Spice Peranakan: Mesmerized by the Little Nonya


Ayam Goreng with Tempra $7

Ok, I admit it, I was one of thousands that have been mesmerized by the Little Nonya. Granted that Yue Niang is an attractive lady who is very easy on the eyes, but the scene that I remember most vividly was the one of Matriach Chen Lao Tai in ecstasy after taking a bite of the Rempah Udang. (Here's the clip if you don't know what I am talking about) Doesn't it just make you want to go and eat some Rempah Udang? Speaking of which, I am on a quest to find the best Rempah Udang in Singapore, so if you have any leads, let me know.

Anyway, the Little Nonya series has really ignited a lot of interest in Peranakan culture. This is great, as I reckon the number of Nonyas still wearing Kebayas is much less than the number of Pandas in the wild. Fortunately, Nonya food culture still burns warmly in many Peranakan families. They might have given up on the clothes and the beading of slippers, but there are still many Peranakan families who laboriously pound their spices in stone crucibles and spend countless hours over a simmering pot to prepare their Nonya dishes.


Buah Keluak

I guess when it comes to Perankan food, a lot of Peranakans would probably tell you that the best Peranakan food is cooked by their Grandmothers. That is really unfortunate for the rest of us Non-Peranakans who can only rely on other people's Grandmothers in order to get to eat really nice Peranakan food. So the next best thing is to find a small family Peranakan restaurant that serves "home cooked" Peranakan food and hope that they will serve you the stuff that is prepared to impress the Matriach.

Well, I think I might have found one such restaurant located in a pretty "Ulu" (remote) part of Singapore. Well at least in Singapore, an old forsaken Shopping Centre like Bukit Timah Shopping Centre can be considered quite "Ulu".

This little stall in the most unlikely of places is run by a Peranakan family and if you didn't know about them, you would most likely just pass by without trying the food. But then you'd be missing out on some really nice Peranakan food. The dish that I am most ecstatic about is the Ayam Goreng (fried chicken) topped with Tempra. The tempra might seem to be a simple caramelised onion sauce with Kecap Manis (Sweet black sauce), but I was told that each batch takes around 4 hours to cook with someone closely watching and stirring it to prevent it from burning. Anyway, I loved how the crispy savoury skin of the fried chicken complements the fragrant sweet syrupy sauce. It had that elusive "Fried Chicken" flavour that really makes a good fried chicken great. 4.75/5


Babi Ponteh $8

I haven't tasted a Babi Ponteh that I liked until now. (Ok lah, I haven't eaten all that many Babi Ponteh) Here, they managed to stew the pork till the fats just melt in your mouth and it had a bit of that "Kong Bak" flavour that makes pork belly so irresistable. The wonderful tau cheo (fermented bean) based sauce really makes you want to eat more rice. 4.5/5


Ayam Buah Keluak $8 (2 kernals)

The Ayam Buah Keluak here is very good, but unfortunately not as outstanding as the first two dishes that I highlighted. They serve the variation where the kernals are first removed from the nut, fried with prawns and minced pork before being stuffed back into the shells again. That bit is great and I was gingerly picking at the stuffing. However, the sauce was lacking in that nutty flavour that I was looking for. It's very good, but I know it can be better. 4.25/5


Beef Rendang $8

The dish that didn't do too well that day was the Beef Rendang. The beef was too lean and lacked the sinews and tendon that makes a great stewed beef. The gravy also lacked that oomph. What I always enjoy about a good beef rendang is the fragrance of the tumeric and lime leaves in the gravy which is lacking here. 3.5/5

Conclusion

I just finished watching the whole series of little Nonya on DVD and the haunting tune is still ringing in my head. This must be the first TV series that I followed since "Samsui Woman". I guess I liked it because it is the good old "Cinderella" story coupled with lots of background info about the Peranakan culture and of course the seductive appeal of the wonderful food! If you haven't seen it, it is well worth watching.

Anyway, back to Peranakan food. Are there any Peranakan restaurants around that you can highly recommend? And oh, don't forget about the Rempah Udang! I want to know where I can experience that Chen Lao Tai, eat already, eyes big big kind of ecstasy.


