You’d be hard-pressed to find another chef who’s as impassioned about local food as Damian D’Silva is.
Taking cooking as his storytelling medium, he recounts personal experiences through flavours milked from this multi-ethnic country. Growing up with Peranakan cuisine executed by a “wonder woman” grandmother, his dishes reflect a sense of pride and longing for when we cooked with produce grown and caught.
His latest restaurant, Kin, at the members-only club Straits Clan recently opened its doors to the public. Looking back at his other establishments—Soul Kitchen, Immigrants and Folklore—this seems to be what he was always working up towards. There’s still a heavy Peranakan influence but in shaking off the old, he’s expanded the repertoire to create heritage cuisine. He defines it as using produce found regionally and prepared in ways that reflect Singapore’s early history as part of the Malayