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Peranakan Pleasures by Chef Benjamin Seck

Peranakan Pleasures by Chef Benjamin Seck

Do you think Singapore street food repertoire only had chilly crab and hokkein mein? If so, think again. At the tasting session organized by Singapore Tourism Board at ITC Maurya – Delhi, there is a different kind of cuisine on display. “We want you to get a taste of the variety of food that Singapore has to offer” says Elizabeth Wong from their Mumbai office.

Today the focus is on Peranakan cuisine. So what is this particular kind of cuisine? As per Wikipedia, this is the cuisine of Peranakans, the descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, and Singapore, inter-marrying with local Malays. As per chef Benjamin Speck (or Baba Ben as he is fondly known) of True Blue Cuisine, an award-winning Peranakan Restaurant which has been rated one of the Top Restaurants by Wine & Dine in Singapore, the taste of Peranakan food “is tangy, aromatic, and spicy.” He has however toned down the spice level to suit the local palate.

The tasting gets to a good start with Popiah Goreng, Vegetarian Fried Spring Rolls with a filling of cabbage and carrots, and with a vinegar and sugar based chilly dip. This dish is just what is needed with a pint of beer – something that is being served by the thoughtful hosts.

Next on our table is a fusion dish created by the chef Rajkamal Chopra of Welcomhotel Sheraton. Laksa Pulao is essentially an intelligently crafted veg pulao, with laksa leaves, beans and a heady fragrance of pure ghee. It is garnished with fried onions which give it a nice crunch and is served with raita, the mandatory companion.

On to the highlight of the day – the Nyonya Prawn Curry with roti Jalal. Interestingly, the old Malay word nyonya is a term of respect and affection for women of prominent social standing (like our own rich “auntie”), and has come to refer to the cuisine of the Perakanans. The curry is delightful, clearly showcasing the master touch of chef Baba Ben. It manages to be spicy and yet has subtle undertones with a touch of fried kadipattha leaves on top. It pairs beautifully with the accompanying lacy pancakes that soak up the curry.

It is fusion time again. This time chef Manisha Bhasin of ITC Maurya presents her duet of Asian inspired antipasti. The scampi and lemongrass ceviche on a methi dhania papdi shell is a let down, with the papdi taking over the taste of the dish. The accompanying sauce made from tamarind and galangal does stand out, though. The laksa chicken tikka, on the other hand, is remarkably good. The addition of laksa paste imbues a fresh and fragrant taste dimension, raising the dish to gourmet levels.

The dessert is Hun Kwee Jagong, a very pretty looking coconut corn jelly that shyly peeps out of the steamed banana leaf. The dessert is light on the tongue, though corn may not be the best ingredient with the wonderful texture of the jelly.

On the whole, the tasting session on Peranakan cuisine is a great peek into a very rich and exciting part of Singapore street food, thus making it yet another reason to visit the city.

Aalok Wadhwa

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