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

Boxing; Muay Thai kids by Alain Schroeder

Boxing; Muay Thai kids by Alain Schroeder

Muay Thai kids project was selected and published in our print edition 19. Far from Thailand’s iconic tourist destinations, Isaan, the kingdom’s largest region, reaches north and east to the borders of Laos and Cambodia.
Spirit of India by Jacque Rupp

Spirit of India by Jacque Rupp

India has always held a special place in my heart. My first visit was during an extremely difficult period in my life, as my husband had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. 
Nude Portraits by Martin Zurmühle

Nude Portraits by Martin Zurmühle

My specialty in nude photography is landscape nudes in beautiful locations. In the last year, however, I have also frequently created nude portraits with my models in my photo studio.

Call For Entries

We are looking for 6 fantastic photographers
who want to give an incredible impulse to their career.

We are going to put your photographs in front of the eyes of the directors
of the best galleries, festivals and agencies around the world.
Are you coming with us?

DEADLINE | TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2022

PHOTO BY © JULIA FULLERTON-BATTEN
A virtual summer by Thomas H.P. Jerusalem

A virtual summer by Thomas H.P. Jerusalem

A Virtual Summer project was selected and published in our print edition 19. A story about a girl being stuck at home pretending to be on the beach.
Death is a teacher by Srideep Banerjee

Death is a teacher by Srideep Banerjee

It was around 1'O clock when grief crept in with the chilly winds of the Ganges caressing my face. Witnessing death of a near relative isn't always easy to handle.
Salt Making by Ly Hoang Long

Salt Making by Ly Hoang Long

This type of salt production was a low-cost technology that was known and used in shallow coastal regions throughout Southeast Asia.

Featured Stories

Animeyed by Flora Borsi

Animeyed by Flora Borsi

Flora Borsi is a young fine art photographer from Hungary. She uses exquisite photo manipulation to create surreal images that are thematically focused on identity, relationships, emotions and dreams.
Street photography by Joseph Atwere

Street photography by Joseph Atwere

My interest in still photography began in 2007. I bought my first camera which was a Canon 350D whilst on vacation in the US. I had quite a steep learning curve and spent many hours trying to get my head round the basics such as learning about f-stops etc.
Nickel by Alexandra Gromova

Nickel by Alexandra Gromova

The town of Nickel was founded in 1935. It used to be called Kolosjoki: Finnish geologists who studied nickel ores used to live and work here.
The 10 Commandments by Dina Goldstein

The 10 Commandments by Dina Goldstein

The narrative seeks to examine the socio-political makeup of America through its political icons - the presidential figures that mark the most notable and controversial chapters in American history.
Oblique rays of light by Guillaume d´Hubert

Oblique rays of light by Guillaume d´Hubert

Walking through the garden where the famous French author was raised leads me to connect with ancient feelings surviving around like perfumes in the air.
Irish Travellers by Bob Newman

Irish Travellers by Bob Newman

Irish Travellers refer to themselves as Pavees or Minkiers, having lived on the margins of society for many hundreds of years. They number about 40,000 in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
https://www.dodho.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Mono-banner.jpg

We invite you to participate in the first edition of the Monochromatic Awards. We are eager to see photograhs with new focus points and innovative approaches

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/2022/05/banner.jpg

The book where words and images meet to never leave each other, The book contains 20 evocative paintings; each of them is a double page. 56 printed pages | 235x165mm

https://www.dodho.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/call21.jpg

Call For Entries #21 | After 20 editions and more than 100 published photographers, our print edition has proven to be a simply effective promotional channel.

