Peranakan Recipes by Violet Oon: Garam Assam (fish)


Introducing Singapore’s Food Ambassador, Chef Violet Oon. She is a famous culinary master in Singapore and an expert in Peranakan cuisine. Not to mention, she has a wonderful singing voice.


Cooking Peranakan dishes is Violet’s specialty. Very few cooks and chefs could probably be as good as she is. Thus I was fortunate enough to have joined her cooking classes while I was in Singapore which allowed me to dabble in a kitchen for a little Peranakan cooking and to understand it a little more. First of all, it is nothing like Filipino cuisine because the cooking methods are entirely different. The taste of Peranakan food is generally savory, oftentimes mildly spicy, but never salty nor too sweet. See her recipe for Garam Assam or Fish in Sour Sauce.


  1. 2 tablespoons of tamarind pulp (assam) mixed with two cups of water
  2. 2 to 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  3. 1 to 2 pieces of pink ginger flowers split into 2
  4. 1 slice pineapple cut into pieces
  5. 1 tomato cut into wedges
  6. 2 teaspoons of sugar
  7. 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  8. 1 handful of laksa leaves
  9. 2 steaks of Ikan Tenggiri  (Spanish Mackerel) or Garoupa fish steaks or fillets (actually any large fish steak will do, depending on availability and preference

For the spice mixture you need:

  1. 1/2 thumb length fresh turmeric
  2. 1 stalk lemongrass
  3. 3 candlenuts (buah keras as known inMalaysia, a good substitute would be macadamia nuts if you live outside Southeast Asia)
  4. 10 grams of fresh galangal (lengkuas or also know as blue ginger), peeled and sliced roughly
  5. 6 fresh red chilis, sliced and peeled
  6. 1/2 tablespoon of shrimp paste or belacan
  7. 100 grams of shallots, peeled and sliced



  1. Make the spice mixture, peel the turmeric before pounding because the color stains badly. Clean the lemongrass and bruise with the back of a cleaver.
  2. Pound the candlenuts, galangal, turmeric, chilis, shrimp paste and shallots in that order. If you prefer using a blender, put all the ingredients in leaving the shallots last. Blend a rough paste. This spice paste is called Rempah in Malay.
  3. Soak the tamarind in water and knead well. Drain the juice, keep the juice and discard the seeds.
  4. Place the wok over high heat until smoke appears. Put in the oil. When it is hot, add the pounded spice mixture and stir-fry over medium heat for about six to eight minutes until it is fragrant and until the pounded bits turn slightly crinkly and the oil exudes.
  5. Add the tamarind water, the crushed whole lemongrass, ginger flower, pineapple, tomatoes, sugar and salt. Bring it to a boil over high heat then simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until the gravy is fragrant.
  6. Add the laksa leaves and the fish. Simmer until the fish is cooked. Plate the dish and serve with steaming hot rice. Add sambal belacan as a condiment.



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  2. Lee mei ling says:

    I love cooking very much and would like to join your cooking classes. May i know how to enrol. Thank you

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