The Peranakans: or local born literally in Malay. Perhaps a little history...the majority of the Chinese in South East Asia (typically Malaysia and Singapore) have been in the region for perhaps 100 years. Most have two or three generations who are born in SEA, and can trace grandfathers or great grandfathers who were born in China, mainly the Southern provinces of Fujian and Swatow (hence predominance of Hokkiens and Teochews), Canton (Cantonese is perhaps the largest minority within the Chinese here), Hainan and some Khek (which, as the name suggest: guest...so were itinerant people).
However, the Peranakans have been here longer. We settled in the area some 700 years ago, in the 15th Century with Zheng He and his fleet. Many who remained were scholars, artisans who were part of his crew because the Emperor of China wanted to spread and impress the world with Chinese culture. So many of the Peranakans have been here for some 600 years. According to my late father, our family have been local born for at least 10 generations, tracing perhaps some 300 to 400 years in the region. Typical of many Peranakan families, he spoke to his mother in Malay and was English educated so spoke to his father and brothers in English. At home, we spoke English, but as my mother was not English speaking, as our ancestors came from Amoy in Fujian, we spoke Hokkien.
The cuisine of the Peranakans are also unique. Mainly I understand the Singapore and Malacca Peranakans are more similar and closer to each other than the Penang Peranakans, who perhaps may be linked to the Medan Peranakan in Sumatra.
An example is the use of buah keluak in the meat dishes, particularly chicken. This is a very typical and well loved dish for the Southern Peranakans (Singapore and Malacca), and not as well treasured by the Nothern cousins (Penang and Medan). Peramakan presents, perhaps the best ayam buah keluak (braised chicken with spices and buah keluak)
This is classical ayam buah keluak. The nut is carefully prepared to rid it of toxins, the fleshy part of the nut itself is removed, minced with pork and stuffed back into the shell. The filled shells are then simmered as a stew with the chicken and spices for a long time to make this dish. Usually the balance of the stuffed buah keluak is questionable. The one served by Spice Peranakan I reviewed some time ago was a bit salty. Peramakan's version is all at once aromatic, and well balanced. Very good with the chicken gravy and the chicken.
As this was also an occassion to introduce my Californian friend to local cuisne...an adventurous fellow at that...afterall he spends up to 3 weeks a month in Seoul, so would perhaps be a bit more used to Asian eating habits and spicy food.
We also ordered the beef rendang.
Shin muscles were used...with the beautiful connective tissues still intact, but rendered so tender it literally melts in your mouth. The spices are a bit mild, but still very aromatic. Perhaps one of the best beef rendangs I have tasted. This is the Peranakan style, as my mother would cook...only that she too honours the Peramakan version with her praises. The style is different from the Malay rendang, which uses tougher meat, typically rump with little connective tissues, and made dry, with desiccated coconut bits. Both have their virtues.
We also sampled the ikan masak assam nenas (fish cooked with tamarind and pineapple)
This is another typical dish. Piquant, spicy, a balance of sour, a touch of sweet. The fish was fresh, and beautifully cooked. If prepared at home, the fish would have been simmered in the assam sauce, but typically in restaurants, the sauce is cooked separately, and the steamed fish added. This is evidenced by the pure white insides of the meat, as simmering the fish within the sauce would stain the insides with the colour of the sauce. For me, this is a superb dish...if I had to nitpick, a touch less sugar in the gravy would make it even better.
We also had a salad, which the Peranakans call cheh hu...or Pasembur...a kind of Peranakan rojak....
Julianed cucumber, yam bean, bean curd, prawn fritters, bean sprouts covered in a generous serving of a mild, brown gravy, with crushed peanuts. In comparison to the Padang Pasembur in Penang, this was a bit mild, and um, perhaps not as generous. I also did not find the crispy prawn fritters embedded within. So in comparison, Padang's Pasembur wins hands down. But the Peramakan offering is still very delicious, testament to the very fresh vegetables used, and the chef's ingenuinity to balance the gravy to provide a rich, smothering mouthfeel to contrast the crunchy vegetables within, highlited by the crispy crackers which have been broken and mixed into the dish. Nice.
For desserts, we see the braveness of our Californian visitor...we suggested durian pengat, and he gladly finished the bowl and proclaimed it delicious:
Pengat is also a typical Peranakan dish...durians are mixed with a secret concoction of flour, coconut milk, gula melaka and pumpkin and sweet potatos. I guess the best way to describe it is durian mousse with pumpkin and sweet potatos. Peramakan serves this dessert with aplomb. Not many restaurants offer this because of the long and complex preparation. But this pengat is as good as any I have eaten.
I have used this blog entry to allow some exposition on Peranakan history and the slight differences between the Southern and Northern strains. But as a review of Peramakan, this is a glowing one. I would rate Peramakan as probably the best Peranakan restaurant in Singapore. The food is exceedingly good, and true to its roots. Service is quiet, smooth, swift and friendly. And the ambience of the restaurant, located at the top floor of a Golf Club is nice and dignified. Highly recommended.
Level 3, Keppel Club
10 Bukit Chermin Road
11:30 am to 3:00 pm (last order: 2:30 pm)
6:00 pm to 10:00 pm (last order: 9:30 pm