Nyonya food contains many of the traditional ingredients of Chinese food and Malay spices and herbs, Nyonya cuisine is eclectically seasoned and different than either Chinese or Malay food. It is fusion cuisine at it's best! As in Malay cooking, a key ingredient in Nyonya cuisine is belacan. Best described as a natural flavor enhancer, belacan is what gives many of the foods from Southeast Asia - Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam - that authentic zest and flavor underlying the dense fabric of spice and herbs!
Nyonya cooking in the South has an Indonesian influence. The food is generally sweeter, richer with liberal use of coconut milk and more traditional Malay spices. In Malacca especially, Nyonya cooking is heavily influenced by Portuguese-Eurasian style of cooking. Many Nyonya dishes are indistinguishable from Portuguese-Eurasian dishes, with both kitchens using similar ingredients and methods of cooking.
Nyonya cooking is not only about the blending of pungent roots but also the long marinating of meats and seafood before it is cooked. Fresh herbs such as lemongrass, lengkuas [galangal or wild ginger] and kunyit [turmeric root] are pounded, more often than not, by hand using a granite mortar & pestle. Chilies, candlenuts, shallots and belacan are a must in most Nyonya dishes. Aromatic leaves such as kaffir lime leaves, pandan or pandanus [screwpine leaves], daun salam [fresh bay leaves] and daun kunyit [turmeric leaves] add 'Nyonya zest' to it's wonderful cookery.
One can easily spot authentic Nyonya food in Malaysia by its cooking style and the word 'Nyonya, sometimes spelt 'Nonya', as a prefix. Nyonya food is in a unique gastronomic realm all of it's own - with specific and subtle nuances of tastes and flavors, quite undiscovered still in the international culinary world.
Nyonya cuisine is also famous for it's Kuih [cake or dessert]. Nyonya desserts are varied and extraordinary. They are strongly Malay influenced - made from local ingredients such as sweet potato, yams, agar agar, gula Melaka [palm sugar], coconut milk, glutinous rice - and Chinese ingredients such as red beans, green beans or mung beans. The ubiquitous vanilla bean used for essence is replaced by a local plant leaf Pandan or Pandanus [Screwpine leaves], giving Nyonya desserts it's signature quintessence!
Malaysia. Malaysian Food: What is Nyonya Food? Retrieves April 2,2010, from http://www.malaysianfood.net/Nyonyafood.html