ONE of chef Melba Nunis’ fondest childhood memories is cleaning croaker fish (ikan gulama) at her grandmother Mama Rosa’s kitchen sink, where she enjoyed a picturesque view of her grandfather Papa Vincent’s garden.
“She would painstakingly wash the fish over and over again under the running tap water to get them clean, and I remember asking her why she didn’t’ just wash the fish with soap to make it cleaner. This would make her laugh while I was happy just to be able to spend time with her.”
Mel remembers mangoes being readily available for cooking from Papa Vincent’s (Vincent Arthur Sta Maria) garden and Mama Rosa (Rosalind Adelaide Fernandez) cooking them with fish curry often because the fruits had to be used up.
“My grandfather frequently brought back croaker fish whenever he went fishing and that’s how the recipe for Mango Singgang curry came about,” shares the genial chef of Simply Mel’s, a family-run restaurant offering homemade Kristang ( Malacca Portuguese-Eurasian cuisine) at The Sphere, Bangsar South, Kuala Lumpur.
Rightly so, this treasured recipe is just one of many special family recipes that is preserved in the 60-year-old chef and homemaker’s new cookbook, A Kristang Family Cookbook published by Marshall Cavendish.
Mel credits her gift in cooking and entertaining to Mama Rosa and her mother Mama Mercy (Mercedes Sta Maria) who both loved entertaining, generously sharing their cooking knowledge and recipes with friends and fellow cooking enthusiasts.
Her interest in cooking and entertaining developed after observing and assisting her grandmother and mother in the kitchen, when they prepared meals for their families and friends.
It grew further when Mel herself became a wife, mother and homemaker for 41 years, cooking these recipes that she learnt from both women.
Three and a half years ago she opened her own restaurant, Simply Mel’s specialising in the food that she had grown up with.
Original recipes from the two women, like Mama Rosa’s stew and Mama Mercy’s crab stuffing — a specialty at Mel’s restaurant — also feature in Mel’s cookbook alongside Kristang favourites as prepared and enjoyed by her family over four generations.
Putting the cookbook together was a family effort, she says, with the forward written by her husband Victor, while daughters Cheryl, Alison and Stacey Jane took charge of managing the cookbook project, layout of the book and tasting its recipes for consistency.
It took six months to put the collection of 86 recipes together.
“Deciding what to put into the book and narrowing the choices down was a challenge because my mother had collected so many recipes. I am now well-equipped and eager to embark on my second cook book. However, in this first book, I wanted to put down traditional Kristang favourites that I am already cooking at my cafe.
“The very essence of my restaurant is showcasing home-cooked Portuguese Eurasian food. It serves food my way, and includes family recipes that I wanted to preserve and am willing to share with people. I am blessed and lucky that I have my family’s total support.”
One of the unusual Portuguese delicacies she is proud of and has managed to introduce to so many people at her cafe is the keluak nut. “Some like it, some don’t. It’s an acquired taste. ”
Mel has devoted a chapter to the nut and in addition to recipes for keluak curry and keluak salad, she has included her own recipe for keluak fried rice.
There’s also a chapter devoted to traditional Kristang fare enjoyed at Christmas like Feng, Devil Curry , Seybah , Sugee Cake, Fruit Cake and the piece de resistance, Mama Mercy’s Roast Chicken with Baked Bean Stuffing.
“All these dishes may be traditional Kristang yuletide favourites, however, no two families cook them the same way. Every family has their own recipes, and these are mine. They are dishes which I ate and enjoyed as a little girl. With this cookbook I want people to know that they are holding my family legacy in their hands.”
A Kristang Family Cookbook is priced at RM89 and is available at Simply Mel’s, Unit 11A, 1st Floor, The Sphere, No 1 Avenue 1, Bangsar South. No 8 Jalan Kerinchi, 59200
The recipe below is from A Kristang Family Cookbook, reproduced with permission from Melba Nunis.
Mango Singgang Curry
Serves 4 to 5
2 tbsps cooking oil
450g basic sambal rempah (recipe below)
1.25 litres water
6 young mangoes, peeled and cut into quarters
4 tbsps tamarind/Assam juice (made by mixing 1 tsp tamarind pulp in 4tbsps water and strained)
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
500g fish steaks ( croaker/ikan gulama, threadfin/kurau or Spanish mackerel )
2 – 3 kafir lime leaves
1 tomato, cut into quarters
2 red chilies, cut into half with seeds removed
1. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the basic sambal rempah and stir fry for 2 minutes.
2. Add the water, mangoes, tamarind juice, salt and sugar and bring to the boil. Boil for 5 minutes, then add the fish steaks and lime leaves. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
3. Add tomato and chilies and cook until fish is done. Dish out and serve immediately.
Basic Rempah Paste
( makes about 600g)
50 g dried chilies, cut into short lengths and soaked to soften
500g shallots, peeled
125 ml water
375ml cooking oil
1. Drain the dried red chilies and place in a food processor with the shallots and candlenuts. Add water and blend well.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the paste and cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until cooked and fragrant.
3. Remove from heat and drain excess oil.
4. Use immediately. Rempah can be kept refrigerated for up to two days and if frozen, indefinitely.
PETALING JAYA — Fed-up with the deafening silence from the authorities on the status of the RM40 billion Melaka Gateway project, settlers in Ujong Pasir, Malacca plan to take matters into their own hands.
Spearheaded by the Malacca Portuguese-Eurasian Community, a month-long “go green” campaign was launched on Friday to create awareness on the impact the development project has on settlers including fishermen living in the area.
Its president Michael Singho said it has been three months since a stop work order was issued to the developer, who has been carrying out land reclamation works, but people are still in the dark over the fate of the project.
“There has been no news from the state government and the developer on what is going on, with both parties yet to hold discussions with the settlers whose shore fronts the reclaimed land,” he said.
“We need more support and feedback not only from our residents but from the public. We want them to understand our plight,” he said.
He said members of the association will wear green throughout the campaign and he hopes others will also join the programme.
“The public can wear anything green … it can be a T-shirt, a ribbon or even a sash to show support to the settlers of Ujong Pasir.
“We chose green as its the colour of the Portuguese flag and it also represents the environment.
He said the settlers hope they will not be at a disadvantage if the project proceeds as plan.
Malay Mail, had in a special report on June 11, highlighted the plight of the settlers who are worried the identity and heritage of Portuguese Eurasian, or Kristang settlers, will come under threat from the project as they claim it will take away the coastline which is essential to their way of life.
The settlers had claimed land reclamation works, which was approved by the state government, was based on an obsolete environmental impact assessment (EIA) report approved in 1998.
Spanning a 246ha site in Pulau Melaka — the first manmade island in the state the Melaka Gateway project is due for completion in 2023. The slated attraction includes a seven-star hotel, malls, a 98 acre ecological island, luxury condominiums and a museum among others.
The state environment department had previously said the developer failed to fulfill requirements before starting land reclamation works last year.
The department confirmed the 1998 EIA report could not be accepted for land reclamation works to be carried out.
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