Ready to eat like a Crazy Rich Asian? As any fan of the Singapore-set book series knows, food plays a crucial role in the novel. Furthermore, the movie of the same name, which premieres on Wednesday, August 15, and stars Constance Wu and Henry Golding, features several scenes that center around unique Singaporean eats.
With that in mind, Us Weekly spoke to chef Malcolm Lee of the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant, Candlenut, and got his thoughts on Peranakan food – a cuisine that combines Chinese, Malay and other influences – and the importance of learning about a culture through its food.
Malcolm says his award-winning restaurant maintains the traditional aspect of family dining because that’s what Peranakan food is about. “It’s the commoner, it’s the sharing, getting together, passing the food around,” he explains. “Some people say [Candlenut] is too modern, but I think it’s actually relevant … it helps people to re-explore what the traditional Peranakan culture is, because if we do not do that then it will become lost.”
For Malcolm, the food scene in Singapore is unparalleled. “You can eat every day, all day. All kinds of cuisines, different prices as well,” he tells Us with a laugh. “Food always, I feel, is very representative of a culture of a place.”
One of his favorite aspects of the Singapore food scene are the hawker centers, which are open-air markets in Singapore with hundreds of different food stalls. Hawker centers feature heavily in both the Crazy Rich Asians book series and movie, and Malcolm recommends visiting one to get a (literal) taste of Singaporean culture.
“Every time I go to a new place, I to try eat first. I think through that, you can see and understand a bit of who they are, what they do and where they come from, the influences. Even the way it’s presented. Everything tells a story,” he says. “I think that’s the best way to share first, and then from there really explore people’s culture … we have a very powerful message in our love for food.”
Speaking of food, check out Candlenut’s recipe for babi pongteh – braised pork in fermented soy bean sauce – below. “It is almost like a Chinese miso braised pork that is very tender and flavorful,” Malcolm tells Us of the traditional Peranakan dish. “It’s also versatile, so you can have it more traditional with rice and chilli, or try it as a sandwich between toasted French bread with butter, like my family does, which is a different take on a pulled pork sandwich.”
Candlenut’s Babi Pongteh
Makes 4-6 servings
• 20 shallots, peeled
• 10 garlic cloves, peeled
• 4 tbsp cooking oil
• 2 tbsp fermented soy bean paste
• 1 tbsp roasted coriander powder
• 2.2 lbs pork belly, cut into 1-inch cubes
• 4 1/4 cups water
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
• 2 red and 2 green chiles, crushed using the back of a spoon
- Using a blender, process the shallots and garlic into a fine paste.
- Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic paste and stir fry until fragrant.
- Add fermented soy bean paste and coriander powder and stir fry for one minute.
- Add pork belly and stir fry for an additional minute.
- Add water, sugar, salt and dark soy sauce.
- Lower the heat and simmer for one hour, or until the pork is tender, add more water as necessary.
- Plate and garnish as desired. Serve with crushed red and green chiles.
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