Dumpling syndrome, or Baba Nyonya food culture by Olga Fontanellaz

Vivid blue or brown, pyramid-shaped and wrapped in bamboo leaves, these traditional dumplings, Nyonya Chang and Bak Chang, are the cornerstone of Baba Nyonya food culture in Melaka.

Vivid blue or brown, pyramid-shaped and wrapped in bamboo leaves, these traditional dumplings, Nyonya Chang and Bak Chang, are the cornerstone of Baba Nyonya food culture in Melaka. They are attractive. They are mouth-watering. They are addictive. 

East & West Rendezvous Cafe, a small nondescript local cafe, happened to be on the way to my routine visits for a coffee and kaya toast. But the western fare, judging by the name of the cafe, didn’t sound appealing to me. Similar to the crowds of enthusiastic tourists from Kuala Lumpur, I was in Melaka in search of its centuries-old culture, the Peranakan, also called Baba Nyonya, culture. It mostly resumed to looking for the famous Nyonya food, which is a mixture of Chinese and Malay flavours but with distinctly unique character. 

Peranakan is a very unique culture in South-East Asia, a mixture of Malay and Chinese cultures. The term “Peranakan” refers to the descendants of Chinese immigrants, mainly wealthy traders, who settled in Malaysia but also in Indonesia and Singapore. They intermarried with the local Malay women, and their Chinese culture assimilated into Malay customs and traditions to become Baba Nyonya, with “Baba” referring to men and “Nyonya” referring to women. Similar to the way they retained some Chinese customs but adapted local Malay traditions, Nyonya dishes are an interesting combination of Chinese and Malay food. 

While ignoring East & West Rendezvous Cafe for a while, I didn’t turn a blind eye to the constant flow of people coming in and out of the cafe. It finally piqued my curiosity. 

Names can be misleading. I know that. Koala bear, this iconic Australian sleepy marsupial, isn’t a bear, and flying lemur, despite its name, cannot fly. East & West Rendezvous Cafe has no western fare on offer. Instead, this small quaint cafe nestled amongst a row of heritage shophouses, is a well-known place in town for the most authentic Nyonya Chang, or blue Nyonya dumplings.

Nyonya Chang is the Peranakan variety of Hokkien Bak Chang, sticky rice and meat dumplings. If Bak Chang are traditionally eaten during the Duanwu Festival, known as the Dragon Boat Festival, nowadays Nyonya Chang are eaten all year-round. 

I love dumplings. It’s tasty and comfortable food. But Nyonya Changs aren’t just tasty. Vivid blue, pyramid-shaped and wrapped in bamboo leaves, they look just beautiful. 

I immediately wanted to try. “How many?” I tried to figure it out. “Uhm… maybe three?” I told to the cafe owner. “They are quite fulfilling”, she warned me. “Maybe two then?” I reluctantly agreed and ordered my first famous Nyonya Chang. 

The first bite revealed the balanced blend of sweet and salty, the delicious taste of some strong and distinctive spices that elevate the overall fragrance. It’s interesting. It’s rich. It’s tasty. It’s much more than usual dumplings. There is something else, maybe something homey. Now I understood what all this fuss is about. 

But not only its taste is interesting but the legend too. The tradition of eating Chang started after the death of Qu Yuan, a celebrated poet in ancient China. Following the invasion of his kingdom, the poet drowned himself. The people started throwing packets of rice, our today’s dumplings, into the river, so that the fish eat dumplings rather than the poet’s corpse.

Now that I tasted Chang I wanted to know more. “Come in a few days, I will be making again Nyonya Chang,” said Grace Tan, the lady owner and the cook behind East & West Rendezvous Cafe. 

Now in her fifties, she learnt to make dumplings from her grandma when she was a kid. In 2003 she started her own dumpling business, and soon her authentic Chang became well known in Melaka and even in Singapore. Making on average 2’000 dumplings per week, she couldn’t cope by herself and hired a few assistants to meet the ever-increasing demand.

Although her Nyonya Chang are selling like hotcakes, she doesn’t make them every day. Making Nyonya Chang a long process requiring skills and patience. Nyonya Chang filling is made with minced pork belly, pork fat, shiitake mushrooms, candied winter melon, apparently, the must-have ingredient that imparts the hints of sweetness, and some special spices, each family’s own secret, but always coriander seeds and pepper. 

As for the colour, the vibrant blue colour of Nyonya Chang doesn’t come from artificial colours but from the glutinous rice being soaked with the blue pea, or butterfly pea flowers. Once the rice is ready, Grace and her assistants spend a few hours wrapping Nyonya dumplings in large pre-soaked bamboo leaves. They skilfully fold the leaves into a cone before spooning in a mixture of white and blue rice, and meat stuffing. As a final touch, they tie up the cone-shaped parcels with bamboo strings. 