White background : White is not a color by Tine Poppe

White background : White is not a color by Tine Poppe

In the days following the 22nd of July 2011 terrorist attack by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, the streets of Norway were filled with colorful roses and speeches of love conquering extremism, fear and xenophobia.
Community Swing by Stephanie Gengotti

Community Swing by Stephanie Gengotti

They walk among us, but they are not like us. They live among us, but they don’t live like we do. They have chosen to “live” in the legendary dual decade of the 1940s and 1950s, the years of gospel, R&B, swing, be bop and rock n’ roll.
Michele Palazzo ; Street Photography

Michele Palazzo ; Street Photography

Michele Palazzo. Italian by blood, Architect by training, and Photographer by heart. Visual storyteller, weaving narratives through people’s movements and emotions. He lives and operate in New York.
Geometric lines, shapes, patterns and symmetry; Cityscape photography of Jon Deboer

Geometric lines, shapes, patterns and symmetry; Cityscape photography of Jon Deboer

I am a photographer and graphic designer based in Detroit, MI. I moved to the Metro Detroit area in 2006 to attend Lawrence Technological University, and graduated in 2010 with a BFA in Graphic Design
Bin Uthup ; City-Monochrome

Bin Uthup ; City-Monochrome

Binoy Uthup is a City, Architecture, Interior, Landscape and Wildlife photographer who uses techniques such as Digital Blending, HDR, multiple exposures, vertical panorama, etc., to create unique looking images.
Scotland & The Environment by Gavin Smart

Scotland & The Environment by Gavin Smart

Scotland and the Environment is a conceptual series touching on a variety of contemporary issues facing Scotland today, such as plastic pollution, marine conservation, intensive agriculture and woodland protection.

Monochromatic Awards

We invite you to participate in the first edition
of the monochromatic awards. We are looking
for the best monochrome picture for this year, 2022.

The contest is open to any interpretation of monochromatic photography,
black and white, grayscale, sepia or any type of tone.

DEADLINE | THURSDAY, JUNE 30, 2022

PHOTO BY © SVETLIN YOSIFOV

Trending Stories

Special Children of Kattankudy by Kai Yokoyama

Special Children of Kattankudy by Kai Yokoyama

In a country that is 70% Buddhist, but almost all of the 40,000 people in the city believe in Islam. Forty students attend the school "Zahira Special School" for children with disabilities.
Papua New Guinea : Sanguma by Kristina Steiner

Papua New Guinea : Sanguma by Kristina Steiner

Pictures of my project "Sanguma" The belief in black magic revive from ancient times with an incredible outbreak of violence in Papua New Guinea Ancient beliefs in sorcery or Sanguma are being catapulted into the modern age, driving incredible outbreaks of violence mostly against women in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
Erotic photographs; Inappropriate Images by Alva Bernadine

Erotic photographs; Inappropriate Images by Alva Bernadine

When I first started taking erotic photographs they were for myself and nobody saw them apart from a few friends. They languished in my photo albums for some years until my first book, Bernadinism: How to Dominate Men and Subjugate Women, was published in 2001 by a Swiss publisher.
Enric Montes ; Parallel worlds

Enric Montes ; Parallel worlds

After a life in photography, in 2009 he created his publishing house to publish his own projects.
Omri Shomer ; Beach of Tel Aviv

Omri Shomer ; Beach of Tel Aviv

Sometimes he came home with a bunch of great pictures and sometimes nothing. Either way, the beach was always a place for him where nothing mattered, whether it worked or not, it did not matter.
(Un)Settled territory by Orestis Seferoglou

(Un)Settled territory by Orestis Seferoglou

Idomeni (Greek: Ειδομένη) is a small village in Greece, near the borders with the FYROM. The village is built in an elevation of 65 meters, in the outskirts of Kouri hill. It mounts in the West bank of Axios river.
Bonfire Night by Omer Ga’ash

Bonfire Night by Omer Ga’ash

In my work I focus on landscape and body exploration using group of young man to reflect nature terrain in mid-day until dark. The compositions are based on the artist memory during different part of his life.
Nagapali Fisher by Sittig Fahr-Becker

Nagapali Fisher by Sittig Fahr-Becker

The fishermen of Ngapali Beach, Myanmar is a series from a project I have been working on over the past couple of years. Continuously revisiting the fisherman's village to capture their day-to-day life.
Psychological aspects of dreams; Night Journey by Susan kae Grant

Psychological aspects of dreams; Night Journey by Susan kae Grant

Night Journey is an on-going body of work examining the perceptual and psychological aspects of dreams, memory and the unconscious.

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 hello@dodho.com
Thank You. We will contact you as soon as possible.