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.

MasterChef SG’s Mel Lim – Fave Dark Soy Sauce Wanton Mee

Hi Makan Kakis!

This week, we welcome Hotel Operator Melissa Lim, who most recently exited the MasterChef Singapore competition. She tells us about that fateful episode, gives us insights into the MasterChef experience and also recommends her favourite wanton mee in Singapore.

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Passionate about French Patisserie & Japanese Cuisine, Melissa is usually based in Manila (The Philippines), where she is a hotel manager. But when she’s back in Singapore, it’s all about all the local hawker favourites she misses when she’s away. She loves this East-side stall for their unique wanton noodles.    

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photo via bei-ing wanton noodles facebook.

Mel swears by Bei-Ing Wanton Noodles at Roxy Square, which offers up delicious and affordable options like Chicken Katsu noodles, Katong Otah and more. But the most outstanding of all is their insta-worthy, artistically-presented wanton mee. Each serving is presented with a stylish swoosh of dark sauce painted on the side of the bowl. Such flair, Mel observes, is worthy of a Michelin-starred restaurant.

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Notice the artistic brush swoosh of sauce on the plate rim! Photo courtesy of Melissa Lim.

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Masterchef SG Judges Recommend Unique Asam Pedas & Nasi Padang

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Click here to listen/ download podcast of this week’s doubly-delicious episode!

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Hi Makan Kakis, this week brings a double-whammy of deliciousness with not 1, but 2 makan recommendations from MasterChef Singapore judges Audra Morrice & Bjorn Shen! First, authentic, quality Nasi Padang from a renowned restaurant that has been in Singapore since 1920. Chef Audra loves Sabar Menanti II, right across from Sultan Mosque. The Nasi Padang is so good you need to bring reinforcements to navigate the queues. For the best time, make sure you have someone to line up for food, and someone to “chope” a table!

Clockwise from top right: Lontong, Ikan Bakar, Ayam Penyet, Tahu Telur & Sambal Brinjal. Photo courtesy of Chef Audra Morrice.

Last time Chef Audra went, her group tucked into “divine” Tahu Telur (crispy, fluffy tofu omelette in a peanut dressing), Lontong (compressed, steamed rice cakes served in a rich coconut vegetable curry), Ikan Bakar (grilled fish, or in this case, fried in turmeric flour and doused in a thick kicap manis and sprinkled with cut chillis, onions and a squeeze of lime) and fried eggplant smothered in a sambal that takes you to a totally different place.

Kueh Kueh photo courtesy of Chef Audra Morrice.

Chef Audra also raves about the Kueh-Kueh, which are a great sweet finish to your Nasi Padang feast. From Ondeh-Ondeh to Kueh Dadar, these are really very good, so order a variety!

Sabar Menanti, which loosely means “good things come to those who wait”, is  definitely one of Chef Audra’s favourite places to visit in Kampong Glam and that’s just scratching the surface! Remember to go in a group (of legal size) – that way, you can order and try lots of different delicious dishes to go with your hot, white rice!

TASTE:
SABAR MENANTI II
737 North Bridge Rd, S(198715)
Open: 6am – 4.30pm (Tues – Sun, closed Mon)
Tel: +65 6291 0109

Next, Chef Bjorn recommends the perfect pairing of rich salmon head with tangy, spicy asam pedas. Remember his last recommendation of Ayam Geprek from La Porpo? You’ll find the Salmon Head Asam Pedas at a stall right next to it in the same coffeeshop along Jalan Besar, right across from Sim Lim Tower.

Full disclosure, Masmidah’s Kitchen is run by the mother of Chef Bjorn’s restaurant manager, but hey, the family that works in F&B together, stays together, right?

And fish-lovers, if there’s one thing you must try at Masmidah’s Kitchen it’s got to be her Salmon Fish Head Asam Pedas. As Chef Bjorn explains it, salmon is such an oily, fatty fish, but the head is even fattier and gelatinous to boot. All that richness needs to be balanced by some acid, which is where the sour and spicy tamarind gravy that drenches the fish head comes in. Lots of vegetables accompany the salmon, including tomatoes, brinjal and lady’s finger. This is one fish dish that’s big in flavour and aroma.

But that’s not all! Take a look at the rest of Masmidah’s menu. Chef Bjorn calls this good old soulful Malay home cooking. Together with the fried chicken at La Porpo, you’re going to have a very good time at these two neighbouring stalls!

