The story of her efforts to honour the Baba Nyonya cuisine and traditions is living proof that the new generation can play a vital part in cultural conservationPublished on 22 March 2022
Malaysia is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. This means that everyone has values and principles that may not be the same as others. Although diversity is celebrated in society, we forget that it may also cause division due to ignorance and lack of tolerance. Thus, apart from knowing our heritage, we must also respect beliefs and a way of life that differ from our own.
In today’s technology-driven world, it is encouraging to see the younger generation embracing their cultural heritage by creating online content and sharing their customs with a curious audience in the digital realm.
There is so much we can learn from these content creators. Because of their informative storytelling, we are able to gain a better understanding of the country’s plethora of cultural traditions. One such local content creator has garnered popularity with her videos that celebrate the culture of her Peranakan ancestors.
The history of Peranakan culture
Before we dig deeper into the story of this viral sensation, let’s talk about the Peranakan heritage that she champions. Most Malaysians are familiar with Baba Nyonya. In fact, we learn about this unique culture through history classes, media coverage, and tourism, among others.
Originating from Melaka during its golden age, Peranakan is a term that most commonly refers to the Chinese who intermarried with locals — Baba referring to the men, and Nyonya, the women.
Peranakan is distinct from other mixed races as they have developed their own customs, foods, clothes, art, and even architecture. The women not only took care of the family but also handled household matters as the Babas are usually the breadwinners. Interestingly, back in the day, a Nyonya’s capabilities and worth in the community were measured by her cooking prowess as she spent her time mostly at home and in the kitchen.
The Baba Nyonya culture has created signature Peranakan dishes that to this day are favoured by many. For those of us who are familiar with Peranakan cuisine, it is not easily replicated abroad. The authenticity of its flavours lies within local ingredients and style of cooking. However, due to rapid modernisation, the younger generation is losing interest in conserving the Peranakan culture.
Thankfully, there’s a resurgence in the preservation and appreciation of such a rich culture. Meet Saw Shi Qi, a young Nyonya who showcases her Peranakan heritage proudly and wholeheartedly.
Learning from the best
The thought of being disconnected from her Baba Nyonya identity is unthinkable to the 24-year-old Kedahan. “Grandma told me that I must continue the legacy of Baba Nyonya,” she shared. Bolstered by this notion, the bubbly youth resolved to learn the ways of a close Nyonya relative of hers (her cousin’s grandmother) and embark on a creative journey to revitalise her heritage through social media.
Her first video was about making bubur caca, a signature Peranakan dessert from scratch. This culinary adventure instantaneously pushed her into the limelight. The video opens with Shi Qi wearing her hair in a neat bun and donning a traditional baju kebaya (a tunic worn over a sarong which is common clothing for a Nyonya) with rattan basket in hand, shopping in the wet market.
This display alone has touched the hearts of Malaysians and international viewers alike as they recount their own experiences of growing up adopting certain cultural practices. She was praised for highlighting her Peranakan identity, which leads her viewers to reminisce about their own mothers and grandmothers.
She revealed in an interview with Mashable SE Asia that many youngsters have asked her to share more details about the Baba Nyonya culture, including the recipes, ever since her videos started capturing people’s attention.
Although she admits that cooking is not her forte, Shi Qi often turns to her elderly mentor off-screen for assistance whenever she faces difficulties. What makes her videos even more authentic is the use of traditional tools like pestle and mortar, and coconut grater.
No microwave ovens or induction cookers are in sight. Instead, she relies on a gas stove and rattan steam baskets. She even sources the ingredients from her backyard with the help of her cousins.
Shi Qi concocts desserts and dishes that are prepared the Nyonya way, from onde-onde and kuih ketayap to kerabu tanghoon and belacan chicken. Want to see her kitchen explorations for yourself? Watch her videos here.
Shi Qi also delights her followers with inspirational quotes on her Facebook posts. A typical example would be: “The older you get, the more you understand that home will always be our haven.” As she continues to produce videos that explore her heritage, we can look forward to more of her homegrown content and support her in her endeavours to uphold the Peranakan traditions.
Find out how local unsung heroes enrich the communities around them here.
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