Guan Hoe Soon

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My uncle took us to Guan Hoe Soon, apparently a venerable institution of Peranakan food. I didn’t have the best memories of them at my last visit there many years ago, but this time, Guan Hoe Soon redeemed itself with excellent renditions of sambal prawns ($12), beef rendang ($12) and sambal timun (complimentary starter). The prawns were fresh and sweet, and the sambal was topnotch, flavourful and well-balanced so that it was hard to tell exactly what went into the sauce. The beef rendang was tender, a rarity for this dish, and again with very well-balanced flavours. I liked also how they did the sambal timun so simply and well, because a lot of places take the attitude that free starters are a take-it-or-leave-it affair.

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The ngoh hiang ($10) and sambal kangkong ($10) were decent, but nothing special to travel for. The ayam buah keluak ($12) was a disappointment, partly because they mixed the buah keluak with meat but mainly because the sauce was rather anaemic.

Other than that, the desserts were decent. Most order the cendol ($3.50), which the others reported to be good.

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I had the sago gula melaka ($3.50), which was, again, decent but not worth going back for. I wasn’t sure about the ice ball because it took way too long to chip through and tended to freeze the sago to unappetisingly hard little blobs. Otherwise, the gula melaka was nice and thick and I think the coconut milk freshly squeezed.

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Come here if you’re in the East, on a budget, and have a craving for Peranakan food.

Guan Hoe Soon
38 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: +65 6344 2761

PeraMakan

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It was my father’s birthday, of course I had to take him out for good food. He requested Peranakan food and PeraMakan naturally came to mind. We’d eaten at the now-defunct restaurant in Joo Chiat and were crestfallen to find that it’d disappeared. Only much later did I find out from a friend that it’d reappeared at Keppel Club. Said friend raved about the food and especially the durian pengat. I’m not a durian fan, but Dad is. We were all set.

We started of with something not normally associated with Peranakan food, a salad. The jantung pisang kerabu was a salad of banana flowers, green mango and cucumber topped with cooked prawns, a light sambal belachan sauce and covered with a generous dollop of thick coconut cream. The sambal belachan was accented with lime juice and ginger flower, making it a surprisingly light-tasting dish. Goes without saying that the prawny tangy crunchy salad was a hit with the whole family.

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Next up was probably the star of the show: ayam buah keluak. I’m not sure why but the dish came with four pieces of chicken and only two nuts. I was pretty surprised when later I passed by a table of two and saw at least three nuts in their dish. I certainly hope it’s because the other table somehow requested for extra nuts and not because of inconsistency because I’m such a buah keluak fan! The dish was very well made, with tender chicken and very thick black and flavourful sauce. The best part was obviously the buah keluak,which was scraped out of the shell and stuffed back in.

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The deeply smoky, earthy nuts were so ambrosial I scraped out every tiniest bit and even licked as much of the insides clean as I could while at the same time avoiding an embarrassing trip to the dentist or worse!

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Now the dish I remember best of the old PeraMakan was the amazingly well made sambal terung. The brinjal was perfectly grilled till the skin turned a beautiful deep glossy purple. It was smothered with slightly sweet tomatoey sambal and topped with yummy prawns. Just like the ayam buah keluak, I could probably gobble down a whole dish of it all on my own.

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Next up was the only dud of the evening. It was a special: pomfret in assam nanas. The fish wasn’t particularly fresh and the flavours seemed rather watered down. A downer next to everything else on the table.

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The last main was almost an epiphany. You’d think otak otak would be a quotidian type of dish, but this one is the Platonic ideal of otak otak. The grilled dish looked almost like a lasagne, it was so well browned on the top. But bite into the coconut and seafood cake and taste the unctuousness of coconut. Couple this with perfectly cooked fish, prawn and sotong as well as uber-complementary spices and, well, you’re in otak heaven!

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Then came the desserts. I can’t personally vouch for the durian pengat, but considering how quickly it disappeared into my Dad’s stomach (yes, Dad’s usually queasy about dessert, no less rich ones), it must’ve been pretty darn good!

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I had the sago gula melaka and the gula melaka! It was so thick and rich and oozy I fell in love with it instantly. The only downer was that the sago was presented in the usual moulded jelly lump rather than separate pearls. I much prefer the little sago bits to be, well, in bits than in one slightly chewy lump. It was the fly in the ointment, but what lovely ointment that gula melaka was.

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DC had chendol which was very excellent too, again thanks to the superlative gula melaka and nicely cooked red beans.

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Mum had the apom balik filled with kaya. I quite liked the coconut-pandan fragrance of the pancake but felt that the kaya was a tad overpowered, I felt that the kaya could have been more flavourful, either with caramel flavour from slow-cooking the kaya longer or from more pandan flavour. That aside, it was a well executed dish and a nice sweet bite to round off the very excellent meal.

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PeraMakan
Level 3, Keppel Club
10 Bukit Chermin Road
Tel: 63772829

Quick Eats: Cheng Tng at Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre

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Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre is most famous for its peanut ice kachang. As I’m not the biggest fan of that and have already tried it before, I went for the cheng tng at the stall behind Annie’s.

This is one of the better and more unique cheng tngs I’ve had. I liked how only old-fashioned ingredients were used, so there was none of that weird QQ ball stuff or strange food colourings. It was also good that the shaved ice dessert it wasn’t overly sugary. The sweet potato was cooked plain and didn’t need the help of syrup to make it taste right. There were the usual toppings: barley, big sago balls and agar agar strips.

I liked how they made mundane ingredients special. For one, they used jumbo red beans instead of the usual tiny ones. That made a big difference to this erstwhile red bean hater. The reconstituted dried longan was quite special too. I don’t know how they did it, but it was done so that the longan was juicy but still retained that slightly earthy dried flavour. The gilding of the lily came with the splash of gula melaka on top.

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For $1.50, this blend of flavours and textures on ice was a real winner for me.

Huat Kee
#02-53 Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre

Self-Saucing Pineapple and Passionfruit Crumble

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I had this for a very decadent breakfast and I need to tell you how gorgeous it is. I love crumble, I like passionfruit and I adore custard. The problem with crumble and custard is that the custard is an extra fiddly step and is also incredibly fattening. For the record, I am a crumble Nazi and it’s against the law to eat crumble with ice cream. Unless it’s an incredibly hot day and you’re in Singapore. Sigh.

Nigella gave me some inspiration with her self-saucing gooseberry crumble recipe. I had passionfruit and pineapple, and everything just clicked into place. The gula melaka was a logical sweetener to keep to the tropical theme.

Why crumble for breakfast? Mum used to make apricot crumble for breakfast on weekends when we lived in Germany. It is such a comforting childhood memory. Also, a friend of mine claimed that passionfruit taken at night makes for a poor night’s sleep, so I make sure I only take passionfruit in the morning. It’s a silly superstitution I know, but humour me here.

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Ingredients:
120 g butter, frozen
200 g plain flour, frozen
3 tbsp sugar

1 passionfruit
¼ small pineapple, chunked
2 tsp gula melaka
1 egg yolk
4 tbsp cream

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Method:

  1. Remove the butter and flour from the freezer. Cut the butter into slices, then bits and using your fingers, rub it into the flour. You should get lumps of various sizes.
  2. Stir in the sugar and set aside. It’s worthwhile to make a larger batch of crumble topping to freeze for later. Then you can have crumble on demand.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  4. Stir the gula melaka into the passionfruit pulp and pineapple chunks until dissolved, then place into a shallow ovenproof bowl.
  5. Beat the egg yolk and cream together till combined, then stir into fruit mixture.
  6. Spoon the crumble over the mixture. Make sure it’s a very generous layer.
  7. Put in the oven for 25 minutes. Make sure you have something inside to catch the spills, it’s likely to bubble over.
  8. When it’s browned on top and bubbling below, take out carefully and allow to cool for 10 minutes before almost burning your mouth trying to get at the tart, sweet, fragrant, gorgeous goodness.

Serves 2-3, depending on how much you want to share.

Quick Eats: Putu Piring

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This is the only putu piring place I know that still exists and boy it is still so good. It’d been a while since I passed by the Geylang area and I insisted on trekking out of our way to get here. I was surprised that the Banquet food court had closed and the stall moved to Mr Teh Tarik Eating House up at Onan Road.

