What's Cooking in... Singapore

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 59 of the August 2013 issue.
The Food Playhouse is on the second floor of this Peranakan shophouse in Singapore.

Singapore, located off the tip of the Malay Peninsula, is a wonderful mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian traditions. 

During the 15th and 16th centuries, many Chinese traders went to Singapore. Some stayed and married local Malay women, creating a unique culture referred to as Peranakan. Their clothing and dishes are distinguished by colorful floral designs. 

Instructor Lena Tan with a Kueh Dadar pancake.

Traditionally, Peranakans lived in shophouses, 2- or 3-story attached row-house-style buildings with the store at street level and the living quarters on the upper floors. The buildings often were colorfully painted. 

Today, in the Chinese historic district of Singapore, many of the shophouses have been beautifully restored.

When my husband, John, and I were in Singapore in March 2013, we visited the Peranakan Museum (39 Armenian St., Singapore; phone +65 6332 7591), where we learned more about Peranakan culture. They retained the Chinese tradition of ancestor worship, but the clothing styles tend to reflect their Malay heritage. 

To learn more, we attended a cooking class at Food Playground, (4A Craig Road), where we learned to cook three Peranakan recipes. 

Food Playground opened in December 2012 on the second floor of a shophouse. We were invited to attend the 3-hour, hands-on class on a complimentary basis, but a class normally costs $80 per person. 

One of the recipes we learned to make was Kueh Dadar, a Nonya Peranakan snack or dessert. Nonya refers to the female side of the Peranakan marriage, which is traditionally Malay.

KUEH DADAR (Pandan pancakes with coconut filling)
1 egg
²⁄3 cup coconut milk
6 tbsp pandan juice
¼ tsp salt
1¼ cup plain flour
1½ cup water or more as needed
4 to 5 tbsp palm sugar, thinly shaved (can substitute maple sugar)
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp water (or as needed)
1½ cup grated coconut
Kueh Dadar on a plate decorated with a typical Peranakan design.
Combine the palm sugar, dark brown sugar and water in a pot. Heat over a medium flame until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the grated coconut and continue to cook for a few minutes until the mixture is wet but not runny. Set aside.
To make the pancake, mix the egg, coconut milk and pandan juice. Combine flour and salt in a separate bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the egg mixture. Mix well; it should not be lumpy. Add water as needed to make a batter similar to pancake batter. Heat a small, shallow frying pan over a low flame and grease lightly with oil. Pour about ¼ cup of the batter in the center and swirl the pan to form a thin crepe about 6 inches in diameter. When it starts to brown, flip it over, cook a few minutes more and remove. (Our teacher, Lena Tan, said, “The first one is a test. Experiment with the batter thickness and temperature to get it right.) This recipe makes about 20 pancakes.
To prepare the roll, place 2 tbsp of filling on the pancake and roll it up like a spring roll.