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[Singapore] Chowdown at Guan Hoe Soon

klyeoh | Nov 11, 2017 02:32 AM

It's been quite a while since I took part in a Chowdown - the last one where I participated in was at Crystal China near Tower Bridge, where London-based Chowhounds got together for a night of revelry & good food. That was way back in Jan 2015. (

I was also at 3 other Chowmeets in London prior to that:

An elaborate bespoke Parsi dinner organised by Howler at the Bombay Brasserie in Nov 2012.

A Pakistani chowdown at Lahori Nihaari arranged by JFores in April 2013.

A Chowmeet at Min Jiang, Royal Garden Hotel, organised by Limster in May 2013.

I was also at one of the annual HK Chowmeets organised by the intrepid Toronto-based Chowhound, Charles Yu, back in 2013. As with every Chowmeet, Hounds from all over the world come to renew acquaintances, exchange the latest news & development and, above all, have a terrific time sampling good food.

But this time round last Tuesday, we had the very first Chowmeet in Singapore, when Chowhound founder and our de facto Alpha Hound, Jim Leff, hit town. Also in town and at the dinner were long-time Chowhound dave_nyc from New York, veteran Chowhound Limster from London and Singapore-based Chowhound Lipoff.

We'd chosen Guan Hoe Soon as Jim wanted something quintessentially Singaporean - and what could be more Singaporean than Nyonya cuisine, the centuries-old culinary tradition which originated from the former British Straits Settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore.

Guan Hoe Soon is located on Joo Chiat Place in Katong district, the heart of the Baba-Nyonya community in Singapore.

Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant

One of the oldest Nyonya restaurants in Singapore, it was founded in 1953.

Sambal timun

This cucumber relish is served at the beginning of a meal to whet the appetite. It consisted of fresh cucumber, chopped raw onions and chicken livers/gizzards in a spicy sambal belacan (chili-fermented shrimp paste) dressing.

Bakwan kepiting

One of my favourite soups - pork-crabmeat balls and bamboo shoots in a savoury pork-flavoured consomme. Done pretty well here although their rendition is not the best in Singapore. (The best ones are from Peranakan Inn on East Coast Road and Ivins in Binjai Park, Bukit Timah).

Beef rendang

Slow-cooked dry beef curry - this is the Nyonya rendition of the Padang/Indonesian classic.

Babi Pongteh

Slow-cooked pork in a fermented soybeans (taucheo) and coriander powder-scented stew.

Nyonya Chap chye

Basically, a Chinese mixed vegetable dish consisting of stewed cabbage, wood-ear fungus, shitake mushrooms, shrimps, pork, flavoured with a typical Nyonya blend of condiments which include fermented soybeans (taucheo), candlenuts and shallots.

Ayam Buah Keluak

This Nyonya classic chicken dish uses buah keluak, hard-shelled walnut-sized Indonesian nuts which actually contained cyanide. The raw buah keluak; seeds are poisonous, but cured seeds (i.e. caked in tree ash and buried underground for a period) are perfectly safe to eat. One needs to soak the seeds in water for 3 days, then crack the nuts so the insides, which people here call Nyonya truffles can be eaten.
The Ayam Buah Keluak; dish is deep-flavoured stew replete with the flavours of chilis, galangal, lemongrass, coriander, shallots and belacan (fermented shrimp paste). The sauce gets a sharp acidic stab from the addition of tamarind paste.

Ngoh hiang

This is a Hokkien (Fujianese) meat roll of pork forcemeat, scented with Chinese 5-spice, wrapped in tofu skin (yuba) and deep-fried. The Baba-Nyonya community descended from mainly Fujianese immigrants who came to SE-Asia as long as 4 centuries ago, inter-married with locals, and came up with a unique community whose Chinese-Malay cuisine is perhaps one of the earliest examples of fusion cooking.
But ngoh hiang; is one of the dishes which stuck closely with its Chinese-Fujianese origins.


Spicy fish mousse wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. The dominant flavours are the fresh turmeric used, besides a spice blend of fresh dried chilis, galangal and candlenuts. Coconut creme is also used to enrich the mousse, and eggs to bind the whole concoction together.

Pomfret Asam Pedas

A whole fresh white pomfret, cooked in a sourish-spicy soup. Asam pedas derives its dominant flavours from the Nyonya holy trinity of chilis, lemongrass and belacan. But torch ginger (Malay: bunga kantan) is also added for its unique scent. The sourish flavours come from tamarind, but other souring agents like tomatoes and pineapple are also added.

Kueh bengka

The rendition here is pretty unique, in that the sticky pieces of steamed cassava pudding were rolled in fresh, grated coconut, before serving.

Selection of Nyonya desserts

We ordered a selection of Nyonya desserts to share at the end (clockwise from top-left): Bubur cha cha (warm), bubur cha cha (cold, topped with shaved ice), sago Gula Melaka, cendol and pulot hitam.
Nyonya desserts are usually sweetened with Gula Melaka or palm sugar, which imparted a deep, mellow, almost smoky flavour to the desserts, and enriched using coconut milk.
The shaved ice used as topping for the cold desserts here are pretty coarse - not fine and snowy as the type we normally have in Korean bingsu.

Guan Hoe Soon provides a full range of Nyonya dishes, although I felt the quality of produce and standard of cooking were not as good as I remembered them to be from 2 decades back.

Still, it was a great evening catching up with fellow Chowhounds.

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