Food-obsessed Singapore welcomes a near-constant influx of new food and beverage concepts. From Hawaiian poke to Russo-Hainanese (Russian dishes cooked by Hainanese chefs) cuisine, there is almost always something new and exciting on the menu. But even as lifestyles shift, Singaporeans continue to hold their food heritage close to their hearts — and stomachs. Even the Michelin Guide, regarded as the world’s fine dining authority, could not ignore Singapore’s unique food culture when it released the first Michelin Guide Singapore earlier this year. For the first time in its 115-year history, the dining guide included hawker fare and Peranakan cuisine alongside fine dining establishments.
In the hands of creative restaurateurs, many of Singapore’s old-school favourites have found a new home in chic and modern cafés. Inside rounds up some of these enduring and endearing eats.
Kopi Guyu and Soft-Boiled Eggs
From its contemporary interior to fusion dishes (think beef rendang ciabatta sandwich), Seng Kee the Black Seed by Chef Benny is decidedly modern. But when it comes to the national breakfast of kopi (local coffee) and soft-boiled eggs, the café does not tease tradition. In fact, it serves Kopi Guyu! For many older Singaporeans, drinking coffee this way (with a thin slice of butter) is all but a distant memory. Not unlike Vienna coffee, which features cream in lieu of milk, Kopi Guyu uses salty, savoury butter to deepen the flavour of coffee. The result is a rich, nutty and almost toffee-like indulgence.
The café also serves up soft-boiled eggs ($2.50 for two), cleverly using modern technology to recreate the taste of tradition. Using a sous vide machine to control water temperature, the café’s young employees make perfectly runny, silky smooth eggs cooked precisely to 63 degrees, even without the decades of experience that old hands have.
Hainanese Curry Rice
The Fei Siong Group had its start in a hawker centre just outside the former National Library at Stamford Road over 20 years ago. From a stall selling fishball noodles, its founder envisioned a “new styled” hawker concept that would serve traditional fare at affordable prices in air-conditioned malls. Let’s Eat! is a realisation of this vision — a one-stop food establishment that offers a classic menu of Penang Assam Laksa, Fishball Noodles, Minced Meat Noodles, Oyster Omelette, and its popular Hainanese Curry Rice.
While there is no official record as to how Hainanese Curry Rice came about, most agree that it was created by Hainanese cooks who worked for British and Peranakan families during Singapore’s colonial days.
At Let’s Eat!, the signature Hainanese Chicken Cutlet Curry Rice ($4.30) is a generous plate of rice topped with crispy chicken chop, fried egg and a side of chap chye (braised cabbage) — and doused in curry, of course. While tradition calls for the dish to be served with pork chop, the decision to use chicken, in this case, is well justified. The chicken cutlet is tender and moist, and marries well with the aromatic curry.
Let’s Eat! also caters to different palates with options like Chicken Drumstick ($5.00), Sambal Sotong (squid) ($6.00), Fried Prawns ($5.00) and Fried Fish ($5.00).
Peranakan Nonya Kueh
From a pushcart business selling handmade nonya kueh (traditional Peranakan cakes) in the 1940s, HarriAnns has made quite a name for itself by faithfully holding on to tradition. Handed down for three generations now, the brand still painstakingly makes its nonya kueh by hand, using only premium ingredients. But it is also keeping up with the times by creatively blending the old and the new.
HarriAnns Nonya Table is the brand’s first concept café at Bugis Junction where shoppers can rest their feet while enjoying classic Peranakan fare in a cosy, homey environment.
The café offers a delectable range of nonya kueh from the traditional Rainbow Lapis ($1.10), a gorgeous rendition of the well-loved kueh lapis, to new creations like the Pink Fairy ($1.10). The latter is a steamed Azuki-bean kueh topped with a pretty-in-pink layer of coconut cream. All in, the experience is a delicious, Instagram-worthy trip back in time.