Pongteh: A Special Braised Meat Dish from the Peranakan Community
Pongteh is a one of the most significant Peranakan dishes in Malaysia. It is a braised meat (chicken or pork) dish that uses taucheo (fermented bean paste) as its core ingredient. It is braised together with potatoes and mushrooms over low heat in a soy sauce and palm sugar gravy until tender. Compared to other Peranakan dishes, Pongteh is a relatively simple dish with the aforementioned ingredients plus some shallots and garlic. These few ingredients are enough to make it incredibly delicious and flavourful.
Pongteh literally means braised pork trotters with soy sauce. The word ‘pong’ is said to be a mispronunciation of the Hokkien word ‘hong’ meaning stewing in soy sauce. The word ‘teh’ means which means pig trotters in Hokkien dialect. Nowadays, chicken meat is often used instead, called Ayam Pongteh, to add variety and for religious purposes.
This dish is more common among the Peranakan community that lives in Malaysia, mainly in Malacca. The Peranakan community was formed during the influx of Ming Chinese naval expeditions that explored Maritime Southeast Asia in the 15th century. As there were regulations that did not allow Chinese woman to travel outside the country, the Chinese men intermarried into the local populations. Thus, mixed-race communities called the Peranakans or Straits Chinese are formed.
Food in Peranakan culture is said to have three main functions. First, it is used as offerings to the deities and ancestors, then to seal vows, and lastly as celebration dishes for marriages or festivals. As Pongteh is usually dark in colour due to the usage of soy sauce and taucheo, it is commonly associated with ancestral worship. It is an essential dish of offering during death memorials or Hungry Ghost Festival during the 7th Chinese month. Although Pongteh can be cooked for daily consumption, it is not suitable for auspicious occasions such as weddings and birthdays.
Pongteh is widely available in Peranakan or Baba Nyonya restaurants around Malaysia, especially Malacca. It is usually served with steaming rice accompanied by sambal belacan (shrimp paste with chillies) or freshly cut chillies in soy sauce. It is said to taste even better after being cooked overnight as the meat, potatoes and mushrooms fully absorb the flavours of gravy.