IVINS Peranakan Restaurant
19/21 Binjai Park
Bukit Timah, Singapore
+65 5468 3060
The centuries long movement of people to the peninsula that forms present-day Singapore and the resulting interplay and mixture of cultures that has occurred is one of the most fascinating elements for a visitor to see in this true city-state, which forms the tiniest nation in this southeastern part of Asia. As with most historical patterns of migration, the early Chinese who traveled to this region eventually settled down with the local people, in this case the Malays, and inter-married with the women of this culture. The result is what is known as the Peranakan culture, and this phenomena has also helped transform the local culinary scene, with its exotic melding of the flavors of the Malays with the preparation styles of the Chinese. If one were to summarize it in a simple statement, it would have to be that it is distinctively seasoned, and hits on all taste buds between sweet and spicy, and is certainly not subdued by any means – how could it be with such a generous use of ingredients such as ginger, chillies, and coconut milk! Much like many things in Singapore, this mosaic is what makes for such an exciting experience, and makes this part of the world one of the most satisfying for dining out.
The main branch of IVINS Peranakan Restaurant is located on a narrow street in Bukit Timah, with a large open facing window to the road, which also provides for some very minimal parking. From a North American’s perspective, the exterior looks very much like a strip mall with its bold signage rimming the top of the outer wall, suggesting that comforting home-cooked, family style type of dining establishment you sometimes see in such structures. The rest of the interior is quite spartan, with spot lighting in the ceiling that helps to brighten the room just right. The seating is quite open and tables are spaced closely together, which makes for some interesting chances to spy what your neighbors are eating.
The menu is a single paper sheet that is spread out in front of your as a table mat. It is broken up by ingredient base: Ayam (chicken), Babi (pork), Ikan (fish), Seafood, Sayur (vegetables), as well as other sections that are labeled Other House Delights, Rice, Soup, Local Delights, and Telor (egg). There is also a good mix of hot and cold desserts. The dishes themselves are all quite manageable in proportion, so the ability to select several and share among a group is ideal.
We began our dinner with a Bakwan Kepeting, described as minced pork and crab meat balls with bamboo shoots in a clear soup. The broth was very light and not as salty as I had expected. The meatballs themselves were well cooked through and had a nice crunchy texture in them, I think it was fine bits of cartilage included with the meat. Overall, a warm start to our meal.
The Sotong Hitam came next. This was a small dish of squid that was stir-fried with a black sweet sauce. A mix of both the squid body and the tentacles were included. They were a bit tougher and chewy than I would have liked. As well, it was the only sweeter tasting dish we had this evening. It did not really interest me however, other than for the contrasting taste to the other dishes.
Garam Assam Fish Head, red snapper fish head with lady’s fingers cooked in a spicy tamarind gravy. There was not an opportunity to select the level of heat, but believe this came in at about a medium level. The curry was fairly rich and the fish head had plenty of white fleshy meat on it and around the next area, which could be found by digging deeply into the bowl. It was served with steamed rice. Very satisfying.
This is the Nonya Chap Chye, stewed mixed vegetables cooked in a soy bean sauce. It did say it was a medley of vegetables, but I think it was mainly shredded cabbage. Seasoning was very bland. I did not enjoy this at all.
Ayam Buah Keluak, this is the signature dish of Peranakan Cuisine. Chicken braised in a thick spicy tamarind gravy with buah keluak nuts. Very distinctive flavors, and the chunks of chicken breast meat were tender and soft. The curry was more runny than the one served with the fish head earlier, and probably a tad milder too. Despite it being a feature dish, it did not blow me away in terms of flavors.
All in all, I suppose I did enjoy my meal here, mainly for the fact that I could get another chance to try Peranakan food, in what was a very popular place. The highlight of the night for me was the Garam Assam. I am quickly becoming a big fan of this dish whenever I am in SE Asia. I am highly interested in exploring other hybrid types of cuisine out there in the world, so if our readers have any suggestions, I would be open to hearing about them!