Singapore may be just 52 years old but its national dishes – be it chilli crabsor chicken rice – have gained international fame and it’s not surprising to find these uniquely Singapore delicacies dished out in eateries in far-flung countries. Over the past 12 years however, a coterie of local chefs has started to create their own unique styles of cuisine –think modern Singaporean or inventive Peranakan- and therefore introducing one-of-a-kind dishes that one would be hard pressed to find outside the Lion City.
Building on the city’s unique melting pot of ethnic groups including Chinese (some of Peranakan heritage), Malay, Indian and others (including Eurasians), these cuisines meld local influences with various cooking techniques to create something so unique that diners would need to book a flight to the Little Red Dot just to taste these creations.
Laksa pesto pasta at Wild Rocket
A popular Peranakan dish of vermicelli served in coconut milk-infused gravy heaving with spices like lemongrass, candlenut, turmeric and galangal fried with dried shrimps, laksa is a hawker staple in Singapore that is just about as common as chicken rice.
You might have had laksa but what about laska pesto pasta? When Wild Rocket debuted twelve years ago, chef-owner Willin Low took the commonplace laksa and reinvented it as a laksa pesto to be tossed with pasta. When his restaurant introduced fresh pasta a few months ago, the same laksa pesto re-appeared on the omakase menu as laksa leaves ravioli matched with spanner crab ravioli in a shallow bath of laksa broth. The omakase menu is updated seasonally and this laksa ravioli dish is currently sitting pretty in the a la carte menu.
There are chilli crabs in Singapore and then there is chef Han Li Guang’s neo-Singapore “chilli crab” at his newly minted one Michelin starred Restaurant Labyrinth at The Esplanade. The self-taught chef steams locally caught flower crabs in Shao Xing wine, shreds and tosses the crab meat with globs of crab fat, “man tou” (buns) crotons, curry leaves and serves them alongside a scoop of chilli crab ice cream that is redolent of the sweet and tangy sauce you’ll find in Singapore’s national chilli crab dish.
You will find this creation on Han’s Chef’s Tasting Menu at dinner but his earlier, if equally tasty, rendition of “chilli crab” is also available on the smaller Labyrinth Classics Menuwhere deep-fried soft shell crabs are used in place of steamed flower crabs.
Buah keluak (an Indonesian blacknut) is favoured in Peranakan cuisine for the earthy flavour that it lends to the iconic ayam buah keluak (braised chicken with Indonesian black nut).
But at the one Michelin-starred Candlenut, chef-owner Malcolm Lee plays with the buah keluak in more ways than one. In addition to serving it more classically with braised chicken, he also prepares the nut with Valrhona chocolate and serves it as buah keluak ice cream with chilli and warm chocolate espuma for desserts. This one-of-a-kind dessert is available on both the a la carte as well as the daily-changing “Ahmakase” (Lee’s take on Omakase) menus.
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