Celebrating food heritage heroes

The dishes Shashlik and Islamic restaurants are known for – Beef Shashlik and biryani – respectively.
The dishes Shashlik and Islamic restaurants are known for – Beef Shashlik and biryani – respectively. PHOTOS: SHASHLIK RESTAURANT, ISLAMIC RESTAURANT

Fifty-two restaurants have been recognised at this year's Heritage Heroes Awards, which puts the spotlight on time-honoured eateries, including bakeries and hawker stalls, that preserve local culinary traditions.

The list includes restaurants that are at least 30 years old and they span a melting pot of ethnic and dialect cuisines, such as Cantonese, Euro-Hainanese, South Indian and Indian Muslim.

Recipients include Islamic Restaurant in North Bridge Road, which is famed for its TurkishIndian style of briyani; Spring Court Restaurant in Upper Cross Street, which serves Singapore Chinese food; Indian vegetarian restaurant Ananda Bhavan in Syed Alwi Road; and the Russo-Hainanese Shashlik Restaurant in Orchard Road.

The list also mentions speciality dishes that the eateries are known for.

Heritage restaurants is a new category in the annual listing, which is now in its third edition.

The Heritage Heroes Awards is organised by Slow Food (Singapore), a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to safeguarding local gastronomic heritage and promote food traditions.

The dishes Shashlik and Islamic restaurants are known for – Beef Shashlik and biryani – respectively. PHOTOS: SHASHLIK RESTAURANT, ISLAMIC RESTAURANT

Mr Daniel Chia, 47, its president, hopes that the accolade can help sustain heritage food businesses so that future generations can savour their delicacies.

He says: "These restaurants are a major part of our culinary heritage and identity as Singaporeans; they will not be forgotten and will remain as venues for people to celebrate their family occasions."

Mr Christopher Tan, 44, chairman of the Heritage Heroes programme, adds: "These restaurants are weathering the same pressures facing the food and beverage industry, such as rising rents and staffing issues. By honouring these heroes, we hope that they will receive more recognition and support from food lovers."

Given the wealth of restaurants here, a panel of eight food and beverage professionals took two years to shortlist, assess and name the winners.

They researched the restaurants and dined there incognito to "determine if the dishes and flavours are reflective of the traditions of each cuisine".

Mr Chia adds: "Unlike other food awards that also look at service quality, we focus on the old-school taste and presentation of the restaurants' dishes."

Recipients can display labels bearing the "Heritage Heroes" status, which has lifetime validity.

Established restaurants say that being bestowed with the Heritage Heroes accolade will spur them on to continue their businesses.

Mr Alan Tan, 45, second-generation co-owner of the 31-year-old Shashlik Restaurant at Far East Shopping Centre, is "surprised and deeply honoured" by the accolade.

The restaurant, which was set up by nine employees of the longdefunct restaurant Troika when it closed, serves comfort food such as borsch, steaks and old-school desserts such as Cherry Jubilee, flamed tableside.

He says: "I hope that the restaurant can continue to be a small and unique part of Singapore's food culture. This award motivates us to work harder to preserve the legacy of the restaurant's founders."

On the restaurant's longevity, he says: "Generations of Singaporeans are used to coming to the restaurant to celebrate important life moments such as birthdays and anniversaries, and they like the sense of familiarity with the longtime staff. It is also unusual for a local restaurant to retain tableside service, serving flambed desserts that diners remember."

For Islamic Restaurant, the award is "a form of appreciation for my family who have kept the restaurant going for decades in a competitive business climate", says Mr Irfan Akram, a fourth-generation member of the family that runs the 95-year-old eatery.

The 27-year-old hopes that the award can widen exposure of the restaurant to younger diners, who prefer to hang out in cafes.

"Hopefully, this can spark their curiosity about how the restaurant managed to last for so long and learn about its history. It also helps that the taste of our briyani has stayed the same, with our multi- generational chefs who have been cooking the same dishes all these years," he adds.

These 52 heritage restaurants join 33 other bakeries and confectioneries in the Heritage Heroes list.

They include Sze Thye Cake Shop in Beach Road, which sells Teochew pastries; and Chin Mee Chin in East Coast Road, which is known for its kaya toast and cakes.

To celebrate the awards this year, veteran chefs Sin Leong of Red Star Restaurant and Hooi Kok Wai of Dragon Phoenix Restaurant will team up for a one-night-only dinner on Dec 10.

It is themed after a birthday celebration in the 1950s and 1960s, with classic dishes such as duck with glutinous rice, and garoupa stuffed with prawn paste.

•For the full list of the winners of the Heritage Heroes Awards 2016, go to http://str.sg/4Mb7

• For more stories, go to www.straitstimesfood.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Celebrating food heritage heroes'. Subscribe