The Nyonyas are partial to sour tasting food, as
reflected in a great many dishes emplying acidulating agents such as tamarind
Acar are usually a medley of pickled vegetables, with
the more elaborate ones made in combination with a spice paste. Freshly-made
acar is nice, but tastes even better after a few days when the flavours have
The pickles, mostly made with fruit, allow the nyonyas
to indulge in this fondness for sour food outside of mealtimes as they can
snack on them at any time of the day.
The secret to making good acars and pickles lies
in the salting and sun-drying of the fruit and vegetables; the salt draws out the
water from the fruit and vegetables, and the hot tropical sun dries them
further. The trick is to draw out as much water as possible from the fruit and
vegetables, so that they can eventually absorb in more of the pickling
The sharp tang of sourness, however, must be tempered
with the sweet and salty, as well as spicy, to create a balance of
flavours that those outside the community often find hard to replicate.
Indeed, the only reliable tool to measure that delicate balance is the tongue,
as the strength of acidity varies greatly in the ingredients used. Having a
"good tongue" ( actually, a good memory of taste) is a great asset to a
Out of so many types of pickles introduced by the Nyonya cuisine, I tried making Acar Awak or better known as spicy mixed vegetable pickle because my mama likes to eat and all the older guinea pigs enjoy them as well. As I was busy chopping all the ingredients; mainly cucumber, carrots, french beans, cabbage, pineapple, brinjal and cauliflower, I was thinking of blanching them in vinegar when I saw the footnote in the recipe stating that all those chopped up vegetables should be left under the sun to remove the water so that they will be crunchy. Thus, you can see what I did. I get direct sunlight in the afternoon outside my front door so I propped up a small table and have those vegetables basking in the sun for a few hours. That's acar awak. Done to perfection I guess except that the cucumber wasn't crunchy. The rest of the vegetables were 'krunch krunch krunch'. Pickle must have sweet, sour and salty plus spicy. I have all those in one wok.
I truly respect those Nyonya in previous generation where they spent all their lives in the kitchen cooking a storm.