I never knew much about the Peranakan culture during my youth. I went through a crash course when I married a man who was a son of one. From the word go when we started wedding preparations, to having my first baby, I was thrown into a world of quirky superstitions. We did not get along in the initial months. I put my foot down to having red satin bedsheets on my wedding night, deliberately pointed at the full moon as often as I could, and blatantly used scissors while I was pregnant.
Over the years, I learnt to mellow down and manage my MIL. I made sacrifices to accommodate to her desires and needs. They included giving her the charge of the kitchen, not sweeping the floor during the 1st day of Chinese New Year, amongst many other practices which I had never heard of.
The greatest lesson I learnt, to living peacefully with any Peranakan MIL, is to NEVER ever bring her to eat at a Peranankan restaurant. This is for several reasons. Firstly, she will think that you don’t like her cooking and have to resort to eating Peranakan food cooked by others, who may well be (GASP!) non Peranankan. Secondly, she will not be able to enjoy the food because she will compare it with her style of cooking and as every dish is served, there will be the inevitable “I can do this better at home” or “Bo hou la [hokkien for “not nice to eat”].
The curious thing is that this lesson applies to ALL Peranakan MILs, not just mine.
Even the best Peranakan restaurant cannot match up to ANY peranakan mom in law’s recipe and cooking. Why is that so? Well, it’s really a simple answer. Let’s use Bua Keluak dish as an example. Every Peranakan family has their own recipe for cooking Bua Kelauk. I have tasted this dish in several Pernanakan’s home and restaurants, and can vouch that no two Bua Keluak dish tastes the same. When we eat Bua Keluak cooked in a different style, we always compare it with our own family’s recipe as the reference point. Hence all other Bua Keluak would be too sour, too salty, too oily, too creamy, too grainy, too diluted etc etc.
It’s strange that we do not have the same reaction when eating food from other cuisines. For example, MIL never complains that pasta is cooked differently from the way she does it at home. Same for curries, Chinese food etc etc. It’s only for Peranankan food.
But I’ll tell you one thing, after years of sampling Bua Keluak across restaurants in Singapore and Melaka, and in friend’s homes, I have yet to taste a better Bua Keluak than the one cooked by my MIL in my kitchen.