TASTE:
MASMIDAH’S KITCHEN
29/31 Jalan Besar, S(208798)
Open: Mon – Sat (best to go at lunchtime)

MasterChef SG Judge Audra Morrice Loves This Appam!

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Appam photo courtesy of Audra Morrice.

Hi Makan Kakis! This week, it’s our great pleasure to have MasterChef Australia alumni and MasterChef Singapore Judge Audra Morrice with us! Based in Sydney, Australia, Audra was in Singapore for the taping of the current season of the culinary competition and during her time here, she was also able to revisit some of her favourite makan places.

One of them holds tremendous nostalgia for her – of trips back to Singapore with her father and her sons for feasts at this Little India stalwart. Madras New Woodlands Restaurant has Tiffin, Mini Set Meals & Tea-time Specials that can’t be beat. In particular, Audra adores their Appam, which she describes as “phenomenal”. Indeed, she isn’t the only one raving about their culinary delights (hi Sashi Cheliah & Violet Oon!).

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MasterChef SG Judge Bjorn Shen’s Favourite Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken)

Hi Makan Kakis!

This week we welcome back Masterchef Singapore Judge, Chef-Owner of Artichoke & Small’s, Bjorn Shen! With the brand new season of Masterchef Singapore back, Bjorn returns to catch us up on the fierce culinary competition and he also shares where to find what he thinks is the best Ayam Goreng (fried chicken) in Singapore. One look at his photo to the left and you already know Bjorn in a massive fried chicken fan and he’ll let us in on not one, but TWO types of amazing Ayam Goreng, both of which come with different, but no less killer sambals!

Delicious details are below, but first…

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OK Makan Kakis, here it is! Chef Bjorn’s favourite Ayam Goreng. In his opinion, this stall in a coffeeshop along Jalan Besar (just opposite Sim Lim Tower) does the most amazing fried chicken in Singapore. He had tried Laporpo’s Ayam Penyet several times before and thought it was simply mind-blowing, until he tried their Ayam Geprek, which he describes as in another universe! Chef Bjorn’s mind was blown all over again with his first taste of the Ayam Geprek.

For the uninitiated, Ayam Penyet is an Indonesian-style fried chicken that’s coated in a lightly-spiced crispy batter, then smashed and served with sambal on the side (see picture above).

Ayam Geprek (pictured above) is also a smashed fried chicken, but the sambal is smothered on top and according to Chef Bjorn, they “smash it even further into the fibres of the chicken.” 

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Succulent, Smoky, Charcoal-grilled Pork Belly Satay

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Click here to listen/ download podcast of this week’s charcoal grilled episode!

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Hey Makan Kakis! Our foodie friend Lyn Lee of Awfully Chocolate & Sinpopo Brand joins us to recommend an incredible accompaniament to awesome Fried Hokkien Mee – SATAY. Not just your regular grilled meats on a stick, but luscious, decadent, chargoal-grilled PORK BELLY SATAY! Served side-by-side to the folks behind the famous Geylang Lorong 29 Hokkien Mee, which we’ve previously featured here.

Said Hokkien Mee is charcoal-fried for that deliciously smoky wok hei and the same charcoal-smokiness is front and centre in the pork belly satay, which comes with gorgeous charred marks seared in stripes across the succulent meat.

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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.

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Fluffy, Fragrant, Boneless Lamb Biryani

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Mask on and Denise can still smell the deep aroma of this Biryani!

Chef Shen Tan of private dining experience Ownself Make Chef & Thank Goodness It’s is back for another delicious round of makan and this time, she’s taking us to a Little India restaurant that serves up a wonderful Hyderabad-style Dhum Biryani. Marinated meat is layered with rice and meticulously cooked in a unique dough-sealed pot to lock in the juices and flavours, for maximum meat tenderness and rice fluffiness.

Chef Shen went for the easy-to-eat Boneless Lamb Biryani ($14.90), which did not disappoint. The rice was fluffy and aromatic; the lamb was beautifully seasoned, moist and tender with lovely, spicy, complex notes. Cherry tomato, a hard boiled egg and fried shallots garnished the dish, which was generous enough for 2-3 people to share. Every mouthful brought bags of punchy flavour! And when Denise decided to order some for home delivery, the dish was just as Chef Shen described and the extra tub of curry was very much appreciated, perfect for slopping all over the meat and rice.

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