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Local Classics with a Twist

Chefs pay tribute to Singapore’s colourful food culture by putting their own spin on local classics.

Optical Illusions
You can’t trust your eyes at Labyrinth. Chef Han Liguang fools you into thinking that you’re tucking into chee cheong fun, the Cantonese dim sum classic and popular local breakfast item. But what appears to be a rice-noodle roll unveils itself as squid skin, stuffed with jumbo prawns, puffed rice and squid-ink crumble, topped with prawn consomme disguised as light soya sauce – a clever take on squid paella, which also pays tribute to the local favourite. What at first glance seems to be Chinese meat dumplings with vinegar dip turn out to be Chendol Xiao Long Bao, pandan-flavoured ha gao skin encasing red bean and coconut spheres, served alongside gula melaka syrup in a white porcelain bottle. This creativity is not without challenge – Han reveals the dish takes approximately 36 hours to produce, from soaking red beans and reducing coconut milk to making each dumpling to order.

Black Magic
Dark and forbidding, buah keluak might not entice visually, but its rich, earthy goodness certainly would. Its slight bitterness is reminiscent of single-origin dark chocolate, which explains the brilliant combination of the two ingredients in chef Malcolm Lee’s buah keluak ice cream. Presented at this year’s Singapore Food Festival, this modern creation two years in the making pairs the nutty paste with 83 per cent Valrhona chocolate. Served on a bed of salted caramel, chilli-flecked chocolate soil with crackling pop rocks and warm milk-chocolate foam, this frozen dessert is definitely not a bad manifestation of what’s often considered the truffles of South-east Asia.
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Spreading His Wings
From Singapore-born, Australia-trained chef Mark Richards previously of Keystone comes a repertoire of local-inspired creations, such as a new dish of braised skate wing. A combination of the iconic sambal stingray well-loved by tourists, and the comforting local favourite that is assam fish, the dish features the wing fillet of skate, a cartilaginous fish similar in appearance to stingrays yet more tender and meaty. Chef Richards also explains that, compared to stingray wings, the skate wing absorbs and retains the flavour of the aromatic ingredients it is cooked in – all the better for us to taste the sweet, tangy and spicy tamarind sauce with every mouthful.
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Sip The Crab
(Top) Enjoy Singapore’s most famous dish without ruining your manicure with Mars Bar’s chilli-crab cocktail. Youthful mixologist and director Louis Tan chose to mix Sing Long chilli-crab sauce (straight from the jar!) with Malibu rum, Tanqueray gin, kaffir-lime leaves and lemongrass reduction. The sweet-savoury drink is perfect paired with the accompanying briny, salty crab cracker. Tan quips that guests either love or hate the bar’s unexpected concoction – most raise their eyebrows at the menu, but brave and curious souls do try it. The team does not expect guests to like it at first try, but many are won over by the surprising flavour combination.

Ciao, Crab Classico
Chilli crab is the favourite child of almost every Mod-Sin chef: that sweet, tangy and slightly spicy gravy and the nation’s most popular seafood can’t go far wrong. The culinary scene has had its share of chilli- crab spin-offs, from pizza and pie to dip and xiao long bao. But Halia’s Chilli Crab Spaghettini might just be the pioneer – created as early as 2001 in Halia’s quest for a signature dish, it has spawned countless imitations, and remains one of the restaurant’s bestsellers. It is said that the crucial point of difference is the balance of spices in the aromatic sauce, though the chunky crabmeat and al dente pasta are necessary supporting casts.

A Study in Pink
No amount of clues seems to lead to the origins of the bandung drink – some say it is named after a city in West Java, but try to order one in the charming Indonesian town and you’ll be met with puzzled stares. Though the story behind this concoction of rose syrup and condensed milk remains a mystery, its appeal is clear – even more so when the drink is reinterpreted as bandung macarons. The delicate, floral taste and fun bubblegum-pink hue of these dainty petits fours – crafted specially for The Clifford Pier’s aptly named Singapore Heritage Afternoon Tea – are Shermay Lee’s way of paying homage to her childhood memories of rosewater-spiked beverages and desserts.

Singapore Takeout
American college students will find it hard to recognise chef Willin Low’s sophisticated dish at Wild Rocket as “Singapore fried noodles” – the popular dish found almost exclusively at Chinese takeaway joints outside of Asia. The al-dente tagliolini with savoury shrimp oil, sakura ebi, minced konbu and house-made chilli padi flakes definitely does not resemble the stodgy, curry-powdered takeaways. But as Low cheekily justifies, it is indeed made in Singapore, fried, and prominently features a type of noodles. This fun take on the mythical dish he often had as a law student in the UK changes regularly – its previous incarnation featured king prawn instead of dried Japanese shrimps – what will the next interpretation be? Wonder, wonder.