They still had the human production line going on as usual. We happily watched them make the outrageously simple delicacy: gula melaka was enclosed in rice flour and steamed for a few minutes, then knocked out of the mould onto shredded coconut and pandan leaves. Three were wrapped in a packet for $1 and deposited into a plastic bag. Watching the four helpers at work was pretty mesmerising.

It’s best to leave the putu piring in the packet for a few minutes so that the pandan fragrance permeates the steam, making it extra nice when you finally get to it. Mine was perfection. The crumb was meltingly soft and the gula melaka oozed out unctuously, making a lovely contrast with the slightly salty coconut. Add the gentle pandan aroma and it was putu piring-gasm for me. If not for the fact that it was dinner time, I would have gone straight for seconds.

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Mr Teh Tarik Eating House
Corner of Onan Road and Changi Road

Quick Eats: Ice Cream Gallery

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Ice Cream Gallery is a great place for cheap and good ice cream. The friendly staff are very generous with samples, so much so that if you’re super not-shy, you could probably try all the flavours in the shop before making the decision on what to settle for. It’s especially famous for the D24 durian flavour. I haven’t tried it because durian and me don’t mix.

My favourite teh halia flavour isn’t often in stock. This time I settled for the red bean and gula melaka flavour. I think it used to be called chendol flavour. It’s pretty good. The ice cream is smooth and sweet with plenty of caramelised coconut flavour. The red beans were soft and mushy, giving a grainy counterpoint to the rich cream. Yum!

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KK couldn’t resist the caramel macadamia and lychee flavours. Both were decent, though I felt that macadamia just isn’t fragrant enough to work well in ice cream.

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Ice Cream Gallery
20 Eastwood Road
Eastwood Centre, #01-13
Tel: 6246 2926

Peranakan at the Arch

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We had Peranakan at the Arch,  opposite Raffles Hotel. It’s a convenient place to go for dinner as it’s in a quiet corner of the city. The place has lots of decor from Ikea, so it’s all simple and understated. I love the service here. First thing they ask is if you’d like iced or warm water. Our server was attentive and smiling all the time. She gave good suggestions for our orders and made us feel right at home.

The first dish was the winged bean salad with dried shrimp and sambal. The raw beans were crisp and tasted very green. They were tossed in a generous dose of  dried shrimp and fiery chilli and finished off with lime juice.  It was a great start to the meal.

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I enjoyed the squid in honey pineapple sauce. The sauce was sweet and tangy with a touch of chilli and the squid was cooked just right for me, chewy and on the edge to crunchy. My mum found it too tough for her liking.

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The sayur lodeh (mild vegetable curry) was a crowd pleaser. Cabbage and long beans were cooked till soft but not mushy in a satisfyingly lemak (rich with coconut milk) sauce. I could also taste the dried shrimp in the sauce.  That’s the reason why Peranakan food needs to be eaten with lots of rice. Thumbs up.

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Not wanting to be too greedy, we had only one meat dish, deep-fried pork ribs in lime and black sauce. This certainly isn’t a Peranakan dish but it sure is good. The deep-fried ribs were crisp despite being drowned in the sweet black sauce and they were very moreish. Calamansi lime halves and fried curry leaves were tossed in to add piquancy and fresh herbiness to the dish. Best dish of the evening.

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We were rewarded for our restraint for the main dishes. Dessert here was very decent. The sago gula melaka ($1.20) was cheap and good. Sure, it was a small bowl, but isn’t that all you need at the end of a meal? The sago came splashed with coconut milk and the gula melaka (palm sugar) syrup came in a little jug of warm goodness. The gula melaka was rich and caramelly while the sago was cooked till just soft, a perfect combination of sweet and bland.

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My brother had the pulut hitam (black glutinous rice porridge). It was coochengked with dried longan and finished off with coconut milk. I liked it because it was smooth and creamy without being cloying. It wasn’t too sweet and had a cheng (light) taste.

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Dinner for three came up to about $60. It’s reasonably priced considering the town location. While  my Peranakan friends would probably sniff at the not-quite authentic food, the cooking is good and it’s a worthy option for a quiet and convenient place for dinner.

The Arch Straits Cuisine
32 Seah Street
Tel: 6837 3132