MasterChef SG Judge Damian D’Silva’s Go-to “Lepak” Place

Hello Makan Kakis! The trio of MasterChef Singapore Judges is complete, with Chef Damian D’Silva, who joins us this week to share his insights from the MasterChef Kitchen, updates from his own restaurant Kin (scroll down for Denise’s visit there) and a personal makan recommendation.

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As a champion of Singapore heritage food, traditional and local favourites, you’re most likely to find Chef Damian at a hawker centre enjoying zichar or porridge. But when he wants a little change of scene, this is his current favourite go-to spot.

Above all, Chef wants an environment that is very relaxed and unpretentious, a place where you can just unwind and be yourself. He’s found that at Le Bon Funk on Club Street, a charming little bar/ restaurant, where he says he can go and simply “lepak” and “I can just sit down and talk to whoever for four hours and I’m happy. Because you can say whatever you want and they accept you for whoever you are.”

And that is also exactly how Chef likes his food. No bells and whistles necessary, he’s always on the lookout for simple food that is done well.  He enjoys Le Bon Funk for all those reasons – it’s relaxed, they have great drinks including an excellent wine list and really good food too.

One of Chef Damian’s favourite things to eat is Le Bon Funk’s  Beef Tongue & Gribiche Sandwich ($26, see above). Another recommendation is their Cedar Jelly & Foie Gras Toast ($18 for 2) and if you want a hearty meal, you can’t go wrong with their steak. On their menu is a Livingstone Farm Wagyu Striploin with Buttermilk Salad ($175) worth sinking your teeth into.


Photos via Le Bon Funk’s Facebook & Instagram.

What Chef appreciates is their food that’s meant for sharing – there’s nothing quite like communal dining. His advice is to go with 4 – 6 people, then you can order more dishes to enjoy together. So next time, if you’re looking for a chill-out place to have a little drink and nibble, pop by Le Bon Funk.

TASTE:
LE BON FUNK

29 Club Street S(069414)
Open: 5 – 10.30pm (Tue-Thu); 12 – 10.30pm (Fri-Sat All-Day); extended bar menu between 2.30 – 5pm; Closed Sun & Mon.
Tel: +65 62241490

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CHEF DAMIAN’S KIN @STRAITS CLAN

Located at the lobby of Straits Clan, Kin is helmed by MasterChef SG Judge and “Grandfather of Heritage Cuisine” Chef Damian D’Silva. It was a joy to catch our Makan Kaki in his element, presenting us with a veritable Easter feast of complex and diverse Singaporean dishes. The sights and smells – from a quick pre-dinner snack of keropok and sambal dips, to enormous bowls of curry and piles of steaming white rice –  were all familiar and nostalgic. Since 1 March 2021, Chef Damian has added “new” heritage recipes to the Kin menu – here are some highlights and some of my favourites:

Starting off with a seasonal special – Beef Murtabak ($22). Available this Easter only, till 4th April 2021. This dish is close to Chef Damian’s heart, enjoyed only during Easter and lovingly prepared by his Eurasian paternal grandfather, affectionately known as “Pop”. As a Catholic, after a whole month of fasting and abstaining from meat during Lent, Pop would served this version of Murtabak on Good Friday after the family returned from mass. A dish that carries such nostagia and tells a deeply personal story of Chef Damian’s family food heritage.

Ground beef is rolled up inside egg crepes made simply with eggs and salt, then served with housemade sweet chilli sauce and raita made with yogurt, lime juice, tomato, onions and green chilli.. This is one dish everyone can relate to, even if it’s not part of your personal history. It’s pure comfort food you can pick up and eat with your hands. Egg and meat – what’s not to love? The ground beef was beautifully seasoned with whole star anise, cinnamon stick, and nutmeg, along with a housemade curry powder made with cumin, fennel, coriander, pepper, star anise and turmeric. Even kiddos can happily eat this spiced, but not spicy dish!

