The New Nonya Ol’ Kids on the Block
By KF Seetoh - Friday, Jun 25, 2021
There are many restaurants offering it, but you can count your fingers with one hand just how many authentic Nonya or Peranakan hawkers there are in Singapore. Folks like Charlie’s Nonya, Rumah Baba Fred (tiny café), Baba’s Peranakan and now, the new kid on the block to watch- Heritage Corner. And they are not some young, new-gen inspired hawkers, but a warm collection of oldies and goodies who decided to hawk what they did best in their kitchens all these years, privately. It’s led by closet chef and acclaimed musician Stephen Francis and his wife Emily, former Art and Creative Director Richard Tan, entrepreneur Evelyn Lim, and private kitchen chef Susan Tan. Collectively they are aged 289 years old. You can tell they came together in the name of true makan passion and camaraderie.
The not so oldies but goodies, from left, Evelyn Lim, Emily Tan, Susan Tan, Stephen Francis, Richard Tan.
I have had the pleasure of wolving down at their private dinners and now, they decided to offer it for all and sundry. On any given day, there are at least 5 in the team, each managing a certain specialty ranging from breakfast fare like the dry Mee Siam Kering $5.80===, (they are not stingy with the rempah used to fry the mee siam beehoon, it’s flavourful all on its own, and if you stir the sambal in, it’s a riot in the mouth) and Mee Rebus which sold out when I was there at 11am. Susan handles the Nonya fare and whips up the rempah and all sauce base freshly, in the kitchen and on the fly. The Chap Chye, $2.50, was not like the Chinese chap chye version but was redolent with prawn stock infused into the greens. The Ayam Buak Keluak $4 (and this stall does not use pork nor lard) is done sambal buah keluk style (the black nut paste is fried with sambal and simmered with chicken). The balance was rich and nailed the target with just the right sensation of sourness, sweet with earthy and spicy tones. The rare item was the Ikan Pari Kuah Lada, $4.50 (stingray done with peppery and sourish rempah base). I had not come across this item on hawker menus (even restaurant ones) as most say it’s too homely a dish. But they don’t think so. I would have given this full marks if not for them attempting to please the uninitiated customers who felt it was too peppery. I’ll say this- there is a reason why they call it Kuah Lada (pepper curry). So, Susian promised to stick to her grandma’s makan roots from here on.
The Ayam Buah Keluak
Very boldly flavoured dry Mee Siam Kering
The rare Kuah Lada
They also have a very unique Otak Jantan, $2 (google it and they’ll “male brains). This version comes with the otak sitting in a little pool of lemak coconutty curry sauce. A slice of that with some of the curry over their soft basmati blue pea flower rice and you’ll know why I say they are the one to watch. Their range of Nonya kueh-kueh cakes, is astounding. Baba Richard hand makes 70% of them and the rest “cos the supplier makes it just as well.” Little bites sized, lemak and less sweet nibbles like onde onde, rainbow and regular pandan lapis, ang ku kueh etc.. all come in boxes of two to four pieces and it’s $3.80 per box.
The one not to miss- the Otak Jantan
The range of mostly hand make Kueh Kuehs
If all those Nonya terms stuff sounds complicating to you, tuck into their “homeland favourites” like Stephen’s vert moist and moreish Cha Kway Teow ($.5.80) and the Nonya Laksa, done with a rich rempah and has “no towgay and prawns”, just like how the Nonya’s originally intended it to be, here and in Malacca, plus the Crab Meat Fried Rice at $8.80. Yes, you know their prices are reasonable, but don’t correct them, yet.