Michelin-starred chef brings Peranakan cuisine to Copenhagen

Malay food meets Chinese ingredients and cooking methods in Peranakan cuisine, also called Nonya cuisine. Major ingredients in Peranakan cooking include coconut milk, galangal , pandan and kaffir leaves, lemongrass, tamarind and belacan . These combinations produce intensely spicy and sour, fragrant, tangy and herbal dishes filled with flavour.  One distinctive aspect of Nonya cuisine is the use of belacan and other salty preserved shrimps like cincaluk . The salty, pungent taste often balances the sour and spicy flavours in a dish. Typical condiments to a Nonya meal combine the salty cincaluk with lime juice, shallots and chillies to accompany fried seafood and other side dishes.

Michelin-starred chef Claus Meyer of the restaurant Noma, is so enamored with Peranakan food that he’s set to open a 140-seat Peranakan bistro named Namnam in downtown Copenhagen this November. Meyer won’t be cooking up bowls of buah keluak (an aromatic meat dish made with black or dark brown nut from Indonesia) and chap chye (mixed vegetable stew) by himself, but together with Singapore Peranakan Tin Pang-Larsen and her Danish husband, Michael Larsen. They have been friends with Meyer for 20 years and previously ran a restaurant called Nams Kuisine in Copenhagen, serving food that followed recipes by Pang-Larsen’s mother.

Meyer will be tweaking recipes to give them a touch of “the universal qualities of a new Nordic cuisine.” All he’s shared so far is that he’ll be serving crudites with dishes of beef rendang, and chap chye made by stir-frying cabbage and tossed in at the last minute.

But if the Danish Michelin-star chef pays attention to just one detail, it should be to perfect his rempah (a combination of spices pounded into a paste with pestle and mortar), as its specific texture and density is the measure by which Peranakan grandmothers will judge him.

And take it from a Peranakan, when it comes to food, you don’t want to cross a Peranakan grandmother.


Read more on Chef Meyer and his new restaurant Namnam at CNNgo .