"Unless you know where you came from, what your ancestors have been through,
you have no reference point. What makes us different from say the Thais,
or the Filippinos, or the Sri Lankans? The difference is how we came here,
how we developed, and that requires a sense of history."
~ Lee Kuan Yew
I have to say that I've never been good at history. Not being fond of that subject doesn't mean that I am not proud of my past, my culture and my roots. In fact, in a world where boundaries are ceasing and traditions are fast disappearing, I like to take the opportunity to learn, and at the same time teach my kids, more about history and heritage.
Back in Sweden, we would still occasionally watch some of the local dramas and one that particularly caught my attention was 小娘惹 (The Little Nyonya) - the story of a Peranakan family in Malacca which is set in the 1930s. No, we are not a Peranakan family (though I do love to eat Nyonya kueh and Otak Otak). However, there is something unique and exquisite about this hybrid culture that impels me to find out more about it.
Village Hotel Katong
See, the fact that one kid kept sleeping and the other refused to get out of bed showed how comfortable they felt in the room.
As one of the few hotels located in the eastern region of Singapore, what makes Village Hotel Katong so convenient is that it is located within a 10-minute drive to the Singapore Expo and 15-minute drive to Changi Airport.
To make things even better, it is directly linked to Katong V - a mall inspired by Katong's Peranakan heritage featuring lifestyle stores, retail shops, educational centres and even a supermarket. Of course, if you prefer to venture out, there is plenty of things for you to explore in the heart of Katong - including cafes, restaurants, pubs, shopping malls like 112 Katong and Parkway Parade, or you can even walk to East Coast Park if you want!
For those who prefer to stay in the hotel, you can also dine in the Katong Kitchen which serves Nonya, Macanese, Asian, Local Chinese to Western fare. International buffet lunch and dinner are available daily and prices range from $38++ to $58++ (adult) and $19++ to $29++ (child).
We had our breakfast here on the second morning and what caught my eye more than the food was the modern Peranakan decor. As the flagship Village Hotel, it is evident that Village Hotel Katong, in more ways than one, reflects the strong Peranakan heritage of the surrounding Joo Chiat and Katong district.
Well, it's not always that you find Otak Otak or Nasi Lemak at a breakfast buffet, right? While the kids were busying tucking into cereal, bread, ham and cheese, the hubby and I were just glad we were able to find some savoury food to fill our tummies.
What's the best thing to do on a hot afternoon? Swim, of course! Or rather, dip was what we did. While the hotel might not boast a long list of facilities, it does provide a cosy, open-air swimming pool and a gymnasium - we particularly liked the steam room!
The pool might not be huge but it sure kept these two water babies delighted for hours. Do note that since it is open-air, the winds might be rather strong and the water might be a little freezing even though the sun is high up in the sky. But if your kids are like mine who just like to dive into the water again and again regardless of the temperature, then I guess you will have as much fun as we did.
The Peranakan Experience
Moving on the the highlight of our stay, we went for a 2-hour Peranakan experience at Kim Choo Kueh Chang which is a 10-minute walk away from the hotel.
We were there with a lovely French couple and our friendly guide was Edmond from Kim Choo. Yes, it was great that we had a guide because we had so many questions to ask and didn't know where to start. The first big question was, of course, "Who are the Peranakans?" which I had a lot of trouble in explaining to my 5-year-old.
"The term ‘Peranakan’ is commonly known as ‘local born’ or ‘local descendants’
and is thought to have been used by the local people of the Straits Settlement
and Malay Archipelagos to address foreign immigrants whom established families
and businesses in the Straits of Southeast Asia.
During the late nineteenth century, Chinese communities who settled in
Southeast Asia adopted the term Peranakan to distinguish themselves from
the new immigrants, whom they referred to as Sinkeh (new guest) or, in
Indonesia, as totok (migrant). More specifically, male descendants were called
Babas and female descendants Nyonyas while senior females were recognized as
Bibiks. Most of these descendants, although retaining their Chinese beliefs, also
adopted local indigenous lifestyles. Thus, giving birth to the unique practices of the
Peranakans and even their own variation of the Malay language called Baba Malay.
While the term Peranakan is most commonly used among the ethnic Chinese for
those of Chinese descent also known as Straits Chinese, there are also other,
comparatively small Peranakan communities, such as Indian Hindu Peranakans
(Chitty), Indian Muslim Peranakans (Jawi Pekan) and Eurasian Peranakans."
- Source: Kim Choo
When I asked Edmond to give a simpler, easier to comprehend definition, he said Peranakans are "descendants of foreigners". Right, still two big words which my girl does not understand but at least it made it easier to break up the information for her to digest.
While we were enjoying the chat about the history of the Straits Settlement and the Peranakan culture, we were also treated to a delightful tea with Peranakan cuisine including Otak Otak, Nyonya dumpling and Nyonya Kueh.
"A typical Nyonya kitchen would not be without condiments like turmeric,
ginger, galangal shallots, chives and shrimp paste. Lemon, limes, tamarinds,
green mangoes, citrus leaves and coconut milk are also used to up the
epicurean experience. Rempah, an exciting blend of ingredients pounded
together in a mortar and cooked in oil to release its flavour is used for a
variety of dishes. It’s this special combination that sets Peranakan food
apart from the rest. And because of their ingenuity to improvise traditional
dishes with spices and herbs, Peranakans have produced tasty local treats
like achar, curry fish in banana leaves, buah keluak, chendol, Nyonya
kuehs and many other delights."
- Source: Kim Choo
I have to say that the food tasted much more authentic and flavourful than many of those sold elsewhere. Angel's favourite was peeling and eating the 9-layer Kueh layer by layer which symbolises enjoying life layer by layer instead of devouring it all at once.
The good thing about having an intimate group is that we got to interact more with each other and whenever we needed guidance, Edmond would be prompt to assist too. I must say the fun part was in the trying and this was the most interesting part of the afternoon for the kids who thoroughly enjoyed themselves at this station.
Little Nyonyas! How do you think they looked in the Sarong Kebaya?
For more details about the Village Hotel Katong Peranakan Family Experience, go here. Runs from now to end of July 2015.
Now, for those who are keen, here's how you can bring your family for this Peranakan Experience too! I'm so happy that I managed to get the chance to host this giveaway for you!
Terms and Conditions
1) This family package is for 2 Adults and 2 Children only.
2) One winner will be chosen randomly and contacted via email. He/she will have 72 hours to respond or a new winner will be picked.
3) The voucher has to be redeemed by 31 July 2015.
4) Accommodation date is subject to availability and is not valid on Public Holiday and eve of Public Holiday.
5) Late check out at 3pm is available but subject to availability.
6) This giveaway is open to all readers residing in Singapore only.
To participate, leave a comment in this blog post with your name, email address and tell me why you wish to stay at Village Hotel Katong. Indicate in the Rafflecopter widget that you have done so and to increase your chances of winning, you can choose to carry out the rest of the options. Best of luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway Disclosure: We were invited to review the Peranakan Family Experience at Village Hotel Katong and received a complimentary stay. All opinions are our own.