(THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Enjoy a taste of yesteryear as chefs in Singapore share traditional recipes from different cultures in their restaurants
For the longest time, Damian D'Silva would wax lyrical about family Christmas meals from his childhood, but the closest you could get to tasting any of it was with your imagination and the rare occasion when he would prepare Eurasian Debal or Feng at whatever eatery he was helming at the time.
Now, diners have hit the jackpot because the chef of the immensely popular Eurasian/Peranakan restaurant Folklore has rolled out a star-studded list of favourites that are on his special Christmas menu this month. Debal, Feng, Oxtail Semur, Christmas Pie, Curry Kapitan, Putugal and Sugee Cake are just a sample of a much wider repertoire that Chef D'Silva inherited from his grandfather, a prolific cook who learned his recipes from his mother.
"The Christmas spread we had would intimidate any chef," recalls Chef D'Silva. "There were at least 15 to 20 dishes cooked by just one 75-year-old man with the help of one assistant (my Mum) and two Santa's elves (my sister and me)."
Preparation would take weeks. "All the dishes were made from scratch. The ingredients and spices were carefully handpicked, cleaned and dried, some would require grinding and others cutting. Most of the dishes required long hours of cooking and braising with continuous stirring and keeping a close eye on the fire."
He brings all that effort to Folklore this Christmas, with a spread that his Grandad would approve of. Diners have been lapping up Curry Kapitan - a Eurasian chicken curry, the quintessential Debal or Devil's Curry, and oxtail semur or braised oxtail stew with spices. Pie lovers need to check out the Eurasian pie - Chef D'Silva doesn't know how it originated "but the spices are similar to a Eurasian stew". The pie features a stew of chicken, meatballs, pork sausages, potatoes and carrots, covered by a flaky puff pastry crust.
Then there is putugal - a long lost dessert that he hasn't made for some 15 years. Modelled after a Malay kueh, it comprises layers of very ripe bananas and hand grated tapioca which are steamed and coated with grated coconut.
He has no favourite dish of the lot but he has a particularly soft spot for Feng, which is a laborious stew made of pigs' innnards - kidney, liver, stomach and tripe - and minced pork stewed with coriander and other spices.
"Feng has a special place in my heart as it reminds me of time, spent with granddad in the kitchen," he says. "Although, I would grumble while cleaning the smelly innards, I must admit that everything would be lost if I don't pay attention while cooking it." Be it a tribute to his grandfather or just a gourmet trip down memory lane, either way, it's a win for Folklore's fans.
Folklore, Destination Singapore Beach Road
700 Beach Road, Level 2. Tel: 6679 2900
Kugelhopf isn't always uttered in the same breath as say, stollen or panettone, but Konstantino Blockbergen is bringing it to our attention at his new bakery-restaurant in the east. It's part of his lineup of traditional festive delicacies he enjoyed as a child, where the product of mixed European heritage parents meant he got to enjoy the best of all the different cultures.
The kugelhopf (S$25) is a nod to his Germanic heritage, and is best described as "a richer and denser brioche, like an embellished brioche," says chef Blockbergen. "It is buttery with a subtle fragrance from the orange blossom. Its texture - it's dry to the touch on the outside, but deliciously moist inside. It is wonderful on its own, and at Firebake we serve it with crÃ¨me fraiche and marinated strawberries."
From his Greek side, he enjoyed melomakarona (S$10 for 6) - a mouthful to pronounce but are also melt-in-the-mouth cookies traditionally made with olive oil instead of butter. "The mixing is done by hand to prevent the batter from splitting."
Both are baked in Chef Blockbergen's traditional wood-burning oven, which "adds a mystical touch to the bake, and a nostalgic reminiscence of the old days when there was a baker in every village."
Firebake - Woodfired Bakehouse & Restaurant 237
East Coast Road, Level 1. Tel: 9784 2950/ 6440 1228
Spanish classics are on offer this month at the cosy new La Pepa, where chef Hanafee Wahab has rolled out a list of dishes inspired by a short stint at one of the oldest restaurants in Spain, Lali in Segovia, which specialises in suckling pig.
Give the restaurant two days' notice and the chef will prepare a whole suckling pig, or Conchinillo Asado con Ananas y Reduccion de Cerdo (S$238 for the whole pig, or S$32 per serving). The whole pig can feed eight people as a main course, or 16 in tapas style portions. End the meal with his home made Torta de Turron (S$14), which is Spanish nougat that he makes from scratch with Marcona almonds. The Christmas specials are available from Dec 18 to 31.
La Pepa, 10 Gemmill Lane. Tel: 98300908
Bocconcini di Tacchino in crosta is a recipe that Chef Alex Calabro got from his mother, who would prepare this savoury puff pastry pie filled with turkey during the festive holidays. The only problem for him as a child was that "we never knew in advance when she would prepare it for us - it could be on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or even on New Year's Eve, so it was very special to us". To prepare the pie, diced roast turkey is sauteed in truffle mushroom sauce, wrapped in puff pastry and baked till golden. For good measure, he puts more truffle than his mother did. It's available as part of the restaurant's S$58 Christmas lunch (all December) and S$118 dinner menu (Dec 19 to 26).
Casa Tartufo, 33 Erskine Road. Tel: 6836-4647
Chef owner FrÃ©dÃ©ric Colin takes his cue from his grandfather this Christmas, serving up Grandpa Henri's Baked Pork Terrine with Foie Gras and Black Truffles (S$78 for 500gm). He says: "My grandpa (who was a chef) would always prepare this dish in advance for Christmas. One year, it was so busy and orders were so good that he had no choice but to sell the one he had prepared for us. So, he had to make us one at the very last minute. We had to eat it hot, almost fresh out of the oven - which is really not the done thing! But my grandpa did it for us, because as it was a family tradition." Of course, when you order it, you get it nice and cold and a lovely addition to your Christmas dinner at home.
Available from Dec 18 to 24. Call 6225-8266 to order or shop online at shop.gavroche.com
If Pithiviers 'Grand Cuisine Bourgeoise' sounds fancy, that's because it's a "classic dish from the traditions of French grande cuisine, which dates back to the 19th century," says two Michelin-starred chef Julien Royer. But back home in France, "my mother would make a simpler version containing potatoes and pancetta encased in puff pastry whenever I return home, because she knows that I love it so much. But at Christmas time, it becomes a far more elaborate dish layered with black truffle."
In Odette's degustation menu on Dec 24 and 25, where it's served with hearty vegetable consommÃ© to counter the richness of the dish.
Odette, 1 St Andrew's Road, #01-04. Tel: 6385-0498.