Singapore Peranakan Food Festival

When M told me about the Singapore Peranakan Food Festival, I was eager to try out the week-long affair (actually, its six days, but well, still limited edition, and still a good deal if you know what I mean) with Singapore food. My love affair with the Peranakan cuisine has been a long-standing one, and I was eager to see what they had on their menu. Peranakan cuisine evolved from the Chinese immigrants who had moved to Indonesia during the late 15th and early 16th century, and one of the significant results had been the evolution of the Indonesian “Nyonya” cuisine, as Peranakan is otherwise known. The term “Nyonya” is similar in meaning to the Italian “Nonna” or Indian “Naani”, an older and much respected female relative. Nyonya, or Nonya means “Aunt” or “Madam” (according to Wikipedia). The cuisine has influences from Indonesia, India, China and Thailand in the way the ingredients are used and the way the food is cooked.

Chef Abdul Halim bin Ahmed

For this special event, Swissotel have flown in two guest chefs for the week – Chef Abdul Halim bin Ahmed and Chef Kok Soo Hwang from Swissotel Merchant Court (Singapore). When asked, Chef Abdul smilingly told me that the menu had been selected based on taste, popularity, and the kind of climate we enjoy here in Kolkata, and he thought these would be appropriate with the season.

I sauntered in around 7.15 pm and was immediately greeted by M and E… two gorgeous ladies who showed me around the buffet. There were a lot of things on offer, and I loved the tasty, yet light fare, which was created keeping in mind the way people in Kolkata love eating.

I sipped a glass of Singapore Sling while talking to the Director of Food and Beverage, Joyjit Chakravorty. It was a sweet, dark pink affair, with an alcoholic kick that would hit you slowly, when you are clearly thinking of the innocuous nature of the drink and contemplating a second one. With that, there were starters on offer – a platter of chicken or pork satay on sticks, served with a slightly chunky and mildly spicy peanut sauce. I would have preferred the chicken to be cut up in smaller portions, but well, I was more inclined towards the pork anyway (well, pork + P = Happiness).


 There were other appetizers on menu too – the Tofu Patty was a scoop of fried soft tofu that was supposed to be dipped in a sauce before consumption, but its texture made it fall off the stick constantly (Not that I ever think silken tofu is bad… in fact, I am on the other end of the spectrum in this area).

 Jasper showed me around the buffet selection. He talked about the numerous influence on Singapore food, and how each dish was selected. Although I absolutely loved the Indonesian Chicken with a peanut-based sauce, and huge black mushrooms cooked gently with broccoli.

 I also must mention the way the Chap Chae was cooked – a huddle of vegetables cooked till tender and flavored mildly. It is essentially a dish which needs a bit of rice and your fingers, where wood-ear fungus, lettuce and other vegetables melt gracefully on your tongue, and reminds you of the times when food was supposed to be good for both the body and the soul. 

Afterwards, I realized that I was sorely missing my own Grandmother’s cooking, but that is what Nyonya cuisine is supposed to inspire in you.

A Bee Hoon (Singapore noodles) stood on one side, thin noodles tossed with scallions and a bit of sweetness, dry but not stringy. There was also a dish of Prawns in a sweet Pineapple Sauce – the pineapple made the prawns sweet and very tender.

Singapore Chilli Crab

Of course, I was absolutely pleased to see the Singapore Chilli Crab in the buffet menu. Although it might seem to be a difficult-to-eat dish at first, since the crabs are in their shells, but, with the aid of your trusty hands and abandonment of forks and knives, this is the star of the show. Succulent and sweet crab meat tossed with a hot, sour and sweet sauce, this is what many consider Singapore cuisine’s biggest highlight.

Hainanese Chicken Rice.

My favorite, however, was the Hainanese Chicken Rice. I took some of the rice, topped it with a generous breast of cooked chicken, with the moist and soft skin clinging to the meat, added a generous scoop of stock on top to make the dish even more moist, and dumped some soy sauce and chilli sauce on top, adding a few sticks of cucumber on the side. Jasper beamed his approval at my style of eating, especially after spying the amount of stock I have poured on the rice, and led me away to my table, and I inhaled it in no time.

Dessert was Bubur Cha Cha (a perennial favorite of mine) with generous chunks of sweet potato, tapioca pearls and fruit jelly in a thick, coconutty custard. It was not screamingly sweet, but I veered more towards the black glutinous rice with its mild sweetness and slightly nutty flavors from the wild, black rice.

The event will be over soon, so if you want to check the menu out before the festival is over, then you had better hurry up.

Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee was invited to sample the Singapore Peranakan Food Festival menu by Swissotel. Her opinions are honest and unbiased.

Written by Poorna Banerjee

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