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.

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