Flavours of the Straits-born Chinese

Posted on October 24, 2012


Cecil grew up in Singapore. His grandfather was part of the 19th century sojourners from South China to the three biggest trading ports in the Straits of Malacca: Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Mostly Hokkien, the descendants of this earlier group evolved into an ethnic society bearing the name of Straits-born Chinese, to distinguish themselves from later immigrants of the 20th Century. With distinct Malay influence, the men were referred to as Baba and the ladies as Nyonya. The style of cooking developed by the Straits-born Chinese is known as Nyonya cuisine.

Another of Cecil’s favourite birthday food is the Kerabu rice noodles, a vibrant and colourful Nyonya dish that represents Malaysian cuisine and its diverse culture. ‘Kerabu’ is a combination of spicy shrimp sambal with zesty calamansi (green) lime and various fragrant herbs. It is light and salad-like, which allows me to go for second and third servings.


1 tablespoon tamarind pulp
½ cup warm water
1 pack (500g) rice noodles
12 medium size prawns, shelled and deveined
2 teaspoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated coconut
1 stalk spring onion, sliced thinly
2 stalk lemon grass (use only the white lower part), sliced thinly
8 kaffir lime leaves, sliced finely
1 torch ginger bud, sliced finely
2 kalamansi (green) limes, halved

Ingredients for sambal

1 piece of belacan (shrimp paste), 2cm square toasted
4 eschalots, peeled
6 large chillies, deseeded
4 small chillies, deseeded
30g dried shrimps, soak in hot water to soften


  1. Soak tamarind pulp in warm water for 15 min and strain. Keep juice.
  2. Boil the rice noodles in water. Drain under cold water and set aside.
  3. Cook prawns in boiling water for 2-3 min. Slice in halves and set a side.
  4. Chop ingredients for sambal into small pieces and grind to paste in a food processor. Remove dried shrimps from water and add to paste. Continue to grind.
  5. Stir-fry sambal paste in a pan at low heat. Add tamarind juice, fish sauce, sugar and salt, and continue to stir-fry for 2-3 min till fragrant. Mix in prawns briefly. Remove and set aside to cool.
  6. Toast the grated coconut in a clean pan till golden brown. Let cool.
  7. Combine the toasted coconut, rice noodles, eschalots, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, torch ginger bud and sambal paste with prawns in a large serving bowl. Toss and mix well.
  8. Garnish with green lime and serve cold.

Serves 4

Posted in: Food, Recipes