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© 2017 by CRavi Photography. 

Nyonya Curries and my Vila Aunty

June 6, 2017

Over the weekend, to kill time I was watching the movie Bangalore days. In the movie the protagonist Krishnan (Nivin Pauly) muses when Indian bred people embrace the western ways, the Western world embraces the Indian life....


It  got me thinking and my thoughts floated to my Mother's brother's wife Vila Aunty.


My grandmother Leela Ammama was a fiery Scorpian who was not the easiest to get along. She, like me had some very strong ideas and retaliated easily if anyone had any opinion a tad different from her....in short a very difficult mother inlaw.


Vila (Vilasini) aunty on the other hand was born to a Varkala(South Kerala) dad  N.Sreedharan and a Singaporean mother Ponnamma of Chinese origin. She was born and brought up in Singapore. So had a very mixed roots.


This Ammama Ponnamma was truly the definition of a wife- extraordinary in Malayalee cooking , wore Saree and even spoke Malayalam. She truly embraced Kerala culture more than a Malayalee herself. So it was not surprising, Vila aunty followed her footsteps.


So when Vila aunty turned 23, her dad arranged her marriage with my uncle and she relocated to Cochin in 1980. Cochin at that time was not the most developed and my Leela Ammama was not the easiest. What a wonderful combination!!! But she survived with a smiling face.


Vila aunty was the epitome of the ideal daughter-in-law.  Towards the end of my grandmother's life, Leela Ammama's favourite was Vila aunty ..infact shared athe same deep bond with Vila aunty as her own daughters...



My earliest and nicest memories with my Vila aunty were trips to the Ernakulam market in her Scooty. She would show the 6 year old me to pick the freshest produce, bargain with the vendors ...but the end was my favourite..beef cutlets from Rozario bakery.


As Sanju and I entered our early twenties, we would sometimes self invite ourselves to Vila aunty's house and beg her to cook Malay dishes of her heritage. Each time she enticed us..thrilled us with the Nyonya delicacies. (Nyonya cuisine is a speciality cuisine of Singapore encompassing Chinese and Indian spices and techniques)...


Her garden in Kochi had the South east Asian herbs like lemongrass, pandan leaves, tumerics..infact all the essentials encompassing Nyonya cuisine. She cooked for the dishes her mother cooked....We were in the exotic world of Nasi Lemak, Hainese chicken rice, fragrant fish curries ....


After I relocated to Sydney, she relocated to Bangalore ...and the regular visits to her home became distant memories and an occasional phone call...The phone calls became recipe collecting time and reminiscing good old times....


The last I ate at her place was in June 2004...the good taste still lingers...I went to many a Malay restaurant...but none of them were a close match to her cooking


On my last phone call, while she was sharing a recipe, she suddenly became quiet and said" At this moment I miss my mother. She was the best cook of all..But most of  food she cooked for us, passed away with her. We were so busy enjoying what she cooked , we forgot to collect the recipes from her"


Presenting Singapore's favourite Nasi Lemak ( Fragrent coconut rice perfumed with Pandan leaves, Nonya Chicken curry spiced with curry leaves, Kaffir lime and fresh garden tumeric, Boiled eggs, peanuts and Sambal).



Dedicated to one of greatest Nyonya cooks Vila aunty.

Food styling :Chettan



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