But the dumplings aren’t ready to be eaten. Not yet. They need to be steamed first, which takes a few hours. “I will be steaming tomorrow morning,” Grace invited me to come and see. 

Grace’s small restaurant is well known in town, and she often receives massive orders of Nyonya dumplings for special events. But she isn’t only famous for her Nyonya Chang but also for Bak Chang traditional dumplings. Although they don’t look as sexy as bright blue Nyonya Chang, Bak Chang are rather a bland shade of brown. But the flavour is everything but bland. It’s even more rich and interesting than the flavour of the blue dumplings. To say it’s tasty would be a mild understatement. It’s addictive.

These savoury Bak Chang are made from sticky rice filled with diced pork marinated for two weeks, chopped shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimps, chestnuts, a mixture of spices, and bright orange salted duck egg yolks put in the middle of the bamboo cone. Marinated pork and chestnuts add texture and a bit of sweetness and give the rice a dark brown appearance. Made by soaking duck eggs in brine or packing them in damp, salted charcoal paste, rich and fatty salted duck eggs yolks add a touch of colour and particular flavour. Similar to Nyonya Chang, they are wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. 

I returned to East & West Rendezvous Café several times craving for more Chang. Places like this are becoming rare nowadays replaced by modern fancy-looking cafes selling design rather than authentic food substituting it with quicker-to-make copies. 

Grace’s dumplings are delicious. But East & West Rendezvous has another signature dish – Nyonya Cendol. Nyonya Cendol, this finely shaved ice dessert with coconut milk, green jelly noodles, and kidney beans is made according to the traditional recipe using only 100% pure black Gula Melaka, the famous traditional palm sugar. 

As much as my tastes are eclectic and I love all Asian food, their desserts are an acquired taste. I still prefer the old-school “milk-cream-butter” confections. But this Nyonya Cendol kept me coming for more. It’s far from being cloyingly sweet, with a touch of salty taste and an interesting structure. It’s light and refreshing, ideal for the hot Melaka weather. For the funs of durian, they also make Durian Cendol topped with real durian fresh pulp.

“Why this name?” I almost forgot to ask Grace now remembering the reason for my reticence towards the place. “I just kept the name of the previous place, East & West Rendezvous Cafe. Administrative formalities to change the name in Malaysia are cumbersome, you know”. Indeed, people come here from different corners in search of authentic food. After all, it became my Rendez-vous place with one of the best dumplings I have ever tasted. [Official Website]

More Stories

Terra Mater – Ode to My Family  by Marco Castelli

Terra Mater – Ode to My Family by Marco Castelli

Words are not inherently suitable to embrace any even blurred concept of time, and beside all speech being made nowadays around the sense of family, its true nature belongs to the undetectable trace we leave through centuries, and to our relationship with time itself.
The magical hidden world by Georgi Georgiev

The magical hidden world by Georgi Georgiev

The magical hidden world project was selected and published in our print edition 23. These photos are one of my personal best from the past few years. Most of them are from one place where I spend every spare moment to take photos.
Sleepless by Rebecca Sexton Larson

Sleepless by Rebecca Sexton Larson

Growing up I always had an affinity with the night. It was when I did my most productive work, alone in my bedroom free from noise and distractions. I would find comfort in the subdued light and quiet stillness, losing a sense of time and being absorbed in the moment of creating art.

Portrait Photography Awards

We invite you to participate in the first edition
of the Portrait Photography Awards. We are looking
for the best portrait for this year, 2023.

Our call is open to any artistic interpretation of portrait photography.

DEADLINE | FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 2023

PHOTO BY © JOSE GIRL
Pride and prejudice by Renata Dutrée

Pride and prejudice by Renata Dutrée

Pride and prejudice project was selected and published in our print edition 23. This ongoing series of studio portraits of young men is intended to challenge the viewer with social constructs that are centered around masculinity and femininity. Gender bias, gender roles and stereotypes can affect everyone negatively.
Gender identity; Lexi by Timothi Jane Graham

Gender identity; Lexi by Timothi Jane Graham

I first met Lexi at the beginning of her medical gender affirmation journey in December 2020. At 58 years old, she had identified and lived as a woman for decades behind closed doors. She was born and raised in Ecuador where the LGBTQ community faces intense discrimination which often ends in violence.
Metaversic world by Byoung Ho Rhee

Metaversic world by Byoung Ho Rhee

With the innovation of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence in the 21st century, the world of metaverse is being witnessed around our lives such as games and movies. The age of mixing virtual with reality. In the metaverse world, the cyberspace where virtual and reality are harmonized is called mixed reality MR.

