|Ayam buah keluak @ Guan Hoe Soon, photo courtesy of Guan Hoe Soon|
Most nonyas (Peranakan women) will have you believe that the most wholesome Peranakan cuisine can only churned out from their own kitchens. No doubt about that. But the truth is that Peranakan food preparation is both tedious and time consuming. And with most modern nonyas shying away from the kitchen these days, rempah- (Peranakan spice paste) making is fast becoming a dying art. Needless to say, the local Peranakan community has been booking tables at Peranakan restaurants in droves.
One Peranakan restaurant that has benefited immensely from this trend is Guan Hoe Soon. Since year 1953, Singapore’s oldest Peranakan restaurant has been dishing out no-frills Peranakan cuisine from a pre-war shop house unit in Joo Chiat Road. But since October 2009, it has ‘upgraded’ to a bigger and brighter unit at a renovated shop house along Joo Chiat Place. Gone are the dreary tables covered with dated pink table cloths and accompanying metallic chairs; and in their place are marble-topped wooden tables in a brightly-lit dining room overhung with Oriental red lanterns. The only sign of the restaurant’s maturity is a weary-looking business plaque bearing the eatery’s Chinese name hung proudly next to an altar.
It is reassuring to know that the enterprising third generation owner, Jenny Yap, has expanded her Peranakan restaurant empire with openings further afield from the Eastern strip. But despite the hubbub of changes, Guan Hoe Soon continues to be a draw with its lush Peranakan cuisine and wallet-friendly prices.
To start, both the itek tim (shredded duck soup with salted vegetables and tomatoes) and bakwan kepeting (minced pork balls with bamboo shoots) make for great palate openers. Yes, the nonyas and babas among us may lament the visible lack of specific ingredients–some tangible crab meat and bamboo shoots in the latter would have been nice—to lift the soup flavours to greater heights; but for $10 a big pop with four bakwan to boot, it’s excellent value.
We also love the nonya chap chye (mixed vegetable stew) with its melt-in-the-mouth cabbages tossed against the light crunch of the black fungus in a bean paste infused gravy. Equally divine is the beef rendang, plump hunks of slow-cooked beef coated densely with a wicked blend of coconut milk and mixed spices. Even the rich and unctuous ayam buah keluak (stewed chicken with Indonesian black nut in mixed spices) is irresistibly delicious. Though we prefer our buah keluak sheer and earthy, we enjoyed those black nuts adulterated with minced pork in an addictively heady gravy nevertheless. These dishes, priced affordably at $8 to $10 per small serving, are perfect for sharing among three to four persons.
Did we mention that Guan Hoe Soon is the only Peranakan restaurant in Singapore to serve the off-menu babi panggang (barbeque pork)? Come on Saturdays to savour this lip-smacking four-hour grilled pork drenched with minced garlic and onion paste and served with mouth-watering pickles.
To end, nothing beats Guan Hoe Soon’s classic coconut milk-rich desserts: bobo chacha, gula melaka and chendol. Ask for less sugar if you are watching your sugar or calorie intake
38/40 Joo Chiat Road (63442761)
As published in InSing.com: