Sweet touch of heritage
> Lawyer returns to his Peranakan roots by promoting his family recipes
PETALING JAYA: Despite studying law at King’s College, London and becoming a lawyer upon his return home, Isaac Tan’s main desire was to highlight his Peranakan heritage, especially his family recipes.
Growing up with three brothers, Tan realised that these recipes, passed down to his mother by his grandmother, and possibly from her mother before her, may disappear one day.
“In Peranakan culture, the recipes usually travel down the female line. A lot of it came from my grandmother and then it was passed on to my mum.
“In my immediate family there are only four boys. If my mum didn’t pass down the recipes, they would one day be extinct,” he told theSun.
Tan then resolved to learn all he could from his mother when he turned 15, which in turn inspired him to help preserve Malacca’s rich and unique cultural heritage and history.
Now 26, he opened Straits Affair as a Peranakan preservation project cum cafe on Jalan Tukang Besi, just a few minutes’ walk away from Jonker Street right in the middle of Malacca’s heritage zone.
Tan said while Baba and Nyonya family restaurants are common in Malacca, none seems to serve the equally delicious but lesser known desserts such as kueh and other light bites, a niche Straits Affair aims to fill.
Among the staple Peranakan food served at the cafe is the savoury “Pang Su Sie”, a sweet potato bun stuffed with spiced minced chicken and garnished with cloves and coriander. Tan said the bun originated from Malacca’s Portuguese settlers and was then added with a local twist by the Peranakan community, creating a uniquely Malaccan delicacy which reflects its more hidden Eurasian heritage.
“Currently, only Straits Affair and an elderly woman in the Portuguese settlement produce it.
“It is one of the truly Malaccan delicacies which we are trying to bring to the public’s attention instead of the oddities sold today on Jonker Street, a lot which has absolutely no connection to Malacca,” he said.
Tan explained that some are currently selling “Nyonya almond cookies” at the tourist area, but the Peranakan community does not have a specific recipe for almond cookies. He claims the tidbits are just a ruse to fool tourists and those unaware into buying normal almond cookies at three times the price.
Another practice Tan aims to curb is the self-claiming of Peranakan heritage by some people, most of whom he said could not retrace their ancestry when confronted.
This led him to proudly display the Tan Baba Family Tree in Straits Affair, which traces his ancestry back to the family’s foundation in 1771, eight generations ago.
The family tree includes illustrious figures such as one of Malaysia’s founding fathers Tun Tan Cheng Lock, who was also MCA’s first president and Tun Tan Siew Sin, Cheng Lock’s only son, who served as a trade and industries minister and finance minister (1959 – 1974), and also as MCA president.
“Straits Affair will allow youths to look at Peranakan culture as an example of Chinese culture successfully integrated and assimilated with Malay culture,” Tan said. Or perhaps, the Pang Su Sie will. Straits Affair opened its doors in July 2016 and will have an official opening ceremony graced by Cheng Lock’s granddaughter Datin Paduka Tan Siok Choo on Oct 8.
Tan proudly displays his family tree at the Straits Affair.
Straits Affair is located in Malacca’s heritage zone.