This next dish is a funny one! We’re all familiar with the Chinese hawker dish “Ju Her Eng Chye”, or Cuttlefish Kang Kong, but in Chef Damian’s family, it’s known as “Uncle Bob”. The name was coined by Chef’s father, who loved this dish of blanched cuttlefish and kang kong dressed with a sweet and sour fermented shrimp paste sauce. Don’t ask Chef why, he doesn’t quite know, but he does remember visiting a back alley in the Joo Chiat area with his family back in the day, where his father would immediately head for the guy selling Ju Her Eng Chye. Who knows? Maybe the hawker’s name was Bob!  At Kin, Chef Damian pays tribute to his father with his rendition of “Uncle Bob”, adding honey pineapples for pleasant acidity.

A mouth-watering assortment of made-from-scratch sambals which went so well with keropok (sorry everything was devoured before photo was taken! Far left: DURIAN TEMPOYAK sambal (BEST EVER! Spicy, umami, with just an interesting whiff of fermented fruit. Really unusual and delicious smeared on everything – prawn crackers, plain white rice, whatever you like!

Chef Damian spent his childhood cooking with his food heroes – his granddad and Peranakan maternal grandma. Pop, in particular, was an adventurous eater and voracious collector of recipes (many more than 100 years old), gleaned from friends and neighbours of other varying ethnicities. One of those recipes is my favourite “Daging Sambal Hijau” ($42), featuring a sambal made with green chilli, candlenut and shallots, cooked with beef that is marinated for 24-hours in cumin, coriander and fennel. So good with rice, I’d be happy to have just this as a meal!

Over the years, Damian has presented many recipes from Aunty Zainab, whose husband was best friends with Damian’s dad. “Ayam Kalasan” ($38) is the latest: Chicken Maryland is simmered in coconut water with aromatics until the liquid is absorbed, then deep-fried before serving with a special accompanying savoury-sweet sambal that echoes the aromatic flavours of the chicken.

Another recipe from Aunty Zainab is her “Nangka Rendang” ($28). Vegetarians will be happy to eat this deliciously meat-free dish, with young (un-ripened) jackfruit as a meat substitute. The jackfruit is slow-braised for 7 hours with a mix of coriander, fennel, cumin and garam marsala in coconut water. The use of garam marsala identifies Aunty Zainab’s dish as Indonesian and harks back to the times when Indonesia was ruled by the Majapahit for more than 300 years. Promise, you won’t miss the meat!

Another dish that Pop used to cook for the family was from a Malay recipe of Indonesian origins – “King Prawn with Dry Sambal” ($48). Hard to believe, but the sambal is made with very simple ingredients, the main being dried chillies. Chef Damian has fond memories of being with Pop in the kitchen, grinding the chillies into a smooth paste by hand using a stone grinder. Assam, salt and sugar are then added and the paste is cooked low and slow for 4 hours to allow the flavours to develop. Big, juicy prawns are then cooked with the sambal and I like eating them whole, shell and all, for even more flavour and texture!

Here’s the piece de resistance of our Easter feast – a classic mainstay of the Kin menu, “Pork Knuckle Debal” ($68). This festive Eurasian dish was lovingly made by Pop from Christmas celebration meats, whatever was leftover – chicken, turkey, ham – were cooked along with a rempah of of shallots, Bombay onions, ginger, and dried chilli into this gorgeous curry. Chef’s family always looked forward to enjoying Pop’s debal on Boxing Day. At Kin, Chef has recreated it using roast pork, smoked pork knuckle and potatoes. Chef joked that he’s dialed back the heat level for diners, “Otherwise nobody can eat it! On a scale of one-to-ten, Pop’s was ten and Kin’s is five.” While this Pork Knuckle Debal isn’t blow-you-head-off spicy, it still packs a hearty, satisfying punch with its abundance of ingredients. Oh, and if you takeaway what you can’t finish, it’s even better the next day!

