Inclusive cafe, exquisite food
Traditional and heritage food must evolve or it will fade away.
Over the last five years or so, there have been many attempts at reinterpretations of our good old comfort fare.
Our chilli crab is being turned into a mojito, nasi lemak into ice cream, and chicken rice into a sandwich.
And just think of what are they doing with salted egg yolk these days.
Not all variations work but some are making waves and will eventually be engraved into our makan culture.
Recently a cafe at the end of Tanglin Road, across Tanglin Mall, piqued my interest.
I suggested some menu ideas to the owner, Ms Josephine Ng, who told me in an e-mail, "I took up your idea. We now have soup kambing kway teow ($12) in the menu".
So how could I not drop in?
New Rasa Singapura is a charming little semi-alfresco joint.
Rasa Singapura owner Josephine Ng. PHOTOS: KF SEETOH
Its location and the greenery that frames the cafe make the noisy Orchard traffic seem so far away.
The idea for the dish is not easily interpreted - what if it was too heavy and the wrong type of kway teow was used?
SOFT & SMOOTH
But chef Tan Cheong Guan from Penang, who made the dish, did it justice.
As soon as the soup kambing kway teow entered my mouth, out went my doubts.
The soup kambing was not gamey nor reeking heavily of masala, and the kway teow was soft and smooth.
The blast of pepper atop the stack of little lamb ribs was a revelation.
Then came the black pepper char kway teow ($12).
All the usual wok hei and sweet and savoury tones were intact, but this had a blast of black pepper fried into, not just cracked over, the dish.
I give this a nine out of 10.
The New Rasa Singapura is a social enterprise that aims to be inclusive.
Ms Ng sold her advertising agency 10 years ago and took a six-year hiatus before she had an epiphany - to help the disadvantaged.
She hires people with difficulties in finding long-term employment, including those recovering from medical conditions.
Some of her kitchen staff have mobility issues.
Ms Ng doesn't get much support from the agencies that provide her with the disadvantaged workers.
"They keep telling me they can't do the simple repetitive chores and keep wanting to go home," she says.
"But I have to encourage them to give it a try and say I will help them. Slowly, they blended in and nicely so."
Just then the smokey fried curry rice ($12) arrived and I had to tear into it. I needed to know if it tasted like nasi goreng or nasi briyani.
It tasted like neither. It was like, well, fried curry rice (above). This is her Singaporean customers' favourite item.
Ms Ng does not want your charity.
She just wants to sell good local food.
New Rasa Singapura
54, Tanglin Road
#B1-02, Tanglin Post Office
Noon to 10pm, Monday to Saturday. Closed on Sunday
KF Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets, his own TV shows on cable, publishing food guides, consultancy and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.