November 20, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Singapore day 3: dinner with baba

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I found out that a friend from KL was also in Singapore this weekend, and we agreed to catch up over a meal.  When he suggested that we go check out a relatively new Peranakan restaurant for dinner, I didn't hesitate to say 'yes'.  After all, my friend is a baba... and it would be a real treat to dine with a foodie who knows what he's talking about when it comes to Peranakan cuisine!

The Peranakan is at the western end of Orchard Road, inside the newly-renovated Claymore Connect shopping mall.  This is an area I was pretty familiar with, given that dad's office was in Orchard Towers for a while (along with the former infamous "four floors of whores").  I'm glad to see that the mall below the Orchard Hotel has been given a makeover, and as we approached from street level, we could see a number of kebayas being hung in the restaurant's windows.

I was a little startled by the abundance of Christmas decorations inside a restaurant purportedly serving Peranakan cuisine, but I was reassured once I saw my friend.  Since I'm dining with a baba, guess who's NOT doing the ordering?

First we were given small baskets of hae bee hiam rolls.  These were soooo good and a perfect way for us to start our meal.

Kueh pie ti - we just had these for lunch earlier in the day, so it would be fun to compare.  Here it is served in a funky platter, with 10 of the top hats wedged in its own slot.

It is up to the diner how much stuffing to add, which is great since it keeps the shells crispy.  The shrimps are much smaller, but they are whole shrimps instead of prawn halves elsewhere.  Flavor-wise the stuffing seemed milder compared to Violet Oon's version we had earlier in the day.

Sup bakwan kepiting - this was really delicious.  The soup was cooked with some bamboo shoots, which gave it a mild but distinctively sweet taste.

The meatballs were made with pork, prawns, and crab, and seasoned with some white pepper.  They were very, very tender as well as tasty.  Probably my favorite dish of the evening.

Nonya chap chye - Hello Kitty requested for veg, and guess what our baba friend ordered?  This, of course, is classic Peranakan.  Unfortunately, while the seasoning was lighter than the version at Candlenut, this, too, was stewed until the cabbage started disingregrating into a pile of mush.  My Canto Kitty just ain't a fan...

Kaki babi pong teh - OK... I'm happy anytime you give me some pork, especially when you stew it with some skin and fat... This was very, very tasty... with lots of garlic and fermented soy beans delivering some umami.  But if I had to be picky, I would say that the pork was a little overcooked.  Still happy to eat this, though.

Ayam buah keluak - ah... the macdaddy of Peranakan dishes.  And... about what I expected.  Traditional preparation means the chicken was overcooked and tough.  That, my friends, is why I very much prefer Malcolm Lee's preparation using wagyu or short ribs.  I like the flavors of the nut but prefer not to gnaw on tough and stringy chicken.

We were given little spoons to scoop out the black paste stuffed inside the shells of the nut.  It's an acquired taste for sure, and I have acquired it over the years.  Having finished all of her steamed rice in the early part of dinner, Hello Kitty found the flavors of the paste on its own a little too heavy for her taste.

Chendol - I could never resist ordering chendol, especially after getting my favorite version of it last night.  This is obviously a much more traditional, with plenty of gula melaka poured over the shaved ice.  Yum!

Overall, this was a pretty decent meal, and I'm glad to have caught up with my baba friend.  But as he said, it's hard for commercial Peranakan restaurants to taste "authentic", and he could do a better job cooking Peranakan food... and he's only an amateur compared to his mom and his aunts.  Anyway, this meal reminded me of the reasons I enjoy dining at Candlenut so much - the Peranakan flavors are similar, but the ingredients that Malcolm Lee uses are so much better.

P.S. we didn't have any rendang tonight, because my friend was told by the staff that the rendang they cooked tonight wasn't any good.  Kudos to the staff for having integrity to not serve dishes they felt was subpar.

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