Peranakan fare was mostly prepared at home and enjoyed among family. I remembered having it in a restaurant for the first time in The Blue Ginger. Now, the second generation has taken over the operations and expanded to Great World City. But it’s the original place I have come back to.
Since 1995, The Blue Ginger has firmly established itself as an iconic restaurant along Tanjong Pagar Road. Housed in an original and beautifully-restored 3-storey shophouse, it was one of the first Peranakan restaurants in the local dining scene. The Blue Ginger was conceived by a group of friends who envisioned an inviting and intimate restaurant where customers can partake in a convivial dining experience.
Traditional Nyonya cuisine evolved from generations of home cooking and every family has their own preferences and recipe variations. The rempah, a complex paste of spices used as the foundation of many Malay, Indonesian and Peranakan dishes, are guided as trade secrets, just like KFC. And every dish has its own rempah mix.
In each kueh pie tee cup was shredded bamboo shoots and turnips, garnished with a shrimp on the top. The bamboo shoot was a bit off putting as it was the season and there was a faint smell that was tell-tale of off-season frozen bamboo shoots.
We make this at home all the time, and the Blue Ginger’s version of Ngo Heong is similar to my mom’s version, which makes it all the more nostalgic for me. It had chunks of minced pork, prawns, water chestnuts with just that hint of five spice and wrapped in bean curd skin. Everything was lightly chopped so you can taste the juiciness of the ingredients.
Udang Nyonya is tiger prawns sautéed with a chilli based rempah made with additional Chinese condiments like fermented bean paste called taujio, and fresh garlic and spring onions. Beautifully done, and the chilli sauce was the best part of the dish.
Ayam buah keluak is a Peranakan classic which is laborious to make and has a strange taste that only a handful of people would appreciate. Buah keluak means “the fruit which nauseates” in Malay is poisonous when raw and untreated. It needs to be fermented by burying in ash and then soaked in running water overnight to remove all toxicity. It has a chocolaty texture that is difficult to pinpoint to a particular taste. Some say chocolate, some say macadamia, but it is definitely nutty. Usually the chicken has been cooked to death in this dish because of the slow cooking needed for the buah keluak. But they have nailed the timing with tender and moist chicken and well infused buah keluak with the appetite inducing tamarind juice.
Their signature beef rendang was rated one of the best version in Singapore. The meltingly tender cubes of Australian beef shin slow-cooked in a curry spice paste and coconut milk with lots of gravy were rice killers. Most other Padang or Peranakan restaurants serve a drier version, but I love their gravy-laden version, therefore I was very happy that they have kept the winning formula.
Ikan masak assam gulai literally means fish cooked in sweet and sour sauce. Slices of red snapper was cooked with a spicy tamarind gravy with lemongrass and torch ginger flower. The ginger flower lifted the dish with that sharp, floral taste.
Chap Chye Masak Titek is a classic Peranakan staple made from tung hoon (mung bean noodles) reconstituted dried shiitake mushroom, dried bean curd skins, black fungus, and Chinese cabbage stewed in a prawn paste based stock that brought out the sweetness of the ingredients. Not to be mistaken as Chop Suey in American Chinese cuisine, Chap Chye has a much more complex flavour profile that you would look at Chop Suey with dismay afterwards.
The curry vegetable was most creamy that I expected. I was expecting a Potong curry type of vegetable curry, but it was heavier with a tinge of sourness from tamarind. Almost like the ones they used for curry fish head without the fish head.
And to round up lunch, we had their signature durian chendol. Chendol an iced sweet dessert that contains droplets of green rice flour jelly, boiled red beans, with shaved ice drenched with coconut milk and palm sugar syrup. And to make it sweeter and more robust, a generous topping of mousse made with durian was added. Now I am in food coma region.
The restaurant’s repertoire of Peranakan dishes are still prepared from time-honoured family recipes handed down from one of the founding partners. The same head chef who has worked with the family for 18 years still helmed the kitchen, and this was evident in the signature dishes that we had today.
The service was attentive and lunch was served very quickly. The food was still as good as some of us oldies remembered, but more importantly it had not inflated in price as much as other Michelin acclaimed restaurants. I am glad that they are still around after all these years, giving truth to the adage “if you build it, they will come.”
The Blue Ginger
97 Tanjong Pagar Road Singapore 088518
Tel : +65 6222 3928
Visited on May 2022
Michelin Guide Singapore Bib Gourmand 2017-2021