Lots of small bowls of gluten-free Nyonya Soup with pork and crab meatballs are arranged ready for serving with a small bowl of steamed rice and chilli.

Peranakan cuisine, also known as Nyonya cuisine, is a unique culinary tradition that originated from the intermingling of Chinese and Malay cultures in the region of Southeast Asia, particularly in Singapore, Malaysia and parts of Indonesia. The term “Peranakan” refers to the descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled in the region and intermarried with local Malay populations.

Flavourful Fusion

Peranakan cuisine is a delicious fusion of Chinese ingredients and cooking techniques with Malay and Indonesian spices and flavours. This blending of culinary traditions has given rise to a diverse and flavourful array of dishes that reflect the cultural diversity of the region.

Common ingredients in Peranakan cuisine include coconut milk, tamarind, belacan (shrimp paste), lemongrass and a variety of aromatic herbs and spices. The cuisine is known for its bold and intricate flavours, combining sweet, sour, spicy and savoury elements.

Signature Dishes

Some well-known Peranakan dishes include “laksa,” a spicy noodle soup with a coconut milk-based broth; “ayam buah keluak,” chicken cooked with a unique nut paste; “kueh,” a variety of colorful and intricately designed traditional sweets; and “bakwan kepiting,” also known as Nyonya soup with crab and pork meatballs, a flavourful and comforting soup that combines the rich flavors of crab and pork in a delicate and aromatic broth.

The Art of Ingredients: Making Nyonya Soup with Crab & Pork Meatballs

Crafting ‘bakwan kepiting’ (Nyonya Soup with Crab & Pork Meatballs) requires careful selection of ingredients. If you’re picking your own crab, you’ll need a fresh mud crab weighing around 1.2–1.5kg. However, for convenience, fresh crab meat can be sourced from reputable fishmongers.

You can use store-bought gluten-free stock for this Nyonya Soup recipe, but we prefer to use the Chinese Everyday Stock recipe (see below) that Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu share in their cookbook, ‘Chinese-Ish.’

Chinese Everyday Stock

This is the basic stock used in Chinese cooking, referred to simply as ‘stock’ in these recipes. It functions as the soup for noodle dishes when seasoned, a sauce for stir-fries when thickened and as a cooking liquid for congee. A teaspoon here and there is also used to enrich dipping sauces. Most versions of Chinese stock include pork bones but, for simplicity’s sake, I’ve omitted them here and given pork stock its own separate recipe.


500g chicken wings or carcasses
4cm piece ginger, skin on, sliced
2 spring onions, halved

Place the chicken in a large saucepan or stockpot and cover with 12 cups (3L) water. Slowly bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Skim any scum or impurities from the surface and add the ginger and spring onion. Partially cover the pan and simmer for 2 hours, skimming occasionally.

Allow to cool, then strain the stock, discarding the solids. Chill the stock overnight and remove the layer of fat that forms on the surface. You can keep this fat to cook with later. The stock will keep in the fridge for 5 days, or for up to 3 months in the freezer.

Nyonya pork and crab meatball soup

Recipe by Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu | Photography by Armelle Habib
Course Dinner, Lunch, Main Course
Cuisine Asian
Servings 4


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 225 g canned bamboo shoots drained
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 500 g pork mince
  • 400 g cooked crab meat
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper plus extra to taste
  • 2 tablespoons gluten-free light soy sauce plus extra
  • 1 egg
  • 8 cups 2 litres stock (see above), or use a good-quality store-bought gluten-free stock
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ bunch coriander leaves and roots separated
  • Steamed rice and sliced red chilli to serve


  • Heat the oil in a large deep saucepan or stockpot over medium heat. Add the bamboo shoots and garlic and fry until fragrant. Turn the heat off.
  • Transfer half the fried bamboo shoots and garlic to a bowl. Allow to cool, then combine with the pork mince, crab meat, white pepper, soy sauce and egg. Let the mixture stand for 1 hour to marinate.
  • Add the stock to the pan containing the remaining bamboo shoots and garlic and bring to the boil over medium–high heat. Season with salt, extra soy sauce and white pepper. Add the coriander roots and reduce the heat to a simmer.
  • Shape the pork and crab mixture into large meatballs and carefully drop them into the simmering soup. When the meatballs float, they are ready.
  • Ladle the soup into four bowls and divide the meatballs between them. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with steamed rice and sliced red chilli.


Cover of the cookbook 'Chinese-Ish.' The cover is half red and half blue and features Chinese home cooking, not quite authentic but 100% delicious.
Images and text from Chinese-ish by Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu, photography by Armelle Habib. Murdoch Books RRP $39.99.
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