Peranakan Flavours

Peranakan Flavours

A taste of our uniquely local Nyonya flavours.
Xing Wei Chua
Xing Wei Chua

Chanced upon this new eatery named Nana Dolly’s whilst walking around the Rochor area and made a mental note to make a return for it since we haven’t really got dinner all planned out. Located at 10 Perak Road, Nana Dolly’s is located in the same row of shophouses as Fat Queen Cooks, which moved in to replace the now-defunct Nanyang Culinary Club not too long ago. Turns out, Nana Dolly’s is an establishment specialising in Peranakan fare that is run by first-time F&B owners whom are looking to preserve the legacy of Peranakan cuisine. From the facade of the establishment, there are some clues of the brand’s focus in Peranakan fare — the use of Peranakan-style plate for the alphabet “O” in “Dolly’s”; the interior meanwhile sees a splash of bright colours with seatings and tables in different wooden accents — the cushions for the seating features alternating colours such as blue and green to match up with the yellower and redder tones of wood that the furniture uses. There are also details like mosaic tiles and Peranakan memorabilia that can be found at certain spots all around, further bringing the diners close to what Nana Dolly’s has been conceptualised as. Whilst there is a hard copy menu that one can refer to at the restaurant, it is noted that the online menu via the QR code place at the table is a more accurate version of what Nana Dolly’s has to serve currently — the menu mainly features sharing plates, snacks (which mostly include salads and fried food), and sides (mainly comprises of vegetable dishes) — a Kueh platter of 5 pieces of Nonya Kueh is also available as a dessert listed in the “Snacks” section of the menu to finish the meal off with. Beverages available at Nana Dolly’s include espresso-based specialty coffee, as well as special concoctions such as a Cute Cute Pink Drink, and Aromatico.

Visiting Nana Dolly’s for dinner, we found ourselves going for the Mengkabo Pork Belly to be had with a plate of White Rice on the side. For those whom are unaware of what Mengkabo Pork Belly is, this is essentially a Nonya-style chilli pork dish — some sources have claimed that this is also a dish that is particularly difficult to find in Singapore in current times. It is noted that Nana Dolly’s does serve up two variants of the Mengkabo dish — one being the Mengkabo Chicken, and another being the Mengkabo Pork Belly; there is also a difference in the listed price on the menu between the two variants featuring different types of meat — the Mengkabo Chicken being the lower-priced one at $10, while the Mengkabo Pork Belly is priced at $13. The menu describes the Mengkabo Pork Belly as “tender pieces of pork belly braised in a sweet and tangy tamarind sauce”. Given how the Mengkabo Pork Belly does come as an item similar to a stew, our order of the rice helps to provide a vehicle to mop up all of that stew up to savour all that flavour the dish comes with. The stew itself already comes with all those notes as promised in the description; there is a slight sweetness that is accompanied with a light hint of sour-ish tang that provides a little bit of flavour contrast to the pork belly — whilst some will likely be expecting the pork belly to be totally melt-in-the-mouth and tender like most Chinese-style pork belly dishes, this was definitely one closer to that of what one would expect from a Peranakan establishment. Meaty and carrying quite a fair bit of bite especially from the lean parts, we like that there isn’t any porky stench that comes with the pork belly.

As for the “rempah” component of the Mengkabo Pork Belly, this carries quite a fair bit of kick from the raw chilies used — one could definitely taste the freshness of the chilies and that fiery note that it comes with; definitely something that will tingle the tastebuds even for those whom are tolerable to moderate levels of spiciness. It was a bit of a shame that we were not able to try more of their dishes during the visit — we visited the establishment by ourselves alone and there was just limited stomach capacity on what we could take in. That being said, the folks were kind to serve us a complimentary portion of the Assorted Kueh Platter as part of their opening celebrations — the Kuehs served do seem supplied to say the least, though it still does deserve some credit for how they still maintained being fresh despite us visiting the establishment in the evening; something that sounds awfully basic on paper, but Kuehs are notorious for being fussy items to maintain freshness for a long period of time. We probably aren’t the correct folks to give an opinion on Peranakan fare especially considering our lack of a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter, but it does feel that Nana Dolly’s is a spot that really wishes to bring back the iconic flavours of lost Peranakan cuisine and re-ignite the interest of these long-lost recipes with the patrons who comes true their doors. Considering so, they might quite be that establishment that is pretty worthy of checking out.

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Came across Cherki on social media recently; a new Peranakan fusion concept that had opened its doors fairly recently at Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre — for those unfamiliar with the location, the building is located behind the Singapore Chinese Orchestra building, and the eatery had seemingly replaced the now-defunct Déjà Brew Cafe. Operating as somewhat is a bistro bar, the food menu is split into sections comprising of “Small Plates”, “Rice/Noodles”, “Mains” and “Sharing Plates” — the establishment also serves up a wide variety of cocktails amidst other alcoholic beverages as well, with choices of non-alcoholic beverages revolving around mocktails only.

