KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 13 ― What do a restaurateur, a cooking instructor and a private chef have in common? If you are Melba Nunis, Sapna Anand and Kei Defreitas, the answer is simply the Portuguese connection that binds the Eurasian cuisines of Malacca and Goa.
Nunis runs Simply Mel’s, a Malaccan Portuguese restaurant in Bangsar South, while Defreitas is chef-owner of Kei’s Kitchen, a UK-based Luso Eurasian private cooking company. Both Nunis and Defreitas are ambassadors for the Korsang di Melaka, a Malacca Portuguese heritage association, for Malaysia and the UK respectively. Born and raised in Goa, Anand conducts popular cooking classes featuring recipes from her bestselling book The New Indian Kitchen.
The three chefs are teaming up to present “The Portuguese Connection”, a one-night-only gastronomic experience that traces the journey of the Portuguese in the 1500s from Portugal to Goa to Malacca. The dinner, which will be held on Tuesday, February 16 at Simply Mel’s, will showcase three authentic Portuguese-influenced Asian dishes, one from each chef.
Nunis, who is of Malacca-Portuguese and Dutch descent, will highlight Kristang cuisine through her Kari Debal, a Malacca Portuguese curry chicken cooked with vinegar. She says, “In our quest to find a connection between Portugal and the two other colonies, Malacca and Goa, we discovered a common ingredient used, that is vinegar. Kari Debal, more commonly referred to as Devil Curry, is a very special Kristang dish that was served during special occasions such as Christmas, Easter and weddings. It is a must-have!”
Anand will cook Lemon Rice and Lamb Vindahlo. She says, “This is a Portuguese Goan lamb dish cooked with vinegar. Some classic recipes like vindahlo and balchao (very similar to the Malaysian belacan) are a direct influence from Portuguese cuisine. The name vindalho is derived from the Portuguese dish named Carne de vinha d’alhos, which is meat that has been marinated for hours in garlic and wine and cooked to a stew.”
According to Anand, the Portuguese brought spices such as red chillies, tomatoes and potatoes to Goa, as well as wine- and vinegar-making skills. “As Goa does not have a conducive climate for growing grapes, they discovered making vinegar through toddy tapping. Over time the Carne de vinha d’alhos stew from Portugal got infused with coconut vinegar, spices and chillies to become the vindalho we know today.”
Defreitas, who is based in both London and Edinburgh, offers the comfort dish Caldeiada. He says, “Caldeirada or Caldeirada de tamboril, a monk fish stew, is one of the many traditional dishes that every Portuguese enjoys. Just like a rendang or asam pedas, it’s one of the classics. In Portugal, every fisherman will have their own style of cooking it on the way back to shore to sell their fish. Traditionally, seven different fishes are used, together with potatoes, onions and peppers.”
More than serving a delicious meal, “The Portuguese Connection” is an opportunity for the three chefs to share their heritage through their cooking. Nunis says, “Kristang cuisine embodies so much more than ‘just cooking.’ Each family has their own recipes and style of preparing a particular dish that varies from other families.
“True Kristang cuisine is the passion and love that one puts into it, and also the pride of preserving what has been preciously handed down from generations long gone.”
For Defreitas, everything is linked through Cozinha Luso Asiatica or simply Luso Asian cuisine. “This means cuisine with Portuguese roots. You can call the Goan vindalho Luso Asian cuisine because of its Portuguese roots with an Asian touch. The same goes for the Malaccan Portuguese Kari Debal. Again, both dishes share the same Portuguese connection through the use of vinegar.”
Anand is more specific: “True Goan food is simple and fresh. For example, fresh clams steamed with onions and fresh coconut, grilled fish with fresh pounded spice paste or fresh seafood cooked in nothing but a fresh coconut spice paste. We can taste the flavours of every ingredient in the dish; that, for me, is authentic Goan cuisine.”
Indeed what constitutes authentic Portuguese cuisine was transformed as the Portuguese explorers travelled the globe to dominate the lucrative spice trade five centuries ago. They went to Brazil and discovered chilli, taking this ingredient with them to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, settling in Goa, Malacca and Macau along the way.
Today, traces of Portuguese cuisine can be seen nearly everywhere, from feijoada, a popular Portuguese meat and bean stew transported to São Paulo, to tempura in Japan (which originated from the Portuguese dish Peixinhos da horta, brought over by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries).
Anand explains the need to preserve heritage through traditional (and, in the case of Luso Eurasian cuisine, very unique) food best: “As we move away from home, we appreciate food a lot more. We tend to hang on to memories of our favourite dishes cooked by family back home, appreciating every moment of our childhood and roots. We have so much to offer than just curry and rice.”
The Portuguese Connection
Date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 from 7.30pm to 9.30pm
Venue: Simply Mel’s, Unit 1-1A, First Floor, The Sphere, No. 1 Avenue 1, Bangsar South, No. 8 Jalan Kerinchi, Kuala Lumpur
To purchase tickets, contact [email protected] or call 012-4020500/012-4289890