Featured Stories

Erik Johansson ; An Amazing World

Erik Johansson ; An Amazing World

Erik Johansson is a photographer and retoucher from Sweden based in Prague, Czech Republic and Sweden. He is working on both personal and commissioned projects with clients all around the world. Erik Johansson doesn't capture moments, he captures ideas.
Postarchitecture by Victor Enrich

Postarchitecture by Victor Enrich

The work of Victor Enrich is intimately connected to architecture. Since our origins, mankind has expressed itself in different ways, using all sorts of techniques and technologies, in order to communicate and evolve.
Afromexican healers by Annick Donkers

Afromexican healers by Annick Donkers

At the end of last year my attention was drawn to the coastal region of Guerrero known as Costa Chica, located to the south of Acapulco.
Looking Out from Within by Julia Fullerton-Batten

Looking Out from Within by Julia Fullerton-Batten

During the days prior to the pandemic I was ultra-busy planning a photographic shoot with a large team of people, assistants, stylists, hair and make-up team, prop stylists, set designers etc.
Splits of moments by Moin Uddin Ahmed

Splits of moments by Moin Uddin Ahmed

Almost every good shot captures a unique moment in time. Sometimes the moment happens right away, and sometimes you have to wait a while. It can be as simple as a woman glancing up or as complex as having many disparate elements align within a perfect composed frame.
A Story of Faith by Siddhartha Banerjee

A Story of Faith by Siddhartha Banerjee

Faith makes a man move mountains. It is seldom reasons and mostly faith that makes a man cross barriers , struggle hard, sacrifice his well-being. The world has had a lot of stories of faith , stories where men did what reason would never allow them to do.
https://www.dodho.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/bannerpr.jpg

We invite you to participate in the first edition of the Portrait Photography Awards. Our call is open to any artistic interpretation of portrait photography.

https://www.dodho.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/BAnImage.jpg

ImageRights provides intelligent image search and copyright enforcement services to photo agencies and professional photographers worldwide.

https://www.dodho.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/mono2022.jpg

The best 100 images along with the winning images published in the yearly book “Monochromatic – Best Photographers of 2022”

https://www.dodho.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/banner24.jpg

Call For Entries #24 | After 23 editions and more than 100 published photographers, our print edition has proven to be a simply effective promotional channel.

Meeting Sheila by Ashley Comer

Meeting Sheila by Ashley Comer

"I gave her life to give her life" are the words Sheila muttered to the nurse who so rudely asked why she was giving me up. After being raised by a loving family, I have immense gratitude for the life handed to me.
Timo Heiny ; My Africa

Timo Heiny ; My Africa

He felt immediately in love with this "paradise which respired greatness and freedom", as Tanja Blixen described in her poetic souvenirs in "Out of Africa".
India; Pilgrims and faith by Olivier Borson

India; Pilgrims and faith by Olivier Borson

My interest for photography dates from my adolescence with my passion for astrophotography. I expanded my field of view and I began to photograph my surroundings.
My Name is Shahrukh by Debiprasad Mukherjee

My Name is Shahrukh by Debiprasad Mukherjee

These were the first few words uttered by a 7 year old, when he was rescued by the RPF from Platform No.4 of Sealdah Station, Kolkata, India. As the little child pushed his way through the crowd of thousands of people in the platform,
Joxe Inazio Kuesta ; Just a simple glance trapped in an image?

Joxe Inazio Kuesta ; Just a simple glance trapped in an image?

This reality can be a landscape for some, a portrait for others, a building for others, etc. ... In my case, the type of photography I do is street photography and documentary, and the main goal of almost all of them is the human being, and more specifically their glances.
Vignettes of a salesman by Ole Marius Joergensen

Vignettes of a salesman by Ole Marius Joergensen

A lot of traditions are being lost as new technologies are invading our day-to-day world. The door-to-door salesman is a relic from the 50s.