Update: 7 June 2009
Spice Peranakan
20 Biopolis Way
Centros Building #01-01
Singapore 138668
Tel : 6738 8887 Opening Hours :
Monday - Thurs 9am to 9pm
Fri-Sat: 10am to 10pm

Closed on Sunday / Public Holidays

Spice Peranakan
170 Upper Bukit Timah Road

Bukit Timah Shopping Centre

#B1-18 S588179
Tel: 67388887
11.30am to 9.30pm

Monday/PH closed

Sunday lunch only

70 comments:

Richard said...

I heard about Little Nonya, I hope I can find the DVD here in LA :)

getg3

quop said...

the little nyonya had just started when my wife and i were last in singapore, and she convinced me to watch it (via mobtv and the wonderfully frustrating world of getting DRM to work - guess whose job that was) when we got back to australia. and now we have it on dvd...

my only regret now is that i didn't try any peranakan food during my trip! will have to look out for some next time, so do keep these reviews of peranakan food places coming :)

ice said...

How about Dulukala Peranakan at Beauty World Centre? It's a small, no-frills, family run Peranakan eatery too.

ieat said...

Oh I haven't heard about them. What dishes are good? Have you got their contact and address?

iJeff said...

Haha, ieat, you also kenna the "Litte Noyna" fever. I have yet to watch the drama.

The Ayam Goreng with Tempra looks yummy. Will definitely give it a try.

Very nice pic of the Buah Keluak.

khim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
khim said...

i've also recently finished watching e whole Little Nyonya series!

tat's y i've been craving peranakan food a lot! wahahaha

ieat said...

Oh yeah, once you start watching you cannot stop. This story is a bit of cinderella, bit of Memoirs of a Geisha which is a tried and true formula. Plus you get to learn about the Peranakan culture to boot.

ieat said...

Khim, don't you find the ending a bit dissappointing? Why can't they just do a happily ever after ending with Yue Niang and Chen Shao Ye?

I also did not like the way they did not explain how Yue Niang escaped from the fire and whether Chen Shao Ye found out later that she was still alive. It is so unlikely that Chen Shao Ye would go through his whole life thinking that Yue Niang is dead when she has become such a successful businesswoman.

Anyway don't you think Yue Niang is the original Sarong Party Girl. She wears a sarong and she married a Ang Moh!

Anonymous said...

Take a food + photo trip to Melaka.. I'm sure you'll find it rewarding..

ieat said...

Oh yes, that's sort of in the works. Anywhere to recommend?

laundrygirl said...

Thanks for the review of Spice Peranakan! I've been wanting to give it a try but I fear disappointment! As a psuedo-Peranakan who has always been spoilt by good, homecooked food by my Peranakan relatives I have pretty high standards when it comes to eating peranakan food. Did they have any desserts?

Asides, I'm sorry to say that I do not think the Little Nyonya was very watchworthy show at all. Firstly, it was plain weird to see the characters speaking mandarin (not that they have a choice i know) but peranakans of that era simply did not speak mandarin - only malay, english and dialect. And even modern-day peranakans tend to have a slippery grasp of mandarin so.. And seriously, if you take away the intricate costumes and props, you have a very thin, watery plot and no more. Mediacorp has definitely come up with better period dramas (think Tofu Street, The Price of Peace).

ieat said...

Oh haha, I haven't watched mediacorp chinese serials for years so I can't really compare. However, I did enjoy it. Actually, it was my wife who was crazy about it, which is why I bought the DVD set.

Yeah, you are right, the Peranakans I know also Chinese CMI one, so I guess it is like watching a Hong Kong show where the Europeans are speaking Cantonese.

ieat said...

Oh yes, they do have some desserts. That day was bubor cha cha and durian green beans. Their menu not extensive.

khim said...

ya, i do agree wif u.. anyway, Chen Xi's wife also eloped.. so isn't tat a big blow to Chen Xi's ma ma? i think she still prefer Yue Niang..

e part where how Yue Niang managed to leave e hut had left everyone puzzled! (& Yuzhu "suddenly" remembering Yue Niang & crying so sadly?)

got some parts really left me puzzled!!

i din manage to catch e 5-mins ending after e whole Little Nyonya ended but i heard tat it's quite stupid eh?

ieat said...

