken Curry Kapitan

Chicken Curry Kapitan by Taking5
Chicken Curry Kapitan, a photo by Taking5 on Flickr
After my visit to Penang, I felt inspired to post up this yummy recipe for Curry Kapitan. 

This chicken dish is a Nonya/Eurasian favourite. According to tradition, the dish got its name when the British/Baba towkay (whichever it was is lost in the mists of time) was asking what was for dinner and the cook replied, "Curry, Capitan".  "Capitan" of course is a sort of derivation from "Captain" and the title was not confined just to military captains, or ship captains, but to the representatives of the trading companies and wealthy Chinese merchants.

I particularly like the recipe in my Penang recipe book, "Nonya Flavours".  So does my extended family - my aunt was even so kind as to liken it to her mother's (ie my grandmother's) version, the highest praise I could hope for.


1 kg chicken
1 tbsp turmeric powder.

Spice paste:
10-15 shallots
2 cloves garlic
2cm ginger
2cm galangal
2 stalks lemongrass (use the white portion of the stem)
3 candle nuts
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2-3 fresh red chillis (as desired)
5-6 dried chillis (as desired)
1 tbsp belacan, toasted

1 200ml packet of coconut cream
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp shredded lime leaf
2 tbsp lime juice

Fried shallots or more shredded lime leaves to garnish

1. Marinate the chicken with turmeric powder and salt.  Leave overnight (or for a few hours, which is what I do).  Fry till nicely browned.  Set aside.
2.  Blend spice paste ingredients, fry till fragrant.  Add some of the coconut and fry till it cracks.  Add the chicken and fry together for 5-10 minutes.
3.  Add the remaining coconut milk, water, sugar, lime leaf and cook till chicken is tender.  Add lime leaf, check the seasoning.
4.  Serve garnished with fried shallots or shredded lime leaf or both!


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