Would You Like Some Devil In Your Curry?

loading Chicken debal curry.

A fusion of East and West, and centuries of intermarriages have led to the creation of a community with a rich hybrid culture, language, customs and also cuisines: the Eurasians.

The term “Eurasian” was originally coined in the nineteenth century during the British rule of India to refer to people born to British and Indian parents. Today, as Eurasian families continue to emerge from all over Asia – especially in previous Western colonies such as Melaka, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Penang, India, Singapore, Goa and Bangladesh – this term generally refers to anyone who is of mixed European and Asian parentage. Just like their fluid hybridity, Eurasian cuisine is an amalgamation of European cuisines – British, Dutch, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and Danish – along with Eastern ingredients and influences by Malay, Indian, Chinese and Peranakan styles of cooking.

“To put it simply, Eurasian cuisine is a story of substitution. Ingredients of a dish which are scarce are substituted with other local ingredients that are easily obtainable; for instance, the replacement of Portuguese sausages with lap cheong (Chinese sausages),” says the Rozells.

The Rozells are a musical duo comprised of James A. Rozells and Kathleen Rodrigues and proud owners of Kampong Serani, a well-known establishment in Penang which serves delectable Eurasian cuisine; they also believe that they are selling a “Eurasian story” and not merely food.

The Rozells.

From sweet to sour and salty to spicy, Eurasian cuisine possesses strong and rich flavours as they are normally generously peppered with spices. Like their European counterparts, Eurasians usually marinate their food with lime, lemon or vinegar, at the same time introducing Asian elements such as chilies, galangal, lemongrass and various spices into their curries and other dishes.1

Eurasian dishes inspired by the Portuguese include the rich, fiery devil’s curry made with either pork or chicken, and salted fish pickle fashioned from a blend of pickled salted fish, onions, garlic, ground chili, vinegar and spices.

Bergedel, a dish introduced to Malaya and Singapore by Javanese immigrants who were once colonised by the Dutch, is made of meat such as beef, pork, chicken, prawn or fish, wrapped between potato patties.

Some fine examples of Eurasian food that are of Peranakan and Chinese influence include babi assam – curried pork pieces cooked with tamarind, lemongrass, turmeric powder and spices; and cucumber acar – cucumber, green chilies and other vegetables cooked with vinegar and turmeric powder. Other notable mentions are Eurasian nasi lemak that is accompanied by assam fish and prawns; the Filipino-Eurasian wolf herring dish known as singgang; Eurasian lamb stew of Irish origins; and feng, a popular pig offal delight.2

Just like most Asian meals, Eurasian cuisine is often supplemented by rice. However, it also differs according to the culture practiced by the person. For example, a Eurasian who is of Indian and European parentage may substitute rice with roti canai in their daily meals. It is also common for rice to be substituted with either bread or baguette.

During festivals and weddings, Eurasians would revel in music and show off their dance moves. However, no celebration is complete without food.

Chef Damian D'Silva.

Eventually, someone with soul and a little bit of madness will revive true Eurasian cuisine.

As most Eurasians are Christians, Christmas and Easter are significant festivals. A staple dessert in almost every Eurasian festivity is the sugee cake – one that the Rozells, for example, consider to be a “treasure”. It is believed to have originated from Goa and is known for its coarse and slightly crunchy sensation. Its fundamental ingredients are toasted semolina (sugee), crispy almonds and a lot of egg yolks.

Another noteworthy festivity dessert is the traditional British Christmas fruit cake. This soft and fragrant cake filled with fruits and nuts is usually drizzled with brandy to provide an aromatic scent and flavour, while at the same time preserving the cake for a longer period.

Other common desserts for such occasions include the custardy bread pudding and melt-in-your-mouth pineapple jam tarts.

Festivities aside, Eurasians used to gather together every afternoon for tea, a social practice adopted from the British. They would make time to sip hot scented tea and munch on delicacies like curry puffs, scones and sandwiches during the hot afternoons, and chatter among family and friends. Unfortunately, today’s world no longer caters to such practices and this has become one of the many things swallowed up by the passage of time.

Singgang served at Folkore, Singapore.

The Wider Eurasian World

Penang’s Eurasian food is more European as it has had a wider range of Western influences – British, Dutch, Portuguese, French, German, Irish as well as Russian. “Since most Singaporean Eurasians originated from Melaka, there is no doubt that their cuisine evolved from there,” says Chef Damian D’Silva, executive chef at Folklore restaurant in Singapore. D’Silva was in Penang to put together a family-style dinner at ChinaHouse in conjunction with ConneXions: Passions Made Possible during George Town Festival earlier this year.

Certain dishes that are common in Singapore appear not to be so in Penang. For instance, feng. The fact that not many Eurasians today have the recipe to execute the complex spice mix for feng could be one of the reasons why this dish is rare.

The flavour, ingredients as well as techniques used to pull off the dishes can differ, though the variances may be too minute to distinguish at times. As D’Silva puts it, “Every Eurasian family has its uniqueness and idiosyncrasies. However, today there are many who do not take the arduous and painstaking effort to execute the dishes – they might have the recipe, but the method of execution is questionable.”

