“I am Maureen Suan Neo, founder of Nonya Secrets…
The story of Nonya Secrets begins in my childhood growing up in Singapore. I am the daughter of Straits Chinese – the Nonyas and Babas of south-east Asia – whose heritage stems from the coming together of Chinese people from the mainland with the people of the Malay archipelago, known today as Malaysia and Singapore.
The Peranakan Chinese are marvellous cooks, hosting legendary feasts at festivals and wedding celebrations. In the early days, the role of the daughter of a Peranakan family was to learn the skills of embroidery, traditional arts and culinary practices for the enjoyment and advancement of her husband, his friends and their livelihood.
Despite growing up in more liberal times, I was put to use in the kitchen and I learned in the traditional way. Fastidious and attentive, my mother was the perfect teacher for a budding chef like me and I absorbed and learned the full and varied repertoire of Nonya specialities. Nothing pleased my mother more than the ecstatic looks of delight and appreciation on the faces of her children as we tucked into our family meals.
Food is a national obsession in Singapore, with a wide variety and freshness of ingredients available wherever you look. When I moved to Europe I adapted to the ingredients and produce that was available here and, adopting the cosmopolitan spirit of my Nonya mother and Baba father, took the sauce recipes that had been passed down from my ancestors and began to create my own cuisine firmly rooted in my heritage. With my husband, we went on to open five very successful and popular restaurants, known as Singapura, in the city of London.
Even with the benefits of the gadgetry we find in our kitchens today, Nonya sauces require painstaking and lengthy hands-on preparation before they can be bottled and jarred. We use a vast array of herbs, plus rhizomes such as galangal, turmeric and ginger, as well as onions, garlic, chillies and lemongrass. They all need to be carefully measured, sliced and ground to a fine texture to produce our sambals and smooth curry pastes, which are then cooked so that the onions caramelise and the ingredients come together in a melange of hot and sweet, spicy and smooth.
I am truly delighted and honoured that by cooking with our Nonya Secrets range, you and your family are able to share a taste of my family heritage and recreate in your own home the healthy, complex and delicious cuisine of south-east Asia.”