Cultural Integration in Malaysia’s Nyonya Rice Dumplings


At a rice dumpling shop near Jonker Street in Malaysia’s Malacca city, customers enjoy unique Nyonya rice dumplings alongside other popular flavors like salty meat rice dumplings, adding to the festive atmosphere for the Dragon Boat Festival.

Nyonya rice dumplings have an appealing visual contrast between blue glutinous rice and white glutinous rice. When taking a bite, one will experience the softness of the rice while enjoying a variety of flavors, including salty, sweet, and spicy, all at once.

Centuries ago, some Chinese moved to Malacca and intermarried with the local population. Their male descendants were called Baba, while their female descendants were called Nyonya. Over time, these descendants developed a unique culture that blended Chinese and Malay elements in food, language, and clothing. Chinese cuisine was infused with new characteristics, with the Nyonya rice dumpling being representative.

The shop owner Grace Tan explained that the blue glutinous rice was dyed with natural pigments from butterfly pea flowers. The ingredients of fillings include pork, mushroom, shallot, and garlic, blended with local sauce and winter melon sugar.

As a descendant of Nyonya in Malacca, Grace Tan learned how to make Nyonya dim sum from her grandmother as a child. Having been running this shop for more than 20 years, she said orders for rice dumplings increased a lot before the Dragon Boat Festival. Customers include both Malacca locals and tourists from all over Malaysia and Singapore, with some even ordering a week in advance.

Dai Ailing, who traveled to Malacca from Kuala Lumpur with her friends, bought 30 pieces of Nyonya rice dumplings. “I heard from my friends that rice dumplings here are good. And Malacca is famous for Baba-Nyonya culture. So we want to bring some back to Kuala Lumpur.”

Grace Tan said her recipe is passed down from her grandmother. “This is the favor of Nyonya. I expect more Chinese visitors to come, taste the Nyonya rice dumpling and experience the Nyonya culture.”

Ronald Gan Yong Hoe, president of Persatuan Peranakan Baba Nyonya Malaysia, said that the Baba and Nyonya community inherited some traditional Chinese customs while absorbing local Malay culture. It is a typical example of cultural exchanges and integration between China and Malaysia, and it is also a unique cultural symbol and cultural heritage of Malaysia.

“Baba Nyonya culture not only adheres to its Chinese cultural traditions, but also adapts to the local Malaysian society. It is a result of mutual learning among civilizations, which is also why it maintains vitality, ” Gan said.