Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Shermay Lee's Singapore Culinary Grande Dames Menu at the Clifford Pier

Carefully selected and curated by local food personality Shermay Lee, the Grande Dames Menu at the Clifford Pier is just the ideal way to usher in our jubilee weekend.

Our local food heritage is not only distinguished by our street food culture, but more importantly, the hallmark of our culinary history has also been marked by the great Singapore matriarchs who have helped shape the food of Singapore for decades.

Mrs Lee Chin Koon, Mrs Leong Yee Soo and Mrs Ellice Handy are the featured ladies who have nurtured a generation of homecooks with their cookbooks and their teachings over the years.

As a tribute to these great women, Shermay (who is herself, a well known food author and consultant), has selected some of their best and most cherished recipes to be showcased at the best possible venue at the Clifford Pier. These are dishes that will recall the nostalgia and beautiful flavours of days gone by, and hopefully, it will also reintroduce this cuisine to a new generation of Singaporeans.

Nyonya Popiah

The first thing that distinguishes this from the regular or Hokkien popiah is the colour of the popiah filling. A recipe by Mrs Lee's, there is an added touch of peranakan flavour with the infusion of tao chiu (fermented bean paste) and pork base to give it that darker, richer colour.

At the same time, the filling has that heightened body of savoury and sweetness that gives the popiah some extra warmth and comfort to every single bite. In addition, nyonya popiah traditionally used an egg based skin which gives it a more crepe like texture. The end result is an altogether different experience that will surprise those that are familiar with the more traditional rice skinned popiah.

Fish Kedgeree

Mrs Handy's Fish Kedgeree is another dish that I took to almost instantly. A dish that originated from making use of leftover ingredients, this rendition of fried rice is superbly executed and served with a side of chutney that is insanely addictive.

You can also pair it with a classic achar to give it that tangy kick to help balance out the richer parts of the dish. I still prefer the chutney slightly more as it is full of zest and flavours and the combination of that citrusy punch with the flavoursome fried rice is just unbeatable.

Cantonese Beef Cheeks

Mrs Leong's Cantonese Beef Cheeks had me raving all week. It is just sublime in terms of how the beef cheeks are cooked here. I suspect they do it the classic way, just braising it for hours until you get the necessary bruising on the meat to give it that melting texture that only homecooks will have the patience for.

The braising liquid is just as excellent with a combination of star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon and dark soy. That perfect alchemy of spices and seasoning infusing every fibre of the beef cheeks to bring out the maximum level of flavours that has to be savoured to be believed. Absolutely gorgeous in every gastronomic sense of the word.

Almond Cashew Chicken Curry

Mrs Leong's other dish that cannot be ignored is the equally delightful Almond Cashew Chicken Curry. The peanut based paste actually helps to create the creamy texture in this delicious curry and reduce the dependancy of coconut milk. It is utilised to a lesser extent as the lemakness of the dish comes more from the peanut base.

One mouthful of this rich and highly textured curry will leave you spellbound. There is simply so much depth in this curry sauce that you will need a deep sea diver to unravel every flavour concealed within. Take it with rice or some popadom and you will find yourself at the bottom of the bowl in no time.

Singapore Heritage Desserts

Perhaps the savouries are just so outstanding that the desserts may have to take a backseat on this menu here. Nevertheless, this quartet of sweet things will take you back a bit and then some. Coconut Fruit Nut Bar, Kaya Roll, Bandung Macaron and Marie Biscuit Cakes all recall a culinary blast from the past.

My personal pick is the Kaya Roll with its rich and dense layers of kaya and pandan infused tones, and though the rose syrup tinged macaron is a clever idea, the macaron itself felt a bit flat with its less than crisp exterior.

The pricing here might be a bit on the high side, but the authenticity of the recipes, as well as the high level of cooking and execution more than justifies it. This is after all, the jubilee year and I can't think of a better way to celebrate our nation's half century than to tuck in to some of these gorgeous dishes at the Clifford Pier.

If we can preserve some of these great dishes in our homes in the future, it will be a great salute to these Grande Dames of Singapore Food.

The Clifford Pier
80 Collyer Quay

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