In 2012, I published a cookbook memoir "Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen". It took ten years to document my mother's recipes from what initially started as a small photocopied binder for my family. What I also enjoyed more was writing the memoir. In the course of researching, I sat down with old relatives, observed their techniques and learnt a lot more about my family's storied heritage and culture. Most reaffirming was receiving a surprise invitation to speak at the Singapore Writers' Festival in 2013.
While I retest the recipes for a relaunch, I have decided to broaden my scope. The expectations of living up to high peer standards imposed by my Nonya culinary heritage should not constrain me. The world is our oyster and I would prefer to be on a constant lookout for trends, teach myself techniques from various cuisines and cultivate taste, in a tech world that others are better at managing. I am an avid cookbook collector so it makes sense to share what I have read or tried cooking, from an ever expanding library, aided by rich memories of travels abroad. In short, this is my journal – and my journey. It will be a depository of all that I am learning and interested in.
My name is Sharon Wee and I grew up in Singapore. I am also a fifth generation Peranakan Nonya. Right after university, I moved to Hong Kong, Shanghai and then Beijing to work for a global chocolate company. I survived despite not being great in Mandarin.
I moved to New York in 1996 where I did my MBA and raised my family. My kids are now teens studying in the UK so I travel to London as well. I love entertaining and cooking for my dinner parties. I try to read more than one book a year and love movies (the bigger the theater, the better). Travel, photography, opera, museums and food....of course food!
Other than cooking or writing, I serve on a few boards: NYU Langone Medical, and the Metropolitan Opera. I co-chair the Major Gifts Committee of the Met Museum and have also been the co-chair of the Met Museum's Family Circle for the past ten years.
The Peranakans are also called "Straits-born" and in my context, refer to the Chinese community whose immigrants moved from southern China (mostly Fujian province) to Southeast Asia as far back as the 16th century. Many settled in Malacca – formerly a stronghold for the Portuguese, Dutch and then the English. Others spread out to other British Straits Settlements such as Penang and Singapore, hence the term "Straits-born".
Known as "The King's Chinese", they were among the first to send their children to mission schools, and to work in the colonial civil service and deal in business with the British, primarily in rubber, shipping and in my family's case, opium. Several local pioneers during and after British rule, came from this community.
"Baba" refers to the menfolk - an affectionate term for "father" in many cultures. The women are called "Nyonya" - derived from the Portuguese word for lady - 'dona'. I spell it as "Nonya" based on the memoir I had read as a child, "Memories of a Nonya".
The Peranakans are known for their specially commissioned decorative arts, architecture, jewellery, fashion and cuisine.