Trending Stories

Fishermen of Guanabara Bay by Andrew Christian Johnson

Fishermen of Guanabara Bay by Andrew Christian Johnson

It is estimated that between 5000 and 18,000 registered/unregistered artisanal fishermen operate in the bay. Fishermen have borne the economic cost of its environmental degradation more than any other group.
Grabarka by Xavier Ferrer Chust

Grabarka by Xavier Ferrer Chust

This is the most important location of Orthodox worship in Poland. Every year Grabarka is visited by more than 10,000 pilgrims. The Holy Mount Grabarka is an important place for pilgrimages by Orthodox believers in Poland
Kabuki players by Hiroshi Watanabe

Kabuki players by Hiroshi Watanabe

Those Kabuki players seen in the photographs are not with the mainstream Kabuki companies in Tokyo. They are with localized small groups located in various parts of Japan.
Mood of the Market by Christine Norton

Mood of the Market by Christine Norton

Trinidad and Tobago is known as an oil rich twin island state in the Caribbean with a diverse population. Today, composed of largely Indo- and Afro-Trinidadians, we have been rated among the happiest countries in the world. 
Conceptual Photography; Mind Pop by Nicoletta Cerasomma

Conceptual Photography; Mind Pop by Nicoletta Cerasomma

My project aim to dig the loneliness and difficulties of being in a relationship, mostly when the relationship is essentially at an endpoint.
St.Pauli by Manuel Armenis

St.Pauli by Manuel Armenis

Notorious for its red-light district and most famous for the fact that the Beatles started their career here more than 50 years ago, this workingman´s area in Hamburg, Germany, has always been a melting pot for people from all walks of life and backgrounds
Tommaso Di Donato ; Landscape photographer

Tommaso Di Donato ; Landscape photographer

The goal of my pictures is to take the hand of the viewer, and bring him around to discover a parallel world, a hidden reality made by soft tones, natural lines and smooth water. Landscapes are my preferred subjects, and long exposures are the way I try to show my vision to the beholder.
Reflecting on Nature by Loreal Prystaj

Reflecting on Nature by Loreal Prystaj

There is no such thing as compromising with nature; we simply abide by how it lives and exist as a part of it. Nature is very relevant to each individual’s well-being, but more so than it is part of us, we are part of it.
Fractal images; Melothesia by Ricardo Guixà

Fractal images; Melothesia by Ricardo Guixà

This work belongs to the series entitled "Melothesia", a term that designated in Greek the affective relationship by affinity between all things, terrestrial and celestial, that populate the universe.

Other Stories

stay in touch
Join our mailing list and we'll keep you up to date with all the latest stories, opportunities, calls and more.
We use Sendinblue as our marketing platform. By Clicking below to submit this form, you acknowledge that the information you provided will be transferred to Sendinblue for processing in accordance with their terms of use
We’d love to
Thank you for subscribing!
Submission
Dodho Magazine accepts submissions from emerging and professional photographers from around the world.
Their projects can be published among the best photographers and be viewed by the best professionals in the industry and thousands of photography enthusiasts. Dodho magazine reserves the right to accept or reject any submitted project. Due to the large number of presentations received daily and the need to treat them with the greatest respect and the time necessary for a correct interpretation our average response time is around 5/10 business days in the case of being accepted.
- Between 10/30 images of your best images, in case your project contains a greater number of images which are part of the same indivisible body of work will also be accepted. You must send the images in jpg format to 1200px and 72dpi and quality 9. (No borders or watermarks)
- A short biography along with your photograph. (It must be written in the third person)
- Title and full text of the project with a minimum length of 300 words. (Texts with lesser number of words will not be accepted)
This is the information you need to start preparing your project for its presentation
To send it, you must compress the folder in .ZIP format and use our Wetransfer channel specially dedicated to the reception of works. Links or projects in PDF format will not be accepted. All presentations are carefully reviewed based on their content and final quality of the project or portfolio. If your work is selected for publication in the online version, it will be communicated to you via email and subsequently it will be published.
Contact
How can we help? Got an idea or something you'd like share? Please use the adjacent form, or contact contact@dodho.com
Thank You. We will contact you as soon as possible.
Submission
Dodho Magazine accepts submissions from emerging and professional photographers from around the world.
Their projects can be published among the best photographers and be viewed by the best professionals in the industry and thousands of photography enthusiasts. Dodho magazine reserves the right to accept or reject any submitted project. Due to the large number of presentations received daily and the need to treat them with the greatest respect and the time necessary for a correct interpretation our average response time is around 5/10 business days in the case of being accepted. This is the information you need to start preparing your project for its presentation.
To send it, you must compress the folder in .ZIP format and use our Wetransfer channel specially dedicated to the reception of works. Links or projects in PDF format will not be accepted. All presentations are carefully reviewed based on their content and final quality of the project or portfolio. If your work is selected for publication in the online version, it will be communicated to you via email and subsequently it will be published.
Get in Touch
How can we help? Got an idea or something you'd like share? Please use the adjacent form, or contact contact@dodho.com
Thank You. We will contact you as soon as possible.