How to seek out Peranakan culture in Singapore
The Straits-born people have a culture that’s wonderfully unique ... and often misunderstood. Here’s a quick orientation.
- October 2019
Contrary to popular belief, Peranakans aren’t just people of mixed Malay and Chinese ancestry. In reality, they refer to ethnic groups that descended from the migrants who came to the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Penang and Malacca, and intermarried with the Malay locals. While Peranakans who have Chinese ancestry are more common, there are also small communities of Indian and Eurasian Peranakans.
The different subgroups might retain their own ethnic and religious practices, but their culture and language are shaped by the Malays. For instance, Peranakans in Singapore speak a language called Baba Malay — a colourful creole of Bahasa Melayu with a Hokkien influence. The traditional costume for women, the nyonya kebaya, is an adaptation of the Malays’ baju kurung.
Peranakan culture is rich and complex, but the best way to learn about it is to experience it first-hand. Here are five ways:
Head to Joo Chiat and Katong
Many Peranakans settled in these neighbourhoods in the early 20th century, and the area is filled with pre-war shophouses with colourful facades and traditional ceramic tiles.
Learn how to cook like a bibik
Find out how to cook infamously complex and laborious classics like nyonya laksa from a real Peranakan grandma, Rosaline Soon of Grandmothers’ Recipes opens in new window.
Eat your fill at Violet Oon Singapore
This modern Peranakan chain opens in new window has opened its largest outlet to date at Jewel Changi Airport. Exclusive to this outlet is the Nyonya Poh Piah Party, which comes with six poh piah skins and over 12 fillings and condiments including steamed prawns, Chinese sausage and fried garlic.
Shop for kebayas at Rumah Bebe
Head to this shophouse opens in new window to get your very own nyonya kebaya, a sheer blouse decorated with intricate embroidery and beadwork in floral and animal motifs.
Have tea at The Intan
This private home opens in new window doubles as a museum that displays the owner’s collection of Peranakan artefacts. You can book an hour-long Intan Tea Tour, where you’ll get to snack on traditional kuehs before going on a tour of the two-storey shophouse.