Yeah, it seems to me that they rushed to finish off the ending. The last 2 episodes could have been better.

wahcow said...

i still get excited whenever i hear the theme song....lalalalal

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr3N4JFgOO0

gotta go buy a kamcheng....moohahah

xiaohua said...

I like Little Nyonya too. The show is well directed I think. I watch it on mio tv a broadband tv. It is free at present. The peranakan fish and sambal kangkong in malacca is so fresh and yummy. And the Chendol oh so delicious. I tried to cook Babi Ponteh after seeing that Yue niang cook for her ma ma or is it Chor Chor ? Alas not so good leh. Maybe cannot use the blender to grind the big onions or shold have used shallots instead.

Anonymous said...

If you do go Melaka, you can try Nancy's Kitchen, which is located just off a side lane along Jonker Walk.

That's probably the best Peranakan food I've eaten outside of home

wahcow said...

btw....i think you can watch all the episodes on youtube.....free !!....
wonder when mediacorp is going to take them down...

btw..i still have half the buah keluak from the 1st Big D's session in sept in my freezer...mooohahahaa

how come no one talks about charlie's peranakan food at katong ? i thought the food is not bad....

Damien said...

Didnt' really have a good impression of the food at Charlie's.

Tried the chap chye, babi pongteh and bakwang kepeting and they were only so-so.

The waiter even recommended the Devil's Curry - which is an Eurasian dish and not really a Peranakan one. This dish CMI...

Will be in Malacca next week and for Peranakan food, Nancy is already on my radar together with Restoran Aunty Lee.

Any other good recommendations? TIA!

liverpool1965 said...

haven't been there for a long while...if you happen to be around Makhota Hotel, 2 streets away, there used to be a BKT stall...

cactuskit said...

Wah, so many Little Nonya fans. Jack Neo doing another movie version, I heard.

I love Nonya food. Everytime I eat it, sure add rice. The gravies simply irresistible.

LK said...

Hi, I found your blog from CK Lam's posting. Luv your mouth-drooling photos! Excellent shots and good review. ;)

I love Penang nyonya food. Just tried the food at Blue Ginger Restaurant. Not so impressive though. Will check out the Peramakan restaurant as highly recommended by u. ;)

ice said...

Wow amazing at how the comments come on so quickly for this post. I watched Little Nonya too & it sure piqued my interest on Peranakan food. The ayam goreng tempra looks delicious.

Les, Dulukala Peranakan is at Beauty World Level 4. If I'm not mistaken it's open daily 11am-9pm, weekends can get especially crowded. Beef rendang, sambal udang, ayam buah keluak, ngoh hiang & egg cincalok (I'm biased coz I like eggs & cincalok) are good. I believe certain dishes require advance ordering.

Ping said...

Wah piang, blogger just lost my comment...
I was saying, I heard about the show when Pong visited me. She was watching it over youtube while I was mugging at night.
ieat, planning a trip to Malacca? We had the best durian chendol when Pong and I and friends were there last year before I came to Germany!! Pong's friend has relatives there so she brought us to this nice little eatery. Laksa was also good. Will ask about the address for u if u like. I shall go back and see if I can dig out some photos to post on the forum. Is there already a thread? I know I've been talking about posting stuff for a while. But have been kept busy with lab. Will get it done this weekend, hopefully.

Anonymous said...

ivins further up bukit timah road has been around for a while already. this one is sort of newly opened isnt it?

ieat said...

Yeah, this one has only been around over just over a year. Ivins used to be quite good but I heard the quality has waned over the years. Any Ivins fans here?

Looks like I have to go try some more Peranakan food and maybe start planning a Makan Trip to Malacca. Hmmm.. school holidays coming!

SumoXL said...

Damien, Aunty Lee's is a very good choice, regretted it when we forgot to make reservations during my last trip to Malacca. Spotted this at http://eatingasia.typepad.com/eatingasia/2008/07/heading-out-of.html
Looks really yummy

cactuskit said...

Les, how do you like Chilli Padi Restaurant. It has quite a good following too. I like the food there. Then there is Charlie's Peranakan along East Coast Rd.

ieat said...

OK I might add that to my to do list. Next week I am dining at Peramakan again. Ayam Buah Keluak and Beef Rendang!

