Although they share many cultural, linguistic, and culinary influences, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore also have distinct differences. One of the reasons I am so fond of Indonesia is that there are so many distinct cultures throughout the archipelago. Even within Java, the Sundanese of West Java are different from the Javanese of Central and East Java, with their own language and dietary preferences.
Nonya cuisine is essentially a blend of Straits Chinese and native Malay/Indonesian spices and ingredients. As a result, you'll find a combination of tastes that you would not find in strictly Chinese or strictly Indonesian dishes. For instance, coconut milk is rarely used in Chinese dishes, and pork would of course be taboo for Muslims. This amalgamation of ingredients and flavors results in a vibrant and rich culinary tradition that stretches along the Straits of Malacca from Penang to Singapore and Riau in Indonesia.
While Penang, Malacca, and Singapore are where the Peranakan culture and cuisine have been best preserved and promoted, in truth its influence remains strong along the east coast of Sumatra and along the north coast of Java wherever Chinese communities have been. This particular recipe is from a Singapore cookbook, Nyonya Specialties by Mrs. Leong Yee Soo, but it is something I could easily imagine finding on the table in my wife's home in Kediri. It's a bright, robust soup that is hearty enough to serve as a meal on a chill winter evening.
BTW, this soup, pong tauhu, should not be confused with the Indonesian tahu pong. Although they are probably derived from the same root, tahu pong are fried tofu puffs. Those in this recipe are denser dumplings of tofu that are not fried.
Tauhu Pong--Bean Curd with Meatball Soup
adapted from Nyonya Specialties
1 1/2 lb prawns, preferably with heads (for making the stock)
1 1/2 lb minced pork
3 TBS green onions, finely chopped
8 oz firm tofu
1 TBS salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled, minced and fried crisp
1 tsp white pepper, finely ground
2 TBS vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and pounded to a paste
1 TBS yellow bean paste (tauco), pounded
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt or more, to taste
1 1/2 pound julienned bamboo shoots
12 oz fresh pork belly
Remove the shells (and heads) from the prawns. Reserving the meat of the prawns, fry the shells in a stockpot until they change color and are charred in spots. Pound the shells and add 6 1/2 cups water. Strain and set this stock aside.
Boil the pork belly in 4 cups of water for about 45 minutes. Cut the pork into thin strips. Add the pork stock to the prawn stock.
Mix together the seasoning ingredients. Mince the prawns and tofu and combine them with the minced pork, green onions, and seasoning. Grease your hands and roll the tofu mixture into walnut-sized balls. Place the meatballs on a tray.
Heat 2 TBS oil and fry the pounded garlic until it just begins to color. Add tauco and sugar and stir-fry for a minute. Add bamboo shoots and stir. Stir in reserved pork and prawn stock. Boil for 15 minutes, then taste and add salt.
Add meatballs and pork strips to boiling soup. Cook on a low boil until meatballs float to the surface. Simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.