Culinary memories from Singapore

Masterchef Australia winner Sashi Cheliah comes to Chennai with his upcoming cookbook, a culmination of childhood favourite recipes.

Published: 07th December 2022 01:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th December 2022 01:15 AM   |  A+A-

Sashi Cheliah (R) with Manoj Padmanaban (L), co-founders of Pandan Club.

Express News Service

CHENNAI: In the newly-opened Pandan Club in T Nagar, Sashi Cheliah spends his last day at the restaurant whose menu, rich in Peranakan cuisine, he co-curated with Big Bandha’s Manoj Padmanaban. Sashi, who rose to stardom after winning the 2018 edition of MasterChef Australia, has been in the city for nearly two weeks, promoting the restaurant that he believes will add to Chennai’s culinary richness, as well as a book of recipes documenting his favourite foods as a child who grew up in Singapore.

Life in a melting pot

With family roots stretching all the way back to Madurai, Sashi has his feet in several cultures simultaneously, and Kampong Boy: Flavour is My Hometown is strongly evocative of a time when Singapore was just evolving into a modern cosmopolis. “The word Kampong is Malay for village or enclosure, and the part of Singapore where I grew up in was pretty laidback, pretty unrecognisable from what it is today,” he adds. The book is a culmination of the various foods he savoured as a boy in homes and at street stores.

Singapore is home to primarily three communities — Indians, Malay and Chinese, and the cuisine, as seen in Sashi’s new book, reflects the multiple influences that poured into the city’s culinary tapestry. The book is divided into several segments, each segment carrying a title borrowed from a Malay expression. The first segment ‘Lim Kopi’ originally means to drink coffee, but has evolved to mean asking someone out for a drink or a chat. This segment features breakfast staples in Singapore, and to the Indian reader, throws up familiar names like appam and thosai (what is regionally called dosai).

What to watch for

For the Indian reader, the items to look out for are the kaya toast, which Sashi describes as very Singaporean-Malaysian. “It’s a common staple for breakfast. It’s a variant of the bread-butter-jam, but instead of fruit-based jam, we use a mixture of egg yolks and coconut milk.” Dishes like lontong sayur lodeh, a Malaysia-Indonesia-inspired compressed rice dish with vegetables and eggs, often serve as gravy. “Breakfast in Southeast Asian countries are generally quite heavy, since it serves as fuel for a long day of work ahead in a tropical climate,” Sashi added.

Among the lunch items, Sashi points out Hainanese chicken rice as being the most popular in Singapore. “You could say it’s one of the national dishes of Singapore. A mixture of rice, vegetables and chicken, it’s a pretty inexpensive source of nutrition and can be had in Singapore for as little as USD 2 or USD 3.” Sharing space alongside are other familiar names like nasi goreng and the ever ubiquitous lamb biryani. And like every biryani that attains its own character depending on the region, the biryani here is its own version, drawn from local influences.

As one keeps flipping over the pages, lunch gives way to snacks and desserts, even recipes for pickle and chutney. Besides being rich in culinary information, Kampong Boy... is also a visual treat, with full page photographic spreads of each dish, often interspersed with pictures of a Singapore removed from the skyscrapers, back to a time when the city strolled along at a more sedate pace.‘Kampong Boy: Flavour is My Hometown’ is available for sale at Pandan Club and is priced at Rs 1,500. The book will be sold through other retailers including e-commerce companies soon.


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