Right across maritime Asia, from the 17th century onwards, indigenous contacts with European settlers created new communities. In most places, the Eurasian groups that evolved were large enough, and sufficiently homogeneous, for distinct communities to form.
In tandem, from India to Japan, regionally distinctive Eurasian cuisines developed. Many of the dishes – like these peoples themselves – remain broadly recognisable to their variegated origins. Nevertheless, they differed as a result of specific local circumstances and ingredients. Some initially Eurasian foods became so thoroughly assimilated into local cooking styles that they are now assumed to be indigenous; Japanese tempura, for example, was introduced by 17th-century Portuguese traders around the Nagasaki area.
Commonalities exist across these various Eurasian cuisines. All had a version of chicken curry; country captain being the most widely recognised. Each included a form of potato croquette, rolled in breadcrumbs and shallow-fried. Jams, chutneys, relishes and marmalades derived from traditional recipes (mostly British or Portuguese) were replicated with locally available ingredients. Egg-and-milk-based custard puddings were universal; some were thickened with sweet potato, taro root, tapioca or other local starch variants; Macanese bebinca is a typical example.
All Eurasian cuisines have a dish that combines leftover festive meats into distinctive, tasty dishes. Devil’s curry, a mainstay among the Portuguese Eurasian community in Malacca, spread with them as they migrated elsewhere in Malaysia and Singapore. In Macau, a similar dish is known as diablo (Portuguese for “the devil”); historic connections to Goa, in western India, are obvious cultural roots for the curry addition.
Braised mince variations are also universal; on the Indian subcontinent, Anglo-Indians transformed the local keema into spicier cottage pie variations. The creolised Macanese community, who moved here in large numbers from the early 1840s onwards, brought their own family recipes. Their braised mince, known as “minchi”, has become internationally recognised as Macau’s “national dish”.
Minchi variations are as endless as Macau’s own family stories, and include such diverse ingredients as wood-ear fungus and bitter gourd. The basic version varies little, however, and involves coarsely minced pork braised with soy sauce and onions, mixed with diced potatoes and served with steamed rice and a fried egg on top.
All these dishes were basic, family-gathering style comfort foods; none required complicated preparation techniques, expensive implements or costly ingredients; even “special event” items were affordable fare for most families.
Various strands of Christianity linked together otherwise disparate, regionally scattered Eurasian communities. As a result, traditional European Christmas, Easter and other festival foods were produced with local twists. Christmas puddings and fruit cakes were enhanced with dried fruits, peels and nuts, such as preserved kumquats and nutmeg skins, candied ginger, “country-distilled” rums and other liquors, and local spice blends mostly unknown in the West.
By the 1930s, owning an oven was a status marker. Along with cakes, various forms of biscuits, pastries and sweets became popular.
Social status came from the ability to afford imported Western ingredients such as refined sugar and flour. In the days before refrigeration became widespread, these items were mostly tinned, bottled or dried. Mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, tinned peas and other temperate-climate vegetables and – in particular, tinned butter and milk – were widely used in Eurasian recipes.
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