TAIPING, March 31 — The second Taiping Baba Nyonya Festival was held recently at the Hotel Taiping Perdana. Jointly organised by the Taiping Heritage Society and the Taiping Tourist Association, the afternoon started with a small Peranakan Exhibition which included stalls selling various paraphernalia to do with this unique culture. It culminated in a grand sit-down Peranakan Dinner for over 400 people.
One of the highlights included a “Best Nyonya Dish” contest in which proud housewives — and, I was delighted to see, one husband — brought the results of labouring in their respective kitchens to be tasted and possibly hailed as the winning dish.
I was honoured to be invited back as one of the judges again, this time with Taipingite Chef Ricky Ng, who has written several cookbooks on the cuisine and who, incidentally, was responsible for the Peranakan Dinner. Joining us was Tok Puan Norisha, wife of the OBJ (Orang Besar Jajahan) Daerah Larut Matang dan Selama (LMS).
Nineteen contestants submitted one savoury dish each, with the more well-known ones like Kari Kapitan, Salt Fish Acar and Otak Otak prevalent, as well as one or two which were probably not really traditional Nyonya.
However, it was good to see a dish that has almost disappeared — Nyonya Serai Prawn, otherwise known as Sambal Goreng, cooked with belacan, serai (lemongrass) and coconut — entered by 62-year old Tan Ah Meng who also had the honour of being one of only two men who took part.
“It’s a dish which my Nyonya mother-in-law used to cook for us,” he explained, “I wanted to see it make a comeback.”
The deserving winner was Cheah Kai Wei whose Salt Fish Acar blew the judges away with its authentic full flavours. Cheah, who runs a Curry Mee stall in town, told me that she got the recipe off the Internet.
Tan walked away with the second prize for the aforementioned Sambal Goreng, followed closely by Rose Gabriel’s beautifully-decorated and very tasty Sambal Terong Peranakan.
The main event of the evening was the “Nyonya Queen” contest which I was also asked to judge, together with kebaya maker Steven Ong (no relation) and former Mrs Qi Bao Vinna Lim.
Sixteen brave souls strutted their stuff on stage in their most colourful and stunning sarongs and kebayas, suitably accessorised as befits a well-dressed Nyonya lady: Glittering kerosang (linked brooches), manek (beaded) shoes and handbags.
Many had even gone to the trouble of dressing their hair in typical Nyonya style: into elegant sanggoi (buns) studded with diamante combs and clips.
After much deliberation — and it was indeed a hard choice as there were many deserving winners — a delighted Tham Oi Tai, 44, was crowned Nyonya Queen 2015.
She received a hamper and an angpow. Runners-up were Sabrina Vun and Khor Poh Geok. “The number of lovely contestants was very encouraging,” said Ong.
However, the men were not forgotten. Five men were chosen from among the male diners as finalists for the “Best-Dressed Baba” of the night and the winner was Lim Choo Hock. His father Baba Lim Chung Bee received a special mention for being, at the ripe old age of 92, the oldest Baba in town.
In between the various events joget dances and other entertainment was provided by the Baba Nyonya Art & Culture Group Dance Team from Malacca.
“It was a sell-out,” said committee member Sharon Ng, “although I would like to have seen more audience participation in the dancing! We intend to hold this once every two years.”
If you would like to find out more about the next event, contact Yeap Thean Eng, Chairman of the Taiping Heritage Society, on 012-5382743.