There are kitchens that are bigger than his entire café space but, in the makan world, food isn’t about the size of the stove. It’s the big minded and bold hearted intents of the chef. This, may be the smallest Peranakan café for its menu. But that’s not the story here. Baba Frederic Lam “call me Fred” sounds casual but is one of those fiercest defenders of this Nonya heritage. He used to conduct private dining and catering gigs (still does) but decided to open up this little cul-de-sac of a café in Changi..only on Saturdays and Sundays. Why, “because I need a week to cook and rest the rempah. He runs it with his family and he has an army of steady regulars since he opened earlier last year.
Walk in and you’ll see the entire café. There’s only one long table that can handle 8 people and the late comers sit out on the corridor, charming, nonetheless. It has the home deco kind of deco- baby blue colour, done with nostalgia like a giant Nonya tiffin, portraits of British royalty, Fook Lou Shou statures, Chinese black and gold signboards, intricate wood carved framed mirrors- you can imagine. His menu changes every week and you can consider this a Nonya omakase if you like, but they are all laid out on the bain-marie trays at the counter. There was just nine items on the chalk board menu and we ordered all, plus dessert. The first I checked was Nonya Chap Chye ($4)- not mushy soft but had just enough texture and more importantly- it came drier than the mostly soggy versions elsewhere. The prawn stock buried in the greens was clear and evident. The Babi Buah Keluak ($8), and he uses the old school pork version, was a treat, especially over the soft fluffy rice. He fries some spices with the black pastes and stuffs it back in. The rempah was thick, well reduced and balanced. I love the otah and always thought the thick, chunky store bought ones from Muah could stomp on many so called hand-made renditions I had. But Fred’s version ($7) made me rewrite my notes. The fish was fresh and just as chunky and steaming it over the banana leaf was a bonus but the otah paste was on point- just spicy enough, very moist and lemak. It was hard to stop eating this one. Even the humble Telur Sambal (egg, $2) was done with pride. He uses ikan bilis and onions in the sambal and further prettifies it with a cherry tomato. Simple pleasures are the best ones. Frankly, I could not bear to share the Ikan Pantin Gerang Assam ($4-6). It was supremely fresh, not overcooked and juicy and the sharp sambal assam did me in. So we ordered two portions. The Babi Chin ($8) was a lovingly braised little trotter and the coriander seed or ketumbar taste and aroma took centre stage. Texture was just soft enough and the braised skin was a joy to devour, but I felt it was a tad too sweet for me. His Gula Sago Melaka ($3.50) was moreish because (and it don’t know if it was intentional) the sandy palm sugar was not fully melted and lent a beautiful crystal texture with each bite.
I congratulated him and “don’t come here for the makan, it’s not my intent”, this Peranakan Association member educates me, “please come learn more about who we are and the food culture we celebrate.” I totally agree and he reminds me that we can book his private sessions at home that come with storytelling and demos. Line me up, Fred!
Rumah Baba Fred
116, Changi Road, #01-01
Saturday and Sunday only /11.30am to 2.30pm
Walk-in or book via their FB- rumah baba fred.