Woman styled in Nyonya Kebaya is holding a fan and striking a pose in front of the camera - Lexis Suites Penang
Photo Credit: @Tourism Malaysia

Unraveling the Rich Peranakan Culture and Heritage in Penang

Published November 17, 2023


The Peranakans family - Lexis Suites Penang

In the vibrant state of Penang, a unique cultural fusion known as Peranakan or Nyonya has thrived for centuries. The term "Peranakan" refers to the descendants of unions between Chinese settlers and local Malays, while "Nyonya" signifies the female descendants, and "Baba" represents the males. This cultural blend - Baba Nyonya culture - emerged as Chinese settlers embraced and adapted to the local Malay customs, resulting in a distinct lifestyle characterized by a fascinating mix of language, fashion, cuisine, and architecture.

Two women are seated on chairs, with one hand resting gently on the table - Lexis Suites Penang 

a) History

The history of the Peranakan community, also known as Sino-Malays, traces its roots back to the union of Chinese Princess Hang Li Po and Sultan Mansur Shah of Melaka in 1458. As Chinese merchants and traders settled in the region, they married locals, leading to the evolution of a unique cultural identity. This union gave rise to an exclusive lifestyle that encompassed distinctive speech, customs, fashion, cuisine, and traditions. 


b) Language

The Penang Peranakans speak Baba Hokkien, a dialect that primarily consists of Hokkien with some borrowed Malay words. This linguistic amalgamation reflects the intermingling of Chinese and Malay influences within the community.


A woman styled in Nyonya Kebaya stands beside the corridor - Lexis Suites Penang   Four Peranakans were enjoying a delightful tea time together - Lexis Suites Penang  
Woman styled in Nyonya Kebaya - Lexis Suites Penang    Woman styled in Nyonya Kebaya sat on the chair - Lexis Suites Penang

c) Fashion

Nyonya fashion exhibits a captivating blend of Chinese and Malay aesthetics. Women typically adorn themselves with intricate hairstyles, such as the chignon bun, while their attire consists of the elegant Baju Panjang or Baju Kebaya, often paired with a batik sarong. Men don the traditional Baju Lok Chuan, also known as the Mandarin Jacket. Peranakan shoes, such as the beaded kasuk manek, are known for their vibrant colors and are either made into flats or bedroom slippers.. 


A plate of Peranakan fried rice - Lexis Suites Penang   A bowl of Nyonya Laksa - Lexis Suites Penang

d) Cuisine

Peranakan cuisine is renowned for its harmonious fusion of Chinese and Malay flavors. The culinary repertoire of the Penang Peranakans is further enriched by Thai influences, offering a delightful sweet and sour edge to their dishes. Signature ingredients in Peranakan cooking include coconut milk, laksa leaves, lemongrass, and tamarind, resulting in highly flavorful and aromatic creations. Mouthwatering examples of Peranakan food include Nyonya laksa, chendol, bubur cha-cha, and Angku kuih.


Visit: Penang Wonderfood Museum

Lady took a picture with various kuih muih at Wonderfood Museum Penang - Lexis Suites Penang   Woman took a picture with fried noodle at Wonderfood Museum Penang - Lexis Suites Penang 
Tourists took a picture with curry noodles at Wonderfood Museum Penang - Lexis Suites Penang   Woman took a picture with Cendol at Wonderfood Museum Penang - Lexis Suites Penang

For an immersive experience into the world of Peranakan food, a visit to the Penang Wonderfood Museum is a must. This interactive museum showcases the diverse culinary heritage of Penang, including the tantalizing flavors of Nyonya cuisine. With a range of exhibits and displays, visitors can delve into the history and unique ingredients that make Peranakan food so special.


e) Heritage

Peranakan houses - Lexis Suites Penang   Kang Ha Pheng Sim Kok - Lexis Suites Penang

Peranakan architecture is a visual testament to the rich cultural heritage of Penang. The unique architectural style of Peranakan houses, formally known as Straits Eclectic, combines Chinese and European influences. Carved timber doors, gable ends, air vents, and air-wells reflect the Chinese influence, while the "goh kha kee" or five-foot way in front of the houses provided shade and a communal space. 


A lady dressed in Nyonya Kebaya sat on a chair while holding a fan. - Lexis Suites Penang   A woman dressed in Nyonya Kebaya stood in front of the door of the Pinang Peranakan Mansion - Lexis Suites Penang 
A woman dressed in a pink dress sat on a chair inside the Pinang Peranakan Mansion - Lexis Suites Penang   A lady was taking pictures inside the Pinang Peranakan Mansion - Lexis Suites Penang

Explore the grandeur of this heritage at the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, a Penang Peranakan Museum dedicated to Nyonya heritage and Baba Nyonya culture. Originally belonging to Kapitan Chung Keng Quee, the mansion has been restored and refurbished to its former glory to offer a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Peranakan elite, as well as their many customs and traditions.


Interior view of Pinang Peranakan Mansion - Lexis Suites Penang

Penang's Peranakan culture and Nyonya heritage are truly distinctive, setting it apart from its counterparts in Malacca. While Malacca's Peranakans adopt a Malay patois with Hokkien words, Penang's Peranakans embrace Baba Hokkien. Additionally, Malacca's Peranakan food bears influences from Portuguese and Indonesian flavors, resulting in sweeter and less spicy dishes. In contrast, Penang's Peranakan cuisine infuses Thai elements, offering a tantalizing sweet and sour experience. 

Delve into the world of Nyonya heritage, explore Penang's Peranakan Museum, and savor the flavors that epitomize this unique cultural tapestry, during your next visit to Penang and don’t miss a chance to book your own spacious room with your own private pool at Lexis Suites Penang


Unraveling the Rich Peranakan Culture and Heritage in Penang

Lexis Suites Penang

Lexis Suites Penang reigns as a modern oasis, located just a short drive away from the vibrant city of Georgetown, Penang. Offering 222 expansive pool suites, this seaside resort strikes the perfect balance between 5-star opulence and the relaxed charm of a quaint town, offering seamless access to captivating tourist attractions.