Malay -Chinese pop-up menu

Sharmila Chand | Updated on March 12, 2012 Published on March 08, 2012

Chef Benjamin Seck

With his manicured good looks and well-toned physique, Benjamin Seck could easily pass off as a software engineer, but luckily for foodies he is a chef. That too, someone who recreates a very special cuisine that he has grown up with — Peranakan or Nonya. It is a beautiful fusion of Malay and Chinese gastronomy, much like Seck himself is of Malay-Chinese parentage.

To bring out the authentic flavours, Seck follows the well-researched script perfected by his grandmother. “I was the only child allowed to enter my grandma's kitchen,” recalls Seck. “She owned many restaurants in Singapore, cooking the food herself and extremely strict with entrants in her territory. Since I was her pet kid, she would give me spices to grind and that became my favourite pastime. Not knowing that I would play that game all my life, loaded with great responsibility.”

The True Blue restaurant he owns in Singapore is housed in a 110-year-old building complete with displays of Nonya artefacts, kitchen tools, old photographs and so on.

When Seck got an opportunity to bring Singapore Takeout, a multi-city international culinary road show organised by The Singapore Tourism Board, to Delhi, he was both excited and nervous about his first visit to India. “I was very, very scared about the water,” he explains. “But see, I've had great deal of water, both mineral and from the tap, and am alive and happy, so no problem.”

When it comes to Indian cuisine, Seck's favourite is biryani, and he took the opportunity to visit several outlets in the Capital. “Indian and Singaporean cuisines are similar in lot of ways,” he says. “Both use a lot of spices and onion in preparing curries. The only difference is we use a few more typically Oriental spices like lemongrass.”

His Nonya Prawn Curry is served with Roti Jalal or ‘net bread', a dish adopted from Malay cuisine. “The delicate net-like structure of these flour pancakes reminds me of the intricate lacework found in the Nonya Kebaya — a traditional Peranakan dress,” says the chef, who is also a master in the art of making Nonya-style sarongs.

“This kind of road show is a beautiful way to showcase a particular region's cuisine,” says Manisha Bhasin, ITC Maurya's Senior Executive Chef. At the two-day event, Manisha had some interesting surprises rolled out — basic Indian staples such as naan and kabab fused with Singaporean ingredients. ‘Duet of Asian-Inspired Anti Pasti', as she calls it. So you had Scampi and Lemongrass Ceviche in a traditional methi dhania papdi shell, fenugreek and coriander flavoured crisp, drizzled with galangal (blue ginger) tamarind sauce. Chicken tikka, marinated with laksa paste to give it a Singaporean twist, was accompanied by sweet basil naan.

“We have a lot to learn from Singapore Takeout, a mobile pop-up kitchen concept that unfolds from what looks like an ordinary shipping container. It is fast service, hygienic and literally brings the food to your doorstep,” says Rajkamal Chopra, Executive Chef at WelcomHotel Sheraton. “It is also a fantastic way of bringing about harmony in taste and flavours across the globe,” he adds.

He reinterpreted the traditional Singapore dish Laksa Pulao by serving up a pulao of basmati rice cooked with French beans, laksa paste and Indian spices.

Published on March 08, 2012
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