I am also in the midst of getting someone's Rempah Udang recipe to post online.

Anonymous said...

How about the peranakan outlet at expo? Baba King? I think so far Peramakan has good standard, although a littlel pricey.

BTW, anyone know what's happened to Jason of Ya Kwang? Was there a few nites ago and was told he has migrated!! I will miss his specialities. Can someone update if u know.

Anonymous said...

looking forward to a makan trip to malacca.
can some kind body organise?
i am sure it will be enjoyable and memorable.

jy said...

What's wrong with Ivin's? I've been eating at the restaurant since 10 over years ago, I don't think the standard has dwindled.. No doubt the dishes aren't presented in some atas fine-dining way, but it's simple homecooked food which is really affordable! Try their honey pork, fried fish with sambal chilli, and lady fingers! Not forgetting the desserts which come in some bowl servings so you wont feel too jelat..

Samuraisama said...

There was once upon a merry time
When Malay culture was the prime
Any other fashion is a cultural crime
And their food is full of spices slime

And then one day the chinese starts to come
Intruding the shores are those ladies in cheongsum
And so those Malay men tried to grab some
Born are a mixture of chinese and bit of malay custom

And they gave it a name and it's called the PERANAKAN
Where in jumbled up languages they will try to chant
Even their food that are cooked by PERANAKAN aunt
Is so authentic that can make eaters rant and rant

The women are called Nyona and the men Baba
Soon they started filling up the population radar
Some places like Malacca, they're truly a star
Where they survived the history especially the war

Their cuisines consist of Chinese, Malays and Indonesian blend
Those food in some places like Penang or Malacca is a trend
When visiting those places - tasting the food is a sure intend
So on those delicious food - any amount also can spend !

white orchid said...

we try the Spice Peranakan on Sat nite. There was quite a crowd and have to queue for a table then wait for the food again. Babi ponteh taste really nice but meat portion so small n has 3 mushrooms. The Kangkong sambal was freshly fried got standard. Bubor cha cha santan quite thick with a few pcs of potatoes and sago.

OK hate the waiting time. The mgt shd speed up the logistics of serving the food after all all the meat like babi ponteh and rendang shd have been precooked oredi. Why have to wait for 45mins to eat. But the rempah is yummy.

dappled grass said...

you can try invins at binjai park: http://www.yebber.com/review/ivins-binjai-park/?jal_page=2. i saw eric khoo and his family there. :)

splatpotato said...

ieat, try dulu kala at beauty world.
it's at the top floor near the hawker centre.

cactuskit said...

Anon,

Mr. Jason aka Ya Kwang has migrated to Australia. If he ever comes back, Holydrummer and Holy bro will be the first to know. They are in touch. : )

wahcow said...

once again...very entertaining samuraisama !!

just curious if you post your poems anywhere else ?...and if you have such a quick witted mind that you will beat any rappers hands down...mooahahha

Damien said...

Thanks for sharing about the kuih keria sumoXL. It looks like something that will go very well with an afternoon cup of tea :)

Will be taking a coach up, so I guess I'll miss this.

Anyone driving up to Malacca soon? hehehe...

Samuraisama said...

PartII

A classic example is the spicy noodle called laksa
Some coconut milk mix into curries out of some jar
Raw bloodie cockles added into it to raise the bar
Becomes so delicious that can taste better than Cze Char !

Otah is another example of Peranakan specialities
The blend of fish, chili and herbs are a sure beauty
Wrapped in banana leaf and made to look smarty
The flavour is full of perfection though it looks dirty

Then there are others like the Spicy Asam fish
The juices of tamarind is the key of this dish
The special combination can create a strange fetish
And to have it on the table must be every Peranakan's wish

And their desserts are what they called the Nonya Kuehs
Such colours spreading across the table - WAH LAU EH !
Every heavenly mouthful will sure make you shout WAH SEH !
So if anyone say don't like to eat - I will say MAI KEH KEH !

And my personal favourite is the Chendol
It is a desert drink that will sure make you roll
Palm sugar and red beans are the dessert's soul
A roadside stall always can make my sweet tooth lose control

Holy Drummer said...

Nice poetic skill there man!

