Makansutra: Great Peranakan dishes at hidden cafe
Laksa, Nonya Chicken Curry and achar hit the spot at Telok Ayer eatery
Nonya cafes are somewhat becoming a rage.
You will find increasingly more eateries touting Peranakan cuisine, but serving a few popular Nonya favourites such as mee siam, laksa, popiah, and kueh pie tee and sticking on some Peranakan-style wall tiles do not make a Nonya cafe.
Food has to be king, and I would look at, smell and devour the dishes before paying attention to the decor.
I did just that at a Nonya cafe I stumbled upon. It is next to Thian Hock Keng temple, no less.
The cafe has no signboards - part of the conservation rules, I suppose. There are only a couple of pull-up banners by the roadside. You will have to trek your way in, past the temple's celestial guardians, to find the cafe.
The Mee Siam ($10.80), like the other dishes, was well plated. It came with two huge grey prawns, sliced in the middle and twisted to please the eye.
The kuah, or sauce, was rich and had a good rendering of rempah, but it was a tad sweeter than how I like it. I think they forgot to hand me the limes, but I liked the mee siam on its own.
Then, the Laksa ($11.80) was served. Because of the way the prawns were placed, I thought it was a mistaken second order of mee siam.
But no, the dots of rempah oil and spots of curdling coconut beckoned a slurp. It was laksa.
If you like it spicier, you can add as much sambal as you want.
My favourite touch was the topping of raw bean sprouts. They are warmed and softened by the kuah as you stir them in, lending a lovely texture.
Next up was rice with a generous portion of achar (pickles), before the Nonya Chicken Curry ($10.80) was served.
I was immediately impressed. The sweet, sour, spicy and crunchy achar was a great twist to the rich curry, which was done with more sambal than masala and with fresh chunks of chicken and potatoes.
I love the achar, rice, curry and chicken combo.
A messy plate of Satay Bee Hoon ($11.80) soon arrived - not quite Nonya, but might as well be.
As usual, two huge twisted prawns rose above the peanut sauce and hid the cockles, pork, cuttlefish and liver slices. Authentic enough, I thought.
Upon tasting the all-important satay sauce, I was quickly convinced that this dish was one of the best satay bee hoons I have tasted.
Sadly, the eatery is taking the dish off its menu. Perhaps, if backed by popular demand, it could stage a comeback.
Chong Wen Ge Cafe
168, Telok Ayer Street
(annex of Thian Hock Keng temple)
11am to 5.30pm daily