Simple, clean, but well-executed and a healthy green foil for the decadence of all the previous dishes, wok-fried dragon tooth cabbage with garlic & artisanal soy sauce ($12) completed our main meal. But then the sweets arrived…

Assortment of Kueh-Kueh ($25 for 3 types). In the foreground, Chef Damian’s legendary Kueh Kosui, melt-in-the-mouth tender, jiggly and soft steamed tapioca kueh with gula melaka. Sweetness beautifully balanced by the saltiness of grated coconut. Bliss!
In the background from left to right:
Kueh Serabai – pandan apom with banana sauce on the side
Ang Kueh Kueh with Yam filling.
Ma Lai Koh – traditional steamed caramelised cake

BONUS! Rich, creamy, savoury-sweet Durian Pengat that’s perfectly balanced and completely addictive. Already bursting from the feast, we found ourselves shoveling up spoon after spoon of this aromatic durian “custard”, scraping the bowl clean! This room-dividing dish even made a convert out of a diner who was durian-averse!

Some of Damian’s fondest memories are of Sunday meals around a table with family and friends. At Kin, he’s connecting us to those memories, and also inviting us to create new memories, fueled by food that is Singaporean to the core, drawing from our melting pot of cultures and cuisines. Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Peranakan dishes are prepared with heart and soul by Chef Damian and his young team. But for me, food just tastes better when the Chef takes time to regale you with the stories and history behind the dishes. He enriches the experience and brings many ingredients to life with his depth of knowledge and passion for sharing his personal stories. Food memories are a powerful thing and to me, an essential magical ingredient that makes a meal at Kin such a pleasure.

KIN
Straits Clan Lobby, 31 Bukit Pasoh Rd, S(089845)
Open Mon – Sat: 12pm–2.30pm (Lunch); 6pm–9.30pm (Dinner)
Tel: +65 63209180
Takeaways and Deliveries also available.

Awesome Abacus Seeds for the Festive Season

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Click to listen/ download podcast of this week’s QQ, springy and festive episode – support local F&B!

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Happy Chinese New Year! This week, I have something deliciously festive to recommend – suan pan zi (算盘子), or Abacus seeds, which get their name from the ancient calculating tool, the abacus (also called a counting frame). This traditional Hakka dish is a labour-intensive, time-consuming delicacy whose main ingredient is yam. It’s usually eaten during special occasions (like Chinese New Year) because its signature shape signifies wealth and prosperity.
 

Yam and tapioca flour are kneaded well together to form a dough which is then divided and rolled into little balls. Little indents in the middle of the dough balls are made from pressing them between thumb and forefinger, which give it its distinctive abacus bead shape.

Scrolling through instagram, I recently discovered a local home-based business whose specialty is handmade abacus seeds. Madam Yam is available for delivery or pickup and ordered via instagram or facebook. It looked so good, I just had to give it a try.

Continue reading “Awesome Abacus Seeds for the Festive Season”

Ice Cream Café with a Savoury Noodle Secret

You might have heard of a now defunct stall at Tanglin Halt Food Centre called Aw’s Signature Minced Pork Noodles, which made a name for itself with delicious, ingredient-laden bak chor mee. But almost as quickly as it rose in popularity, it closed down, much to the disappointment of customers in the know. One of them was my Makan Kaki, Chef Shen Tan of private dining experience, Ownself Make Chef and Gastrogig’s Thank-Goodness-It’s home delivery concept.

So imagine my delight when she revealed it had re-opened, albeit in a surprisingly different set-up, just a stone’s throw from its former location. She recommended that I head down to The Milky Way Homemade Ice-Cream And Coffee cafe for my bak chor mee fix, but with the added bonus of dessert.

The man behind the noodles (and now, ice cream) is Terence Aw, a self-taught cook and former police officer who left a decade-long career in law enforcement to pursue his passion for cooking. After a lot of practice and pointers from fellow hawkers at Tanglin Halt Food Centre, Terence’s bak chor mee, with its unique taste and plentiful ingredients, really took off and gained a loyal fan following.

He credits Chef Shen for helping to get the word out and helping to jump start his business. In fact, she’s still doing so, now that he’s added custom gourmet ice creams to the menu at his new location. But more on that later.

First, I was hungry for a taste of the noodles I had been hearing so much about. My order for the best-selling dry kway teow (flat rice noodles) cost $5.80 and came served in a bowl piled with meaty, golden-brown ingredients. Beside it was a separate bowl of soup swimming with greens and more meaty ingredients. No wonder it used to be called Aw’s signature minced pork noodles – Terence had created a noodle dish that was entirely his own – it didn’t look like the typical hawker centre variety and was unlike any other I’ve tasted.

