For 130 years after Admiral Alfonso d'Albuquerque, serving under King Manuel I, conquered Malacca, Malacca  formed one of the three key points, with Goa in India, Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, thus giving Portugal control over the main Asiatic trade routes. In 1641, however, Malacca fell to the Dutch who took over control from Portugal, as the main European trading power in the region. In the 18th century the British began to show their naval prowess in the area exerting control in this thriving trade area. After a power struggle, a Treaty was signed in 1824 with the Dutch and Malacca eventually came under British control.

One major legacy of the Portuguese, the first of the European colonial settlement in Malacca, was the emergence of a unique community. A century and a half of intermarriages between Portuguese settlers and local women, led to a mixed race of European Asian, Eurasians, who identified themselves as *Cristang meaning Christians. This community of Portuguese **Eurasians adopted the religion, language, custom and culture of the Portuguese and also its cuisine. Portuguese settlers in Malacca, having sailed the world's oceans in their quest for precious spices and goods, had long since acquired a taste for spicy food. Portuguese country cooking took on a regionally spicier taste using local ingredients. The Portuguese Eurasian dish Debel Curry or Devil Curry is its most famous. Lots of chillies, especially dried chillies, are used in the making of this fiery hot dish - hence it's name!

Being a predominantly seafaring community akin to the fishing community of Portugal, many of the Portuguese Eurasian's food condiments are fish and seafood derived like Pickled Salt Fish [Acar Ikan], Pickled Fish Roe, Cincaluk or Cencaluk [tiny baby shrimp sauce], dried Karing-Karing [dried threadfish] and the ubiquitous belacan [with various spellings], dried shrimp paste, a specialty of Malacca, reputed to be the best.

However, Eurasians in Malaysia are generally referred to a community of people with mixed parentage, Caucasian and Asiatic. This includes later colonial occupants, after the Portuguese, of the Dutch and British. A diversity of cuisines has inevitably proliferated from this colourful historic and ethnic tapestry. Eurasian food, in general, is an amalgamation of European cuisines - Portuguese, Dutch and British especially British East Indies, with local ingredients and influences by Malay, Indian, Chinese and Nyonya styles of cooking.

Many Portuguese Eurasian dishes have Portuguese names; and even names whose origins can be traced to the travel routes of the Portuguese. Dishes like Porku Sal Pementer, Sal means salt and Pementer is a Latin family name. Porku  is a word that can be traced to a pro Roman language, porkus in Latin; also in Maltese language porku is a word meaning pork. Some Portuguese Eurasian style dishes are classic Portuguese country cooking like Portuguese Baked Fish using local fish and ingredients. Many dishes of the Portuguese settlers were also inspired by the Portuguese maritime routes and their other colonies. Dishes like Chicken or Pork Vindhalu and Salt Fish Pickle originated from the Portuguese colony of Goa in India. The Portuguese had a strong link to Benin City, the capital of Edo State, a powerful Kingdom in the southern coast of Congo present day Nigeria. Tahu Brangku Fugar ,Tahu is tofu in Malay, Brangku in Portuguese dialect means white and Fugar means stir-fried in Portuguese dialect. The word Fugaralso means icing or confectioner's sugar, used for local palm wine making. The word Fugar can also be traced to a place, a Portuguese colony in the southern coastline of Nigeria, where in the North lays a terrain of pastoral beauty called Kukuruku Highlands. Kukuruku is heralded in an old Portuguese folklore song sung for generations by Portuguese Eurasians in Malacca. Lobak Tempre de Bredu - Lobak is radish in Malay, Tempre means tempered in Spanish; tempra also means spice paste and Bredu means vegetables; the word Bredu can also mean sword brother or sister in Portuguese dialect. Other local Portuguese Eurasian dishes are Curry Bobra (Pork Spareribs Curry), Pesce Curry Mangga, (Pesce is fish in Spanish and French, Mangga is mango in Malay) and Porku Tambreneu, Tamarind Pork; tambreneu meaning tamarind in Portuguese dialect.

Then there are Eurasian dishes inspired by the Dutch and British. Bergedel, which are potato patties with ground beef, can be traced back to the Dutch influenced islands of Batavia, today's islands of Indonesia. While other Eurasian dishes are British East Indies imports like Mulligatawny Soup - Spicy Chicken Soup) - the word Mulligatawny originated from the Tamil word Milagu-Tannir meaning Pepper Water. There is the famous Kedgeree or Khichri - Smoked Haddock & Curried Rice, a very popular British East Indian meal, usually served as breakfast. A dish called Semur which evolved from a classic Goan dish called Sorpotel or Sarapatel, believed to have originated from the Portuguese Sarrabulho, which is a kind of Pork Stew with curdled pig blood and Cabidel or pork offal. Nowadays Semur is made using beef tongue and stewing beef. It is often cooked and enjoyed during Catholic religious festivals or special occasions. Other popular Eurasian dishes like Brown Beef Stew, Pork Chops, Fish & Chips, Oxtail Stew, Chicken Pot Pie, Scotch Eggs, Shepherd’s Pie, Tuna Mornay and Salisbury Steak are traditional recipes from the British Isles, taught to their local housekeepers or amah's as they were called, by early British colonists.
Local Malay, Indian, Chinese and Nyonya neighbours have also inspired many dishes in the Eurasian kitchen. Satay Celup or   Satay Dip is Malay influenced; wooden stick skewers of prawns, squid, cockles, pork and vegetables are dipped and cooked in a pot of hot bubbling Satay sauce. Other Eurasian dishes are influenced by its Chinese neighbours like Pomfret Juliana [hot and sour Pomfret]; Teem with Pork Trotters or preserved Chinese Mustard with pork trotters, Pork Ribs Soup Eurasian-style with potatoes and carrots added instead of Chinese vegetables. One can easily spot authentic Eurasian food in Malaysia by its cooking style, Portuguese names and the word 'Eurasian' as a prefix, such as Eurasian Mee or Eurasian Noodles and Eurasian Nasi Goreng or Eurasian Fried Rice. Other popular dishes cooked in Eurasian households like Chicken Buah Keluak [Chicken with a local fruit], Babi Pongteh [Stewed Pork] and Chicken Kapitan are inspired by the close proximity of Peranakan neighbours and Nyonya housewives.


The small Portuguese community embarked on a culinary voyage without a goal. Recipes weren't formal and were often within a family and probably varied cook by cook and they weren't shared appreciably. There was no formal tradition established but good food came through with an identifiable thread Malaccan Cristang cuisine now was and is. It may be under threat but for a Chef Celine Marbeck who has made  the effort to list this cuisine, represent and promote it around the world and others have joyfully followed sharing their precious traditional recipes maybe for the first time. The word is out on both the web and the published press and we have a resource.

I think we will see and hear a lot more of the various Eurasian and particularly the Cristang Malacca cuisine as the world's inquisitive cuisine seekers delve into this delicious cuisine. It's just starting to happen now.

*Cristang is often seen as Kristang

**Eurasians was a name used for this group of people by the British. It doesn't appear to be an offensive term to today's  descendants (personal communication)

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