Authentic Peranakan fare seems to be harder and harder to come across these days; some places even charge an arm and a leg for what turns out to be a forgettable meal at best.
But not at Charlie’s Peranakan Food. Tucked away in a humble corner at Golden Mile Food Centre, Charlie’s Peranakan Food is helmed by husband-wife duo, Charlie and Amy, and has been faithfully serving up truly authentic Peranakan food at affordable prices.
Being a complete newbie to Peranakan food, I relied on Amy’s expertise to recommend some dishes from their menu.
To begin our meal, we got a plate of Acar ($2). A ubiquitous staple of Peranakan cuisine, this well-sized portion of spicy pickled vegetables were crunchy and spicy.
However, we felt it was a little too sour and would be better if its acidity level was reduced. A sprinkling of shaved peanuts to impart a little savoury note to the dish would have made it perfect.
The Ayam Rendang ($6) was very homely dish, something like your grandmother would cook for you. Made up of a delicate blend of spices, it was gentle on the palate with a faint spiciness at the end.
I especially liked how it came with a handful of crispy keropok that allowed us to mop up any leftover curry.
Next up was the Buah Keluak Tulang Babi ($12), one of the most iconic dishes of Peranakan cuisine. Don’t be fooled by its appearance; this dish packs a serious punch!
The pork ribs were fork-tender and fell off the bone easily. But the star of the dish was, of course, the thick, smooth and earthy Buah Keluak gravy, which had an almost heady and alcoholic kind of aftertaste. There was also a small plastic fork provided for you to scrape out the insides of the buah keluak.
It is a challenge to fully put its unique flavour profile into words — I can honestly say I’ve never tasted anything quite like this in my life.
Fair warning: some of you may get appalled at the portion here for its price — there was only three ribs in this plate. The reason for this is the extremely labour-intensive and time-consuming process of cooking the buah keluak, not to mention the culinary knowledge required to cook this increasingly rare dish.
I suspect that it will be an acquired taste kind of dish; you’ll either love it or hate it. I initially disliked it but gradually grew to appreciate its flavours more and more.
You’ve gotta try this one dish here, if nothing else.
The Assam Fish ($16) was the last dish of our meal — a whole pomfret doused in the one of the most well-balanced versions of assam gravy that I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. In fact, it’s so light its closer to a soup than a thick gravy.
A separate bowl of additional assam gravy filled with vegetables was served on the side as well. Tangy and savoury with a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes, I couldn’t stop at just one sip. The pomfret itself was cooked just right, which resulted in moist and flaky meat. It was also extremely fresh and had no fishy smell at all.
After my meal here, I had a short chat with Amy where she revealed that at Charlie’s Peranakan Food, the menu changes seasonally based on availability of ingredients so you can expect to always find something new with every visit.
Also, while the menu may appear to have repeat dishes with the same gravy base but merely different proteins (e.g. Ayam Rendang v.s. Beef Rendang), Amy explained that the spice mixes are completely different in order to complement each type of meat.
So, go ahead and order both if you can’t decide which you’d rather try.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal here at Charlie’s Peranakan Food and highly recommend that you try it too. I’ve been looking forward to returning the very moment I stepped out of the hawker centre and I cannot wait to see what new dishes are in store during my next visit.
Expected Damage: $7 – $13 per person