Since we're on the topic of the Little Nonya, I'll have you know the most mesmerizing part of the show for me was definitely the theme song. Ingenious masterpiece of a composition. Olivia Ong had the perfect saccharine voice for the song. Brilliant incorporation of the truly Peranakan "Dondang Sayang" motif, can anyone spot? Well, "Bunga Sayang" by Dick Lee is my favourite adaptation thus far, absolutely beautiful melodic tune and lyrics too.

Back to the food, i'm just so lucky to have my aunties who makes the meanest peranakan dishes, enough to make me fall in love (to attempt) to cook it. As I found out the hard way, it is indeed very, very tough. But practice makes perfect! I really appreciate Peranakan cuisine a lot.

Also, I'm so lucky to be residing near Katong, home to Peranakan culture in SG, its heritage aplenty & I am constantly immersed in it because my church is in the heart of Katong. With it comes the presence of many peranakan restaurants which spans the Joo Chiat area as well, and I am content with the current players in proximity - Charlie's and Peranakan Inn, though the latter serves quite small portions for its price. Once upon a time I loved Cheng Heng.

Charlie is really not too bad, I absolutely love their babi ponteh and bakwan kepinting. Chendol also quite power, by local standards.

Oh Peranakan food please don't go!

ieat said...

So you approve of Charlie's too? One day we go makan there together!

wahcow said...

actually....i have been eating at charlie's since i was a young boy. They were at a coffeeshop in bukit merah central where i used to live.

Thru the years, their cooking has changed alittle...the babi ponteh was a little different from how it is cooked now...i remember it used to be more wet and he cuts it in front of me, can see the "steam" and the skin and fats wobbling.....moohahahaha

old habits die hard...you tend to support those stalls which grew up with you from young....still good to me !!

Jason said...

heh i treid spice peranakan as well.. i think their food is pretty good.. one of the best .. i tried the one at beauty world, Dulukala Restaurant, and i personally think that spice is better.. the ayam buah keluak at Dulukala Restaurant is kinda loosely filled(unlike spice peranakan filled almost to the brim) and the sauce is different too. my peranakan friend says that Dulukala Restaurant's ayam buah keluak is similar to what her grandma cooks (a vinegar taste), but I personally felt spice peranakan is better. The beef rendang at Dulukala Restaurant though should do better under your standards. The desserts at Dulukala Restaurant are mostly cold desserts (i personally prefer cold so Dulukala Restaurant gets my vote on dessert) compared to spice (mostly if not all warm). I remember spice had this dessert, bubur terigu, very good but the owner said it's pretty hard to cook and they don't have it everyday, so depends on your luck. Oh I also tried the hgiog hiang at spice peranakan, i can safely say it's one of the best ever, nicer than my grandma's ahhaha. do try if you get the chance

ieat said...

Ah, Ngor Hiang. Missed that one the last time I was there. I will try it the next time plus a few other dishes which I missed.

Anonymous said...

Hi ieat,
you may try out Restoran Peranakan along Jonker Street in Malacca. Its the same stretch as the Baba Inn. The restoran serves authentic peranakan dishes and the setting is like a meuseum. Have to make reservations or be prepared to wait for at least an hour.
http://food.malaysiamostwanted.com/venues/restoran-peranakan-melaka

Benita said...

I visited Spice when it first opened with my mom last August (to check out Peranakan caterers for my birthday), and was sorely disappointed.

The food barely reached 'good' (though I ordered dishes mostly different from yours) and was unmemorable. I agree that the Ayam Buah Keluak (my absolute favourite) lacked the 'kick'.

Biggest gripe: The portions were all really small for the price I'm paying! The chicken was lean and tiny, and my mom and I have decided not to go back anymore.

Unless they have improved on their standards and portions, I won't be visiting them any time soon.

ieat said...

My visit was only last month and it was an entirely different experience.

Would it be possible that they managed to improve their standards in the 6 months that you did not visit them?

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Ieat, you are absolutely right. I have observed them over time and they have over the last few months transformed Spice from a totally inexperienced startup to one that takes pride in doing a great job serving very decent peranakan fare. Always asking for feedback and taking in criticism with great care and concern. It is indeed a different spice.

--ST

jems said...

This is really near me and should really go try it soon. pacing out my calories... realize these days I can only go for one bigger meal perhaps just once a week.

