There are cookbooks with just recipes. Then there are cookbooks that span generations, passing down family recipes, keeping a community’s culture, traditions and heritage alive. The Eurasian Table – Second Helpings is such a book, a celebration of Eurasian flavours, from the table of 90-year-old Theresa “Nan” Noronha and her eldest grandchild Cheryl Noronha, to ours.
Cheryl has captured her grandmother’s love of food and their Eurasion heritage through the tome that honours her beloved Nan and her cherished childhood memories.
According to Cheryl, there are only around 15,000 Eurasians in Singapore (they make up less than one percent of the entire population, and are one of the smallest but earliest communities in the region dating back to colonial times). With food at the heart of the unique Eurasian culture and legacy – a spicy fusion of Portuguese, Dutch, British, Malaccan, Goan, Sri Lankan, Macanese and Penangite (to name a few) influences – preserving the history of the Eurasian Table and their stories was of paramount importance to both Cheryl and Nan.
What started out as handwritten notes of Nan’s recipes from her humble life in Singapore in the 1950s, evolved into their proud cookbook. As Nan’s world of agak agak (Malay for approximations based on experience) cooking meant that ingredients were quantified by know-how (“a pinch” of this, or “some” of that) rather than exact quantities, “co-creating a cookbook with someone who is not literate poses a unique set of challenges,” shares Cher.
Chapters have been divided into fun and inviting names for the breadth of Eurasian fare, such as “Keep Calm and Curry On” for curries; “Noods” for a hearty slew of noodles and pastas; “Spice Girls” for all things sambal-y and fiery; “More Eur Less Asian” for the western culinary influences; and “The Naughty Table” for Sugee Cake, Kueh Bingka, Kaya and all those other indulgent Eurasian desserts.
Each recipe is introduced with a small heartfelt note to explain its significance in Cheryl and Nan’s life, as well as a little bit of interesting trivia about the dish, giving the reader that personal connection to the family and making it feel so much more than just another recipe in a mundane cookbook.
Cheryl’s parting words are golden advice for everyone who uses the book, as she says, “Take not simply the recipes, but also the spirit of Nan’s cooking with you. Learn by feel, by copious tasting, and by your own senses. Be confident and develop your own style. Experiment, learn from the generations past…and eventually make the recipes your own”.
The Eurasian Table – Second Helpings is available at www.eurasiantable.com for $55 with a $5 delivery in Singapore.