One of the things I really appreciate about Peranakan culture is how it is a beautiful convergence of different cultures. With influences from Chinese, Malay and Indonesian cooking, you get the best from each culture.
Now I know it’s even mildly sacrilegious to suggest anything other than your grandmother’s cooking. Just as a friendly disclaimer, nothing and I mean nothing will ever beat your grandmother’s/mother’s cooking. Now that’s out of the way, you can put the buah keluak and kuehs down.
Take this list as in-case-of-emergency of sorts when you’re out and about and just have to get your hands on babi ponteh, for example. The following 11 places run from humble hawker food to high-end joints, which just goes to show just how versatile Peranakan cuisine is.
1. Nana Curry (Hawker)
Let’s begin with something affordable and downright comforting. Established in 1989, Nana Curry has been serving up Peranakan-style curries for close to three decades now.
With a total of four outlets today in Bukit Merah, Tanjong Pagar, Jurong East and Bedok, it was the Bukit Merah outlet that clinched the Michelin Bib Gourmand award. This particular outlet is the one at Bukit Merah View Market & Food Centre.
If you are a Baba and Nyonya on a budget, you cannot go wrong with the Chicken Drumstick Curry (S$3.50). If you prefer leaner white meat such as chicken breast, there’s an option for that at just S$3 as well. Thick, rich and smooth, the chicken curry was the most balanced amongst those that we’ve tried.
Nana Curry has a variety of options from Curry Pork Rib (S$4), Mutton Curry (S$4), and Curry Vegetable ($3). With varying levels of spiciness, so pick your poison.
If you want something with a fiery kick, we recommend the Mutton Curry (S$4) which has a much stronger flavour profile. Smooth, slightly tangy and very rich with a prominent aftertaste of mutton, it was also very spicy.
2. Charlie’s Peranakan Food (Hawker)
If curries feel a little too heavy for you, Charlie’s Peranakan Food is where you get your favourite Peranakan Food that is cheap and good.
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.
One of the must-try and definitely, one of the most iconic dishes of Peranakan cuisine has to be the Buah Keluak Tulang Babi ($12).
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.
A personal favourite of mine and a little of an acquired taste.
It is on the pricey side for a hawker stall but this dish is 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.
A short chat with Amy revealed that at Charlie’s Peranakan Food, the menu changes seasonally based on the availability of ingredients so you can expect to always find something new with every visit.
Charlie’s Peranakan Food: 505 Beach Road, Golden Mile Food Centre #B1-30, Singapore 199583 | Opening hours: 11.30am – 7.30pm (Daily) | Tel: +65 8147 4832
A Peranakan restaurant that needs no introduction is one-Michelin star Candlenut. A refined look at Peranakan food, Chef-owner Malcolm Lee has brought about a sophisticated take on Peranakan classics, modernized and taken to another level.
A gorgeous interior with glowy lanterns and intricate Peranakan tiles, this place has first-date and meet-the-in-laws potential (wink).
Dishes here are cooked for hours to bring out the very best. This was the way Chef Malcolm was taught by his Nyonya mother at an early age, and that’s how the dishes are done in Candlenut.
While there are many standouts, these Gula Melaka King Prawns (S$30) is a dish you can’t miss.
These babies are doused in coconut butter sauce infused with gula melaka lemongrass and roasted coconut, fresh herbs & chilli.
An interesting and refreshing rendition of the well-loved Assam Prawns. If you are a sucker for gula melaka, this is dish is just the right amount sweet and savoury.
As we all know buah keluak is a quintessential ingredient in Peranakan cooking but mostly used in savoury dishes. Think your Ayam Buah Keluak. Here, the fermented nut is used as in a dessert instead.
What you get is a scoop of dark earthy Buah Keluak ice-cream mixed with a generous dose of 80% Valrhona chocolate, served on a bed of salted caramel, chocolate crumble and chilli flakes. For me, this dessert perfectly encapsulates Chef Malcolm’s creative spirit and prowess when it comes to cooking.
A sophisticated take on Peranakan cuisine, give Candlenut to experience another side of Peranakan cooking.
Candlenut: Block 17A Dempsey Road, Singapore 249676 | Opening hours: 12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 10pm (Sun to Thurs); 12 pm – 3pm & 6pm – 11pm (Fri & Sat) | Tel: 1800 304 2288 | Website
4. Tingkat PeraMakan
Located along Owen Road, Tingkat PeraMakan is a scaled-down version of its big brother PeraMakan.
Peranakan food is all about tradition and family and Tingkat PeraMakan is no exception. This cosy joint is run by Chef Kathyrn who is a fourth-generation Peranakan.