While the Truffle Itek Popiah that we have also had was more on the abstract side of things and is also a relatively interesting attempt on a fusion item, the Otah Chawanmushi was something that may resonate with those that are looking for a fusion item that is more relatable for its composition. Some may argue how the Otah Chawanmushi seems more like placing a Nonya element to steamed egg just for the fusion, but we found this to be quite decently executed given its composition. While I would have preferred a more punchy hint of rempah spices for the Otah, the mellowed flavours and spiciness seem to tie up with that of the clean-tasting Chawanmushi — found the textures of both elements to be consistent throughout as well; a proper fusion of both elements without the Otah causing a varying density to the overall mouthfeel of the item. The Chawanmushi also comes with other elements such as shrimp; those were pretty fresh and added a bite with a slight hint of natural sweetness to it.

While we did enjoy the Otah Chawanmushi and Truffle Itek Popiah, we did wish that they could do slightly more with items such as the Nyonya Herb Crusted Snapper — the fusion just didn’t seem strong enough for how it felt like a Western item that comes with “Peranakan fusion” because it is served with achar and blue pea rice (the secret blend of herbs seem to have lacked a Peranakan influence); perhaps a better approach might be to use a dry rempah spice rub with the herb crust instead. That being said, Cherki is an interesting dining option; albeit hidden in a lesser-known corner of the Central Business District, that would work well for drinks after work for the office folks in the area — pretty intrigued with their cocktail selection with options like “Pulut Hitam” and “Potpourri” amongst others in the menu.

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From Noa; a rare opportunity to check this place out in the heart of the CBD when they are opened on Hari Raya Haji — otherwise a place that I probably would have to miss out on for a bit considering that they only operate during weekday morning to the afternoon before Laut takes over the operations for dinner service.

Went for the Fish Rendang Set here; described as “Fish of the Day, Rendang Curry” on the menu, the item comes with ala-carte and set options — the set sees the item come with Nasi Ulam, Seasonal Vegetables, and Homemade Sambal Belachan. Thought that the entire item came as a great package altogether — the Nasi Ulam certainly giving the dish much of its attractive aesthetic; fluffy and hinted lightly of an umami note that is extremely appealing on its own. It pairs well with the home-made sambal belachan, which adds a savoury and spicy kick that tantalises the taste-buds — those who are less tolerant to spiciness, you have been warned! Otherwise, the Fish Rendang presents a mellower spiciness in comparison; hints of a coconut-y fragrance that’s pretty alluring, while the fish served comes in a rather substantial portion — fresh, moist and plump; flaky and easy to eat without any undesirable fishiness. The seasonal vegetables seem to be the Nyonya Achar here; provides a good tang and a nice crunch that resets the tastebuds especially from the spicy elements in the dish.

Must say I am pretty wow-ed with the offering of a Peranakan-themed lunch menu at Noa, which also somewhat goes hand-in-hand with what Laut has to offer despite its separate operations — taking inspiration from the culture and flavours of Southeast Asian cuisine. Would say that it’s a spot I would gladly want to visit again — a gorgeous environment, and a familiar theme with well-executed food and coffee that resonates well with their concept; what’s more that I can ask for?

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From Casa Bom Vento Express at the new Xin Tekka; the food court being located in Tekka Place a short distance away from Rochor MRT Station. The stall is by the same folks behind Casa Bom Vento; a Halal restaurant that used to serve up Peranakan cuisine at Joo Chiat Road.

Admittedly the other offerings do look very attractive, such as the Buah Keluak Fried Rice and Debal Curry; just wanted to go for a fish option during the day of my visit. Coming with Blue Pea Flower Rice, the Ikan Pari Assam Pedas is essentially stingray cooked in a Peranakan hot and sour stew. Liked how the stew was mildly spicy whilst tangy; fairly balanced here with a very slight tinge of sweetness — pretty comforting with quite a good portion of stingray that is all plump and succulent; came off the bones pretty easily. The eggplant that is added in the stew adds a good burst of flavour from the stew; cooked to the point where it’s soft and absorbed all that flavour from the stew. The Blue Pea Flower Rice features basmati grains; pretty fluffy and works well especially as one drenches it with the stew; pretty delightful.

Wouldn’t want to comment on how authentic this is; am one who rarely touches Peranakan cuisine enough to have a deep understanding — still pretty excited though to give the other menu items a try. Must say it adds for a very good option to dine around this part of town!

