Image Credit: The Real Peranakan Facebook Page
The Real Peranakan was born out of a love of food and a belief that food should be unadulterated from artificial ingredients such as MSG and synthetic flavorings. The "battle" to be King of the Peranakan hill is a never ending one, and it is not the intention of The Real Peranakan to challenge anyone's grandmothers' cooking, which will always be.... the best.
We see The Real Peranakan as an effort to bring the best Peranakan chefs together to create a menu and offering that is both authentic as well as good value for money. What we truly want is to encourage the fellowship of friends and family over a good hearty and satisfying meal. More importantly, we hope you find our offering unpretentious and find food that speaks for itself.
For starters, we had the favourite Peranakan Ngoh Hiang. Behind the simplicity of this meat roll dish lies a lot of cooking skills and knowledge to achieve a fine balance of texture and flavours for it to be really yummy. The Ngoh Hiang here uses fresh, unsalted beancurd skin stuffed with diced water chestnuts and carrots. A homemade 5-spice powder adds that distinctive taste. The meat roll here was meaty contrasting well against its thin-crisp skin. Certainly a juicy appetiser to whet the appetite for more things to come.
We than had the Hee Peow Soup which is a collagen-rich soup made with hee peow (fish maw). The small urn of goodness contains handmade soft prawn ball, juicy pork ball and bouncy fish ball, made using Chef Philip’s grandmas’ age-old recipe. The soup is also sweet from the addition of Tianjin cabbage.
Another must have that test the skill of any Peranakan restaurant is the Nyonya Chap Chye. This traditional favourite is a medley of Chinese cabbage, fried beancurd, mushrooms, glass noodles (tang hoon) and carrots cooked in fermented soy bean paste (tau cheo). A trivia note, this dish is often used by Peranakan mothers as a barometer to test their son’s girlfriend or wife’s cooking ability. The vegetables I had were nicely simmered until soft without being overly disintegrated, with seafood-sweetness as the ingredients were slowly braised in prawn stock.
We also had Babi Tohay (braised pork belly slow-cooked with fermented shrimp and red yeast rice or Ang Kak). This is a dish that you can hardly find in Peranakan restaurant in Singapore. The dish is made from an old recipe that Chef Philip learned from his cooking mentors, Uncle Tan and Auntie Rosie. The distinctive red color of the dish comes from the Ang Kak. Today red yeast rice is even used in health supplements as a natural strain to help lower cholesterol. The braised till melt-in-the-mouth pork belly goes extremely well with white rice.
Another must-order is the favourite classic Ayam Buah Keluak, which is a true test of the culinary standard of any Peranakan restaurant. This savoury chicken dish is cooked with tamarind gravy and black buah keluak nuts. The slow-cooking process creates rich, robust, earthy flavours, complemented with creamy earthiness and subtle bitter notes from the nut. The nuts are actually prepared and soaked 3 days before used in the dish. It has full-bodied notes, reminding one of truffle, and is the source of the dish’s complex flavour. What is interesting about the Buah Keluak is the inky paste is blended with minced shrimps and specially-created seasonings; after which the Buah Keluak paste is stuffed back into the nut shells. So when you order this dish, savour it and think of the efforts that goes into cooking this dish.
The final dish we had was the Sambal Udang Belimbing. This dish is seasonal because the sourish blimbing fruit can hardly be found in the market and Chef Philip depend on goodwill of friends and relatives who plants this fruit tree and happily pass them to chef to create this dish. When you taste the spicy prawn sambal, you can taste the sour, piquant notes from the fruit.
If you are lucky to see Chef Philip in the shop and thinks that he looks familiar, that’s because he had appeared in many TV programs, magazines and social media. Nicknamed ‘The Peranakan Chef’, he had curated the culinary aspects of the Channel 8 hit TV series “The Little Nyonya” including the recent China multi-million dollar production. This 5th generation Peranakan is also the author of several cook books, including the bestselling “With Love, from The Little Nyonya” and “The Peranakan Kitchen”.
If this had whetted your appetite, make your way down to the restaurant in Hillcrest (Bukit Timah).
Laksa is a spicy noodle soup popular in the Peranakan Cuisine of Southeast Asia. Laksa consists of thick wheat noodles or rice vermicelli with chicken, prawn or fish, served in spicy soup based on either rich and spicy curry coconut milk or on sour asam (tamarind). Laksa is found as a comfort street food in a Indonesia, Thailand Malaysia & Singapore.
It was said that the word laksa originated from an ancient Persian word for "noodles". There are many theories on the origins of laksa. One theory connected laksa to the 15th century Ming Chinese naval expedition led by Admiral Zheng He into Southeast Asia, which resulted in a significant increase of Chinese migrants and traders into places like Malacca. These Chinese men intermarried into the local populations, and together they formed mixed-race communities called the Peranakan or Straits Chinese. In Malaysia, the Malacca laksa dish is believed to have been introduced by peranakan Chinese Malay while in Singapore, the dish is believed to have been created after interaction between the Peranakans with the local Singaporean Malays.
The Nyonya laksa that I had essentially has a creamy seafood-based gravy, with key components being fish stock and coconut milk. It also had a spice paste (called rempah in Malay) that contained ingredients such as chilli, shallots, garlic, turmeric,lemongrass and galangal. It is served with a dash of laksa sambal on a porcelain spoon. Among the white thick vermicelli, one can find sliced fish cakes, fried bean curd & prawns & cockles.
The laksa I had was really good and I give my three thumbs up. So if you are looking to taste what a really delicious authentic nyonya laksa should taste like, head on down to The Real Peranakan for breakfast.