Photo courtesy of National Kitchen by Violet Oon
Where To Eat Peranakan in Singapore
For all its gloriously vibrant flavours, Peranakan cuisine is - arguably - one of the least understood in the world.
A fusion of Chinese and Malay influences, Peranakan cuisine - or Nyonya (meaning Peranakan lady) food, as it is commonly referred to in Singapore - is a melting pot of Chinese cooking ingredients and recipes with Indonesian-Malay herbs and spices, a result of Chinese migrants settling in Malacca, Penang and Singapore and marrying the locals since the 15th century.
Whilst the cuisine is available in parts of the Malay Archipelago, it’s in Singapore where Nyonya dining options are most abundant.
The first - and only - Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant in the world, Candlenut struts its stuff in Como Dempsey with an airy space overhung with gigantic straw lanterns. Here, chef-owner Malcolm Lee parlays the Peranakan cooking chops taught by his Nyonya mother into a menu that dazzles with traditional creations and then some. From the à la carte menu, must-haves include the blue swimmer crab curry, satay (quite simply the best in Singapore), assam sotong and desserts of buah keluak ice-cream and kueh salat. If it’s your first time here, ask for the communal 'Ahmakase' menu, Lee’s pun on omakase (meaning let the chef decide).
Nestled in the members’ only Straits Clan at Bukit Pasoh Road, Restaurant Kin is not a Peranakan restaurant per se, but one that digs deep into chef de cuisine Damian D’Silva’s Peranakan and Eurasian heritage to rehash almost-forgotten recipes that one will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in Singapore. Case in point is his nasi ulam (Peranakan herbed rice salad), available from Thursdays to Saturdays only, a treasure trove of finely chiffonade indigenous herbs tossed with rice, prawns, salted fish and wolf herring. It’s well-nigh impossible to pick favourites here, but you should not leave without trying D’Silva’s kueh kosui (steamed tapioca starch with gula melaka and grated coconut) dessert.
National Restaurant by Violet Oon
Local doyenne of Peranakan cooking, Violet Oon, now has multiple restaurants in Singapore, but her flagship, arguably Singapore’s prettiest, is her most iconic. Set within the confines of the restored National Gallery, the restaurant offers all manner of pork-free Nyonya classics the likes of ayam buah keluak (braised chicken in Indonesian black nut), beef rendang (beef braised in spices and coconut milk) and udang chilli padi lemak (prawns in spicy coconut milk gravy). But Oon is adept at marrying tradition with modernity - her baked cod in creamy laksa sauce refreshed with coriander pesto is a highlight.
Guan Hoe Soon
Set in an airy shop-house space in the historically Peranakan enclave of Joo Chiat Road, Guan Hoe Soon is known to be the city’s oldest Peranakan eatery, having dished out no-frills Nyonya fare since 1953. Despite the onslaught of newer Peranakan eateries, locals continue to throng the space for lush-yet-affordable offerings like ayam buah keluak (chicken braised with Indonesia black nut) and otak-otak. Their off-menu offering of babi panggang (Indonesian grilled pork) doused in minced garlic and onion paste with a side of pickles is itself worthy of a detour but note that it’s only available on weekends.
Indigo Blue Kitchen
Owner Desmond Lim, who also presides over the Les Amis Group as Chairman, curates the menu at the batik art-adorned Indigo Blue Kitchen as a tribute to memories of his Nyonya grandmother’s cooking and the execution by its non-Peranakan head chef, Chong Jun Xiang, is nothing short of pitch-perfect. You can’t go wrong with any of the Peranakan classics but it’d be criminal to leave without trying the slow-cooked chilli and salt garam slathered over deep-fried king prawns and the dessert of appom (pancake with fermented rice batter).