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Had not tried Violet Oon Singapore proper until this visit was made a few days ago — the only other time I made a visit was for their Otah Toast a couple of years back at the Bukit Timah Road branch when they only had a single location. Having heard so mhch about this item from the very same person who ended up making the reservation so that I could have a taste of the item, the Beef Rendang clearly does not disappoint — really enjoyed all that Lemak-Ness of the Rendang; very creamy and decadent; not too spicy yet incredibly fragrant. The beef shares the limelight here with the rendang; the meat being incredibly tender without any effort required in chewing — all that without being particularly gamey and provides just enough meatiness alongside with the flavourful Rendang that carried a satisfying, familiar medley of flavours despite the complexity of the Rendang itself. It goes without saying we ended up mopping up the sauce clean with a bowl of Chicken Rice on the side; not that the Chicken Rice wasn't spectacular (it was extremely fragrant in its own right), but we just could not bear wasting it all. Service here is also what I am really fond of here; passionate, honest and friendly staff that is helpful with their recommendations and even engaging in small talk with their guests — things that really matter considering the bland service that many joints provide these days, which is also notch up from my experience back at Bukit Timah Road just a couple of years ago. Would really not mind coming back again another time, considering there are a couple of dishes that caught my attention — really impressed with how they do their spices here too as well!

The Nonya Chap Chye here features braised cabbage with beancurd skin, rice vermicelli, mushrooms and black fungus. Cabbage was soft yet delivered a light crunch, while the black fungus created some chew along with the bouncy mushrooms and springy rice vermicelli; all that served with a mildly savoury braised liquid that also carried an evident garlicky flavour.

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Probably one of the better dishes at Nonya Nonya Restaurant; a new Peranakan establishment run by the folks of House of Peranakan Group opposite myVillage @ Serangoon Gardens that also operate House of Peranakan, House of Peranakan Petit and Tok Panjang Peranakan Cafe. The Ngoh Hiang is tightly wrapped with reasonably crisp beancurd skin, packed with minced meat and prawn for that meatiness with chestnuts included for a crunch — perhaps also one of the better Ngoh Hiang dishes we have had.

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Char-grilled Stingray with Sambal Chili and Chinchalok served on the side. Thought the fish came with reasonable tenderness, and the chili was actually pretty much on point — spicy, tangy and umami that is always the draw factor of having the stingray (it's all about the Sambal here) though the local in me was yearning a little bit more heat for the Sambal. It's also worth noting that the stingray here is a tad smokier from the chargrilling somehow.

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Wok-fried sambal belachan fried rice with grilled tumeric chicken and achar. Pretty similar to the XO Crab Fried Rice that I have tried yesterday — as flavourful but less the crabmeat. Replacing the crabmeat would be small chunks of chicken and the sambal belachan which gives the rice it's moderately spicy flavour. The fried egg is served with some finesse here — shaped in a mound whilst being pan-fried instead of just being simply fried on the pan to hold its shape; yolk wasn't exactly runny but still gooey. The flavours of tumeric is easily detectable, though if I were to nitpick the chicken strips were slightly on the drier side. Achar was crunchy and was more sweet than spicy — loved how they didn't go all out on the peanuts here.

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Wok-fried Pork Belly with Green Apple and Sweet & Sour sauce. Listed as yet another dish by Chef Sam Leong on their menu. Thought this was actually pretty rustic like how sweet and sour pork used to be around a decade ago. The good mix of fatty and lean meat for the Sweet & Sour Pork gives it just enough bite whilst lightly-fried for just a wee bit of crunchiness in the exterior. Unlike conventional sweet and sour pork dishes, Baba Chews serves their sweet & sour pork with green apple slices instead of pineapples, onions and capsicum which provides for a soft bite from being stewed with a little zing. The sauce was also pretty flavourful with a good balance of sweet and sour flavours — pretty well executed I will say.

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Back for their lunch offerings after having tried their dinner items yesterday. Perhaps I was carrying expectations too high for this dish that it seemed a little more ordinary than what I expected it to be. The light fried batter does gives the fresh and plump prawns a little crispiness whilst drenched in a light wasabi mayo which was a good balance — you could taste the whiff of wasabi flavours less the numbing sensation amidst the creamy mayo. Thought the mango salsa on the side was a little unnecessary — seemed to have overwhelmed the wasabi mayo but was actually delightful to have by itself; fresh, tangy, sweet and everything refreshing to lift the tastebuds.

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Available ala-carte for $8++ for lunch, but it comes at a $5++ top up if you were to order a main during dinner. Of course, being a restaurant situated in a hotel this is a little more decent and lacks the crudeness and ruggedness of what would be churned out from a neighborhood tzechar stall hence it lacks that wok hei that some might be looking for, but the fried rice was immensely flavourful from the broth it was cooked in as it absorbed the flavours and tasted even in all parts — pretty well-executed. Shredded crab meat exists in small bits all over the plate; adds in a little sweet crustacean flavour as you chew upon them.

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