Baba Malay

Baba Malay, the language of the Peranakans, is a unique blend of Malay and Hokkien.


Kus semangat – a term of exclamation or shock, commonly used by mama whenever accidents happen

Orang cina bukan cina – literally translated as “a Chinese who is not Chinese”.  A term often used to describe the Peranakans for not being ‘pure’ Chinese.  A clever nyonya once told me the expression should be ‘orang cina betul cina’ – “a Chinese who is truly Chinese”.

Tak serono – an expression of negative criticism, used mostly towards women who do not dress or behave properly and appropriately (like sitting with their legs wide open, or wearing indecently short shorts).

Things I Hear

Kalau mo makan apa-apa, cakap sama dia. – “If you want to eat anything, tell me.”

Clothing and Jewellery

Kasut manek – handmade beaded slippers worn by Peranakan women featuring Peranakan motifs like flowers and goldfish.

Kerosang – Peranakan brooch, pinned to the kebaya top.

Sarong kebaya – classic attire of the Peranakan Nyonyas consisting of an elaborate blouse and a sarong, a large length of fabric wrapped around the waist.  Both pieces usually boast intricate flower motifs.

Food (hungry? hop over to the Gallery)

Ayam Buah Keluak – uniquely Peranakan dish with chicken slices and black nuts from the kepayang tree, native to mangrove swamps in Southeast Asia.

Babi Pongteh – braised pork in with fermented soy bean, potatoes, mushrooms & spring onions. Best eaten with a bowl of white rice.

Bakwan Kepiting – a clear soup dish with meatballs made of crab meat, pork and bamboo shoots.

Chap Chye – stewed mixed vegetables like cabbage, mushroom & black fungus with glass noodles and soy bean.

Hei Pia – fried prawn fritters.

Itek Tim – duck soup with tomatoes, salted vegetables and sour plums.

Jemput-jemput – fried banana fritters.

Kueh Pie Tee – thin pastry cup filled with shrimp, turnip and parsley.

Sambal Belacan – fiery and spicy red chilli paste made from belacan (shrimp paste), lots of red chillis and cili padi (bird’s eye chilli).  A must-have in every Peranakan household.

Sambal Udang Petai – sambal prawns with bitter beans.  Health benefits of petai include improving digestion & reducing high blood pressure.