Sunday, 29 July 2012

Where to find 'vanishing' foods of Singapore

Rachel Loi | The Business Times

Where to find some vanishing foods like putu piring, kueh bong kong, botok botok ikan, appom and suan pan zi.
Author Sharon Wee’s favourite snack would be kueh bong kong, a Peranakan concoction of rice flour, coconut milk and gula melaka wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf.

If she doesn’t make it herself, she finds a suitable alternative at Glory on East Coast Road, one of the rare places that still makes the snack.

Kueh bong kong (Peranakan) 

The soft, smooth and sweet dessert is made from an over-50-year old recipe created by the late mother of one of Glory Catering’s co-owners, Chin Choon Siang.

Glory now outsources production so it can be made fresh every morning, but the recipe and ingredients suppliers have not changed over the years, and they still insist on using fresh coconut milk (as opposed to the commercially processed version) in their recipe.

Glory Catering, 139 East Coast Road:

Botok-botok ikan (Indonesian) 

Malay Heritage cookbook author Rita Zahara’s late mother made a mean botok-botok but it’s hard to find a good version these days, although she gets hers from Rumah Makan Minang in Kandahar Street.

This spicy dish comprises fish (tenggiri/Spanish mackerel) marinated in chilli padi, lime leaves, lemon grass, tamarind and other ingredients, wrapped with a banana leaf and boiled before serving.

According to stallowner Zulbaidah Binte Marlian, 54, botok-botok ($6 a portion) can be kept for a few days if refrigerated. In fact, the longer it is kept, she says, the tastier it becomes.

Botok-botok ikan was brought to Singapore in the 1940s, by Madam Zulbaidah’s mother, who taught her the recipe. It can also be found in some parts of Geylang.

Rumah Makan Minang, 18 Kandahar Street.

Putu piring (Malay) 

Devagi Sanmugam loves putu piring – the Malay version of the more common kueh tutu.

While the latter is usually made from glutinous rice flour and a variety of fillings like peanuts or grated coconut, putu piring comprises rice flour and gula melaka, and is much harder to find in Singapore.

Hashim Jumaat, 61, makes a living by selling this delicacy ($2 for five) at his stall on Haig Road.

It was a recipe passed down in the family since the 1950s, and Hashim himself has been at it for 18 years.

The recipe and ingredients have survived the decades, but have been tweaked somewhat to accommodate more modern cooking forms, from charcoal to electric.

Haig Road Hawker Centre, Block 14, #01-08. Tel: 9688-3067

Appom (South Indian) 

Indian food has a bad reputation for being oily – blame the likes of roti prata, papadum and vadai.

But chef Damian d’Silva swears by Muthu Letchmi’s traditional South Indian appom ($1) which she says is cooked with no oil at all.

The batter is a recipe that came from a long line of ancestors in India, and it allows the appom to still be crispy just by cooking it with steam.

The dish is made using a simple batter of rice flour and old coconut water, mixed 10 to 12 hours earlier to allow fermentation to take place. Coconut milk is then added just before the appom is fried.

Letchmi’s stall in Ghim Moh Food Centre has been there for 15 years, of which she spent five perfecting the slightly sourish taste of the appom by comparing it with the memory of her childhood breakfasts.

Heaven’s Indian Curry, unit #01-15, Ghim Moh Food Centre. Open 6am to 1.45pm daily

Jantung pisang kerabu (Peranakan) 

Literally translated, Jantung pisang kerabu means “banana heart salad”, a direct description of what this traditional Peranakan salad is about.

It is made with banana “heart” (the white tender part of the flower), lime juice, sambal belachan, green mango and steamed prawns, among other ingredients.

Chef d’Silva recommends the version ($12) at PeraMakan in Keppel Club. The recipe is from executive chef Kathryn Ho, who learnt to make the salad from a family recipe passed down over the years.

PeraMakan, Keppel Club Level 3, or 171 East Coast Road.

Devil's curry (Eurasian) 

This distinctively Eurasian dish evolved from “curry debal”, where debal means leftovers in Kristang.

It was a dish commonly cooked on Boxing Day, using all the leftovers from Christmas dinners. Eventually, it became accepted as devil’s curry, or curry devil, because of how spicy it is.

There are already only a handful of Eurasian restaurants in Singapore, but of these few, a decent version of devil’s curry ($18) can be found at Quentin’s, located in the Eurasian Community House itself.

The dish is made from a recipe that came from the ancestors of owner Quentin Pereira, 40, who admits that many variations to the recipes do exist. There are five must-haves, however – ginger, mustard seeds, onions, chilli and vinegar.

Quentin’s, 139 Ceylon Road, Eurasian Community House

Suan pan zi (Hakka) 

Abacus, or better known as suan pan zi, is a traditionally Hakka dish made of yam discs, carrots, mushrooms and shrimp.

Hard to find in Singapore, it is even more surprising that one of the best-tasting ones can be found in Bukit Merah, made by a Hokkien family.

Poh Cheu, a stall named after the father of current owner Esther Ang, 42, is famous mainly for its handmade multi-flavoured ang ku kueh.

But its abacus ($2 to $7) is rather popular as well, seeing that it gets sold out by afternoon, despite being made fresh every morning.

It was Ang’s mother who developed the recipe over two decades ago, after watching how other people made it and making her own improvements.

According to Ang, her mother loved the dish very much, but thought she could do a better job of making it with pure yam instead of the commonly-used blend of yam and flour.

Poh Cheu, Blk 127, Bukit Merah Lane 1. Tel: 6276-2287 

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