Image Credit to : Asian Food Channel
Ever heard of Pong Teh? It is a homey Peranakan stew that is made of either chicken or pork combined with potato, flavorful taucu (salted fermented soybeans) and palm sugar. It is one of the most significant Peranakan dishes that have graced dinner tables for generations of Peranakan.
What is Pong Teh?
Pong Teh is a braised stew of meat that is pork or chicken with potatoes. The core ingredient for this dish is taucu, a salted fermented soybeans sauce that gives savoury taste to the dish. Although the fermented soybean sauce is usually salty, the addition of palm sugar provides the gravy with a slight hint of sweetness. The meat and potato are braised together over low heat to absorb the flavours from the gravy, making it incredibly delicious.
History of Pong Teh
This dish is famous among the Peranakan community that lives in tropical Southeast Asia, mainly in Malacca, Penang, Klang Valley, and Singapore. The Peranakan community was formed during the Ming Chinese naval expeditions that explored Maritime Southeast Asia in the 15th century. This caused an increase in the number of Chinese migrants and traders in various parts of Maritime Southeast Asia.
As there are regulations that do not allow Chinese woman to travel outside the country, the Chinese men intermarried into the local populations. Thus, they formed mixed-race communities called the Peranakans or Straits Chinese.
The word ‘Pong’ is said to be a mispronunciation of the Hokkien word ‘hong’ meaning stewing in soy sauce. The word ‘teh’ could mean ‘te’ which means pig trotters in the Hokkien dialect. As the Hokkien community commonly braised pig trotters in soy sauce, thus it is assumed that the word Pong Teh refers to the pork dish with soy sauce. The pork can be substituted with chicken, and it is merely called Chicken Pong Teh.
Interesting Facts about Peranakan Cuisine and Pong Teh
Food in Peranakan culture is said to have three main functions. First, it is used as offerings to the deities and ancestors, then to seal vows, and lastly as celebration dishes for marriages or festivals.
As Pong Teh are usually dark in colour due to the usage of fermented soybeans, it is commonly associated with ancestral worship. It is an essential dish of offering during death memorials or Hungry Ghost Festival during the 7th Chinese month. Although this dish can be cooked for daily consumption, it is not suitable for auspicious occasions such as weddings and birthdays.
Most of the other Peranakan dishes are usually laden with a wide variety of spices such as coriander, turmeric, chillies, and ginger. However, Pong Teh is a relatively simple dish with two key ingredients which are taucu and palm sugar. These ingredients, combined with some shallots and garlic, are enough to produce a delicious and flavorful dish.
Pong Teh is said to taste even better after being cooked overnight as the meat and potatoes fully absorb the flavours of fermented soybeans and palm sugar. Besides that, tofu puff can also be added to soak up the gravy. This dish is usually served with steaming rice accompanied by sambal belacan (shrimp paste with chillies) or freshly cut chillies in soy sauce.
Where to find Pong Teh in Malaysia
Pong Teh is mostly available in Peranakan or Baba Nyonya restaurants. However, in Malacca, many restaurants sell this dish as it is a common dish there. Try Chicken Pong Teh from Baba Low (Bangsar Utama) or get it in a set with rice, acar (pickled cucumber and onions), and egg from The Melting Pot Cafe (Melaka).
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