Culinary Ephemera: Siew Kee Restaurant Menu, Malacca ca. 1960

Restaurant related objects such as business cards, matchboxes and matchbooks, menus, and advertisements, as well as utensils, promotional memorabilia, and decorative accessories, can illustrate and help determine the tastes and customs of particular places and time periods. I have a small collection of business cards taken from roadside restaurants on a cross-country U.S. trip some years ago. Looking at the restaurant name, its specialties, and the graphics reveals an encapsulated sense of time and place. Menus are an excellent source of information on culinary trends and anomalies as well as social interaction.

Below is a menu from the Siew Kee Restaurant in Malacca (Melaka) in present day Malaysia, specializing in Chinese dishes. Malacca was one of the three port cities, including Penang and Singapore, which comprised the Straits Settlements of the Malayan peninsula when it was under British control up until 1946. Long before British rule, these trading centers attracted Chinese, Indian and European immigrants. Intermarriage between these groups and the indigenous Malay population created a region of cultural diversity. At this cultural interface, the culinary practices of each immigrant blended and expanded into unique, regional specialties. For more on Straits Chinese cuisine see my post on Peranakan Cookery.

Siew Kee Restaurant Menu

With red leather front and back covers, a blue cloth spine and silver lettering, this bilingual English-Traditional Chinese text menu features 15 leaves with the watermark of Loh Printing Press in Malacca. The restaurant's offerings are divided into: Baa Mee, Shark's Fin, Bird's Nest Soup, Snow Fungus, Pigeon, Duck, Chinese Dishes, Hot and Cold Drinks, Beer and Stout, Special Chinese Small Dishes, Special Chinese Dishes, and Champagne. There are no prices listed. The menu is undated but I suspect it to be from around 1960, based on the graphics and condition. The menu is well preserved, with slight foxing on some pages. I've included some of the pages below (click on the images to enlarge), along with a brief description.
Size: 5.5" x 8.5" (14 cm x 21.5 cm)

Also of interest...

The Science of the Menu


Marina said...

What a fascinating find! I have often wished that my ancestors had saved old menus from the past. It would be interesting to see a retrospective exhibition of a specific time or region through its menus and cooking ephemera.

the five o'clock teaspoon :: said...

Culinary historian William Woys Waever just published a book called Culinary Ephemera: An Illustrated History that includes some great examples.