Find out why by clicking the links below:

Delicious Dim Sum!

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photo via kai garden facebook

This week our Makan Kaki, Chef Shen Tan of Ownself Make Chef returns to catch up with us & share her latest discovery, which actually comes at the recommendation of a foodie friend of hers via Instagram. And she was happy to report, this discovery did not disappoint! Now, when it comes to a whole menu of delicious delicacies, there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t like dim sum, right? And some of the best Chef Shen has had to date, comes from Kai Garden.

Continue reading “Delicious Dim Sum!”

Kueh-Kueh & Gelato

Yes, Denise is wearing a kueh-print dress for this interview!

HAPPY NEW YEAR MAKAN KAKIS!!!

New year, new Foodie Friend! Please meet Christopher Tan, an award-winning writer, co oking instructor and photographer, who recently launched a fantastic new book, The Way of Kueh: Savouring & Saving Singapore’s Heritage Desserts.

Essentially, this is his love letter to kueh (pun fully intended!), our collective Singaporean varieties both sweet & savoury, with a hope that people will return to making kueh at home to preserve this waning food heritage. Packed with useful recipes & cooking tips, fascinating interviews with Singapore’s kueh-makers and beautiful colour pictures, Foodies, this is a one book to add to your collection!

The Way of Kueh is the first book to explore and celebrate Singapore’s diverse kueh heritage across all major communities. It aims to inspire and encourage Singaporeans to make and enjoy kueh together with their families and friends, and to celebrate, preserve and progress this rich and meaningful part of our national food heritage. The Way of Kueh is a project supported by the National Heritage Board.

You can get it all good book stores (choose from 2 covers!) and for more, do follow Christopher on his instagram @thewayofkueh.

In our chat today, we talk about the conception of The Way of Kueh, our local kueh culture, heritage, traditions and kueh-makers and what recipes you can expect from the book.

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photo: Christopher Tan

Christopher’s first recommendation of the year is a proudly Singaporean gelato shop called Tom’s Palette, known for their superb quality ingredients and unusual flavours. What really appealed to Christopher was the fact that owner Chronos Chan uses no emulsifiers, stabilizers or artificial additives in the making of his mouth-watering gelato. Ingredients are carefully sourced and kept as natural as possible, but what they produce is mind-blowingly good.

Continue reading “Kueh-Kueh & Gelato”

Tantalising Tonkatsu


He’s back! Chef Daniel Tay, who was last here in 2015 during Chinese New Year, returns with more goodies to share. His family bakery, Old Seng Choong, has a newly-opened store at Clarke Quay Central (Eu Tong Sen St), where you can try before you buy! Some of the yummy things on offer include Hae Bee Hiam Pineapple Tarts and cookies in a myriad of local flavours, ranging from Putu Mayam & Gula Melaka to Satay & Cereal Prawn. Take home some delicious Nian Gao, Red Date & Yam Cakes, all in time for Chinese New Year! But for his first recommendation in 3 years, Chef Daniel wants to share his favourite place for Japanese breaded pork dish, Tonkatsu.

Continue reading “Tantalising Tonkatsu”

Best of 2017 – Makan Kakis’ Top Ten List

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Gluttonous Greetings Everyone & Happy New Year!

2017 saw a whole host of new foodie friends joining our rolling panel of Makan Kakis and along with them came a stupendous slew of new & delicious food recommendations. So as we begin 2018, let’s take a look back at some of the most popular makan places that really caught your attention in 2017. Click on each for details & enjoy!

10. Another Best Contender for Bak Chor Mee?
9. Curry Rice that’s a CUT Above!
8. Firebaked Excellence
7. Geylang Hokkien Mee NOT in Geylang
6. Super Crispy Prata
5. Raw Egg Bak Chor Mee?!
4. Nuts about Pistachio Grill
3. Magnificent Mee Pok
2. Karried Away by Kway Chap
1. Die-Die-Must-Try Fishball & Herh Keow

Just wanna listen to the audio? Click here!