The Melakan Eurasian babi assam, or tamarind pork.

Even so, this culinary fusion has withstood the test of time and evolved in many ways. “It is food that was inspired throughout the ages, and that has co-existed and fused organically to what it is today. As long as there are recipes, the food will be remembered. Whether it remains consistent, that is more worrying.

“Like any other cuisine, ingredients change depending on the availability of ingredients as well. Moreover, recipes that have been passed down through the generations contain only ingredients without even the recipe books sometimes hide an ingredient or technique or two.”

The future of Eurasian cuisine in Singapore seems to be a bright one, but the number of establishments that serve Eurasian cuisine in Penang have dwindled to a depressing number, and the few of them are not even known to most locals.

“You can see that the whole culture is slowly being forgotten. Eventually, family by family will not get the recipe from their grandparents because nobody has taken the trouble to learn. Over time, the whole culture may disappear,” the Rozells lament.

But both the Rozells and D’Silva believe that this legacy will prevail as long as there are people in the community passionate enough to learn and continue to pass down recipes to the younger generations.

“Eventually, someone with soul and a little bit of madness will revive true Eurasian cuisine,” says D’Silva.

Kampong Serani is currently searching for passionate young people to help them champion Eurasian cuisine. If you’re one of them, contact them at +017 486 1885 (James A. Rozells)


Debal/Devil’s Curry

by Chef Damian D’Silva

Debal curry, also commonly known as devil’s curry, is a quintessential Eurasian cuisine of Portuguese origin.

According to Chef Damian D’Silva, Eurasian curries are more influenced by Indian cuisine, specifically that of South India and Goa (a former Portuguese colony). However, the taste of this dish tends to differ slightly from local Indian curries.

“Unlike the Indian curries that we have in Malaysia and Singapore which are mostly spicy and either sweet or sour, devil’s curry is a culmination of all three flavours,” say restaurateurs James A.Rozells and Kathleen Rodrigues.

A ubiquitous dish in most Eurasian households, devil’s curry is fragranced with mustard seed, onions and vinegar. It is supplemented with lemongrass and galangal, and thickened with buah keras (candlenut).

Similar to the Goan vindaloo curry, white vinegar and turmeric that are used in the making of this dish reflects the Portuguese voyage.3 Plenty of dried chilies are added to intensify the spiciness.

Originally, it was leftovers from Christmas meals tossed together which produced this savoury dish – similar to the way kiam chai boey (Chinese mustard green and tamarind stew) is prepared. Its peculiar name, devil’s curry, came from two significant reasons: the first being a constant mispronunciation of its initial name, “debal curry”; and the second being that its immense heat and spiciness proved unbearable to many.


For the rempah:

80g dried chillies, boiled in water, drained and stems removed

80g old ginger, skinned and chopped

300g shallots, peeled, topped and tailed

1 cup peanut or coconut oil

1kg Bombay onions, skinned, topped and tailed, and quartered

2kg pork spare ribs, cut into 7cm long

100g young ginger, skinned and finely julienned

1 litre water

5 smoked pork knuckles, cut each into 4 pieces

1kg smoked bacon bones, cut into 5cm long

1kg roast pork, cut into 2cm-thick pieces

10 to 12 tbsp rice vinegar 3 tbsp Colman’s English mustard powder

Salt to taste


  1. Place ingredients for the rempah in a blender and blend until a fine paste is achieved. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a deep pot. Add the Bombay onions and sauté for about 15 minutes until soft and slightly caramelized around the edges.
  3. Add the rempah and sauté for about 20 minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add the spare ribs and julienned ginger and cook for about 20 minutes on medium flame. If cooking liquid from the meats appear, cook it further until almost dry. Then, add 1 litre of water and cook for another 10 minutes.
  5. Add the smoked pork knuckles and bacon bones.
  6. When the skin on the pork knuckle is soft, the pork ribs should be cooked. To check, use a fork and pierce through the skin. Simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes before adding the roast pork.
  7. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar with the English mustard powder and add this mixture to the pot and stir well.
  8. Cook for another 10 minutes. Add salt to taste.
  9. Serve with hot rice or baguette. Serves 10 to 12

Eurasian Lamb Stew

by Gerard Estrop


1kg lamb, trimmed of excess fat

3 tbsp flour

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

3 tbsp butter

1½ litres water

2cm cinnamon stick

2 cloves

½ nutmeg seed

5 large onions, cubed

150g celery, cubed

250g carrots, peeled and cubed

250g potatoes, peeled and cubed

250g sengkuang (yam bean), cubed


  1. Cut the mutton into small pieces.
  2. Rub it with flour, salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the butter in a deep saucepan and brown the pieces of meat.
  4. Add the water, then the rest of the ingredients.
  5. Simmer over low heat for 3 hours, until meat is tender.
  6. Adjust seasoning if necessary and serve hot.
Alexander Fernandez is a USM graduate with a degree in English for Professionals. While most people eat to live, he lives to eat instead.


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