Watched bits and bits of Lil Nonya - it's nice to watch but the storyline is a lil far fetched heh

ieat said...

Of course the storyline is far fetched lah! You think you are going to watch little Nonya if it just shows her waking up in the morning, cooking, beading slippers, cooking dinner and going to sleep?

Memoirs of a Geisha also a little far fetched don't you think? I am sure those writers have based parts of the story on Memoirs. The bit where Charlie Zhang had that white hankerchief which he uses as his "prize" when he buys young virgins is, I am sure, inspired by Memoirs.

Egg Yolk said...

so delicious. wish to try.
check this for little nyonya caricatures
http://theeggyolks.blogspot.com/2009/03/little-nyonya-part-1.html

Benita said...

If you say so, whom am I to dispute? Will go re-test them again soon then. ;)

jems said...

Tried this tonight. Only me and jemster and not too hungry so we had only the hee peow soup and the ayam buah keluak. buah keluak sauce was just very apt and not oily we slurped up all the sauce onto our rice haha. I would prefer it to be a lil more spicy but it's just ok for jemster so it's all good :) Love both dishes, very yummy :) I also tried the green bean dessert with durian but that was only average.

Anonymous said...

they're moving soon .. to biopolis, opposite buena vista mrt!! the space there is too small as i was told by the owner!

ieat said...

Not sure about biopolis. Makansutra's food court didn't make it there. Not sure how the situation is like now. But I do agree that their space is a little limited and even more ulu than Biopolis

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Just wanna say... if you want to eat at Dulu Kala @Beauty World, be prepared to (1) wait at least 45mins, (2) fetch your own ice water, cutleries, etc, (3) have Bakwang Kepeting (meatball soup) without bamboo shoots, but with cabbage instead - so don't order it with chap chai, otherwise it is cabbage galore.
The service was not prompt and the food is not exactly worth the loooong wait. My husband and I were there on a Sunday afternoon - arrived at approx. 2pm and were served our lunch only at 3.05pm. One family left after realising they have to wait 45mins for their food.
It's strange, we thought... aren't some of these dishes prepared in big portions already? Well, apparently they serve each table one at a time. And if you're the 5th in queue (for example)... good luck.
There were 3 waiters yet sometimes we felt neglected. They will just walk past you even if you indicate that you need something. This we can overlook but to wait so loooong for our food when the restaurant wasn't even that crowded... no thanks.
Dulu Kala... two words we took home: Never Again

BeBe said...

Chanced upon a new hawker stall at Sims Vista Hawker Centre selling Nonya food. Great food at affordable prices. Must try the Ayam Buah Keluak and the Satay Babi. The Sambal Petai with Prawns is also yummy! A pity they're open only for lunch on Weekdays and Sundays. The stall is called "Little Nonya" :)

mangchong said...

food, glorious food. my tummy is grumbling ..........

Anonymous said...

Hey ieat,

So which is better and value for money between Peramakan and Spice Peranakan?

ieat said...

They have their own signature dishes.

kokken69 said...

This looks so good. I,too had caught the Little Nonya bug and started experimenting with recipes in my kitchen. I was telling my friend that I need to eat more to understand if my cooking is right. Will definitely check this place out....

Anonymous said...

You should try the rempah udang from this shop http://www.teckneotarts.com/. It's not advertised in their website but it sure tastes good. Do try them out.

ieat said...

Thanks for letting us know

Rick said...

I didn't read others' comment anyway.

Rempeh Udang:
Rumah Bebe
113 EAST COAST ROAD
SINGAPORE 428803

6247 8781
6774 7206
9816 2177
contact@rumahbebe.com

Peranakan Food : Kim Choo Restaurant, 109/111 East Coast Road.
Upstairs they sells beautiful Kebayas & Batek shirts.

Anastasia said...

I went to bukit timah to look for this place today, but couldn't find it. I saw that it has been replaced by jiew kit hainanese chicken rice

Ting said...

Try Stella for catering. Her home recipes are delicious and her made fr scratch pineapple tarts are to die for. We buy them for CNY every year. Check out her url: http://www.peranakanfood.blogspot.com/

tofu recipes said...

Hope I can get the recipes of those dishes. But thanks for giving them a review

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