Thank you so much for your support of our tasty little segment on Gold 905 and for helping it grow bigger and better. If you like what you hear on air and what you see here on the blog, do share share share! Here’s to yet another year of yum – may your 2018 be overflowing with the best things to eat and drink – Season’s Eatings!

P.S.

You’ll AMÒ these Pizzas & Pastas! 

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Click to hear this week’s incredibly Italian episode!

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Spaghettoni with whole boston lobster & tarragon for two!

There’s a new place that our Makan Kaki, Chef-Owner of Morsels, Petrina Loh has just tried along Hong Kong Street. Located conveniently for Chef Petrina, she often runs errands along that stretch, picking up her traditional chinese herbs for her own restaurant from just across the street. If there’s parking, she always takes advantage to hop out in search for something good to eat. And boy, is Amò GOOD! It’s a pizza-pasta place started by Italian restaurateur Beppe De Vito, of Il Lido fame and also, the man behind Baci, a recent 1 Michelin Star awardee. So, one would have high hopes for this casual eatery, no? And apparently, recent discovery Amò does not disappoint. Highly recommended by her other chef friends, how can you resist comfort food like Italian pizzas and pastas done exceedingly well?

Tagliolini with spicy young cuttlefish & squid ink

For Chef Petrina, the home-made pasta with spicy young cuttlefish with squid ink on the side was outstanding. So tasty & deeply umami, the tender squid pairs perfectly with the al dente Tagliolini, which she says delightedly, is like a cross between mee pok and mee kia! What’s brilliant is that you can ask for extra spice and the staff very obligingly bring out the fiery good stuff for you to add. The kitchen is aware of how some Singaporeans like their meals spicy and have concocted an insane chilli paste, made from chilli padi, garlic, salt and olive oil, all whizzed up fresh in a blender. It’s got tremendous kick and a freshness that balances the searingly hot burn, but use sparingly – you’ve been warned!

Olive you! ❤

Another lovely touch is the wooden bowls of yummy stuffed olives you get served with every meal (perfect with a refreshing Aperol Spritz – cocktail of Prosecco & Aperol). Chef Petrina can’t get enough of these briny spheres of deliciousness! Sourced from from Beppe’s family’s olive farm, these are plump little green morsels, stuffed with peppers and exploding with appetite-whetting flavour.

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

If you’re looking for a yummy starter, try their zucinni flowers, unusually stufffed with a fluffy, creamy, light-as-air Mortadella filling, along with pistachio & lemon honey.

As for the pizzas, Denise (who also has been) recommends two excellent ones. Made meticulously with a starter that is lovingly tended daily, this mother dough births pizza bases full of flavor and texture. They are at once crisp, wonderfully blistered and charred on the edges, as well as delightfully tender and chewy in the centre. Taking an average of only 5-10 minutes to cook in their wood-fired oven, the toppings elevate the simple pizza to a whole other stratosphere!

Try these:

Bone Marrow Pizza

The Bone Marrow Pizza with fresh radish, wild garlic pesto and anchovy salsa verde, is rich and luscious from the marrow, yet fresh, zingy and astringent from the greens and pesto. This is a beautiful foil for the very decadent, very savoury Truffle Pizza, which is pretty much THE BEST in Singapore at the moment.

Truffle Mushroom Pizza

Loaded with layer upon layer of aromatic fungi flavour, the Truffle Mushroom Pizza boasts a creamy truffle-marscapone base, wild mushrooms, Tuscan pecorino, a scattering of microgreens and is finished with fresh truffles shaved very liberally all over the top. So delicious, so addictive, so fragrant, you may want to finish the entire pizza yourself!

Amò lives up to its name – you can really feel the love here – from the lovingly prepared, on point, super-delicious food, to the casual, lively atmosphere, to the wonderfully attentive staff (Hi Jody!) – this is one Italian restaurant that’s far from run-of-the-mill & should not be missed!

TASTE:
AMÒ – CASUAL ITALIAN RESTAURANT
33 Hong Kong Street Singapore 059672
Open for Lunch: 12 – 3pm (Monday – Friday) / Dinner: 6 – 11pm (Monday – Saturday)
Tel: +65 67237733