While lamb is not the most popular choice of protein due to its gamey flavour. Tingkat PeraMakans’s Lamb Rendang (S$24) is served in a bowl filled with curry and didn’t have an overwhelming gamey lamb taste. Satisfying and hearty, this is the dish you’ll keep coming back to.
A lesser-known Peranakan dish has to the Seafood Otak (S$10). Due to its rather soft consistency, I would recommend pairing the Seafood Otak with rice for better texture. As this dish is prepared in Peranakan fashion, it isn’t as spicy as compared to the regular fiery otahs found elsewhere. Something different but tasty.
With a host of other Peranakan favourites on the menu, Peramakan is without a doubt one of the best go-to places for Peranakan food.
5. National Kitchen By Violet Oon
No stranger to Peranakan food, any one of Violet Oon’s restaurants will guarantee a satisfying meal. If you are feeling fancy, National Kitchen By Violet Oon is where you can be the tai tai you’ve always wanted to be.
Located aptly in Singapore’s National Gallery, National Kitchen easily resembles one of the stunning galleries in the museum.
From 3pm to 5pm, National Kitchen serves up its unique Singapore High Tea Set (S$56++ for 2 pax). Similar to Western high tea sets, the food is served on tiered trays.
Forget about English scones and dainty tuna sandwiches; all the tidbits served here have a unique Singaporean twist, just dressed up with the same elegance that traditional English high tea is served with.
The Otah Crostini was one of my favourites. I loved that the fish had enough spice to make me sweat a little and subsequently enjoy the relief provided by the sweet coconut cream on top.
While a lot of Peranakan cuisine is strongly rooted in tradition and culture, National Kitchen by Violet Oon pushes that boundary just enough to keep her menu fresh and exciting.
National Kitchen By Violet Oon: 1 St. Andrew’s Road, National Gallery Singapore (City Hall Wing), #02-01, Singapore 178957 | Tel: +65 9834 9935 | Opening hours: 12pm – 2.30pm, 3pm – 5pm & 6pm – 10.30pm (Daily) | Website | Facebook
6. Baba Bento
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Baba Bento over at Hong Leong Building guarantees uplifting, nostalgic flavours in lunch-friendy bento set.
If you’re not too fond of mixing in with the lunch crowd, the bento boxes are extremely handy as a takeaway option too.
Depending on whether you choose chicken or beef, each bento will come up roughly to about S$11.90 or S$13.90 respectively. Having tried both the chicken and beef options, I’m happy to report that both are finger-lickin’ good.
Each bento came in a set with a choice of a packet of homemade fish keropok (cracker), plain or chilli emping (Indonesian chips made of belingo nut) and a bottle of lime juice. Bonus!
Special mention goes to beef rendang, extremely tender and fell apart easily. The gravy was decadent, with a nice balance of Asian flavours from the curry leaves and lemongrass. A convenient and modern way to get your Peranakan fix, Baba Bento’s fun take on tradition and great if you are in on-the-go.
Baba Bento: 16 Raffles Quay, Hong Leong Building, #B1-49, Singapore 048581 | Tel: +65 93821792 | Opening hours: 12pm – 2pm (Daily) | Facebook
7. Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant (源和春菜馆)
A titan in the realm of Peranakan cooking, Guan Hoe Soon (源和春菜馆) along Joo Chiat Place is one of the oldest Peranakan restaurants in Singapore.
This restaurant is as traditional as you can get, with marble round tables and dark wooden chairs. While the interior might look a little old fashioned and gaudy, I assure you the food is not.
To whet your appetite, Guan Hoe Soon begins with a complimentary serving of achar (pickled vegetables). As simple as this dish is, I was impressed by how they executed this simple dish. Crunchy and spicy this hit the mark.
Peranakan cooking often makes use of thick luscious cuts of pork and braises it until it practically melts in your mouth. As a bona fide pork lover, I had to give the classic Babi Pon Tay (S$12.80) a try.
While the babi was not as fatty as or marbled as I would have liked them to be, each cube of pork was still fork-tender.
Besides traditional Peranakan food, Guan Hoe Soon also serves a smorgasbord of tasty Chinese food. This isn’t the most Instagrammable restaurant but definitely one you can count on for quality.
Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant: 40 Joo Chiat Place, Singapore 427764| Tel:+6344 2761 | Opening hours: 9 am – 9pm (Mon to Fri), 9am – 9.30pm (Sat & Sun)
8. True Blue Restaurant
Another institution when it comes to Peranakan cuisine in Singapore is True Blue Restaurant. It was probably one of the most beautiful and elaborate restaurants I went to.
Set in a restored Peranakan mini-mansion, this is as authentic as you can get. The moment I stepped through those heavy wooden doors, it was like time stood still. I felt transported to a Singapore in the early ’80s and ’90s and imagine how it was like in a Pernankan household.
Not to mention, the restaurant is situated right beside the Peranakan Museum. So, you can learn all about Peranakan culture first and have a literal taste of it.
From the ornate china to the pristine white table cloths, I’d like to imagine this is how all the rich Baba and Nonyas wined and dined in those days.
A staple in any Peranakan household has to be the Kueh Pie Tee (S$20). These crispy shells are filled to the brim with braised turnip and topped with herby coriander.
While the Kueh Pie Tee was certainly delicious and the portion size was good, it felt a little overpriced for such an essential component in Peranakan cuisine.
Any good Peranakan restaurant has a come with a serving of the classic Assam Prawns (S$22). The assam flavour comes from the addition of tamarind, which supplies those tangy, piquant notes that make assam prawns downright addictive.
Juicy and succulent, they were well-coated with the assam sauce, and before I knew it they were gone. True Blue Restaurant is certainly quite gorgeous, but it also comes with an even prettier price tag. I would save this place for when you are feeling really fancy and want to splurge.
True Blue Restaurant: 47/49 Armenian Street, Singapore 179937 | Tel:+65 6440 0449 | Opening hours: 9am – 9pm (Mon to Fri), 9am – 9.30pm (Sat & Sun)| Website
9. House of Peranakan Petit
House of Peranakan Petit is hard to miss with its unmistakable tiffany-blue exterior nestled among shophouses along Eng Hoon Street.
This charming little restaurant is a treasure trove of Peranakan goodies, where the walls are adorned with nostalgic Pernakan memorabilia.
When has that many accolades as House of Peranakan Petit, I made sure to sample a good selection. I ordered hot favourites such as Ayam Buah Keluak (S$18), Nonya Chap Chye (S$10) and Ngoh Hiang (S$12).
The Ayam Buah Keluak was a tad disappointing as it was not as tasty or tender as I would have liked.
What stood out for me, was probably the Nonya Chap Chye. A simple enough dish of stewed vegetables, such as cabbage, black fungus, mushrooms; who knew these simple ingredients can be so comforting? A steaming bowl of rice and dinner is settled.
House of Peranakan Petit: 42 Eng Hoon Street, Tiong Bahru Estate, Singapore 169785| Tel: +65 62221719 | Opening hours: 12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 10pm (Mon, Wed to Sun), Closed on Tues| Website | Facebook | Instagram
10. Baba Chews And Eatery
At last, we reach the Peranakan enclave that is Katong. Baba Chews serves modern Peranakan cuisine along with some Western comfort dishes.
To be honest, I was the most sceptical about this place, seeing as was labelled as ‘modern’. Lo and behold, how prejudiced I was, this place has now become one of my favourite spots. I think by now, you know my affections for the buah keluak. If I see it, I’m ordering it.
There were some modern and interesting uses of buah keluak such as the Ayam Buah Keluak Burger (S$18) and I’m kicking myself for being such a purist and not trying them.
As you probably guessed, I went for the Ayam Buah Keluak (S$22). Not to the most photogenic dish, but the tastiest.
The chicken was practically falling off the bone. Not to mention, the drumstick was covered in that delectable buah keluak paste. I swear I’m still dreaming about this chicken.
Baba Chews is constantly innovating and there are exciting creations such as the Foie Gras Tau Kwa Pau (S$22) and Chicken Rendang Lasagna (S$18). They might sound funny, but hey don’t knock it till you try it.
Peranakan food with a clever modern twist, Baba Chews has to be next on your must-try list.
11. Old Bibik’s Peranakan Kitchen
A stone’s throw away from Baba Chews is Old Bibik’s Peranakan Kitchen. This is where you’ll find good ole’ Peranakan dishes made from recipes passed down from the owner’s mother and grandmother.
Here, you’ll find home cooking at it’s best. A bona fide egg lover, the one of a kind Crispy Chinchalok Omelette (S$15) will be the highlight of your visit.
If you find yourself hankering for comforting and homey Peranakan food, this is the spot.
Old Bibik’s Peranakan Kitchen: 328 Joo Chiat Road, #01-02, Singapore 427585 | Tel:+65 8450 7996 | Opening hours: 12pm – 10pm (Wed to Mon), Closed on Tues | Facebook
Heavily steeped in tradition, one would think Pernankan cuisine as rigid and resistant to change. But of course, as evinced from the list, the definition of Peranakan cuisine is not set in stone.
It is still open to change and constant experimentation and just like colourful kueh lapis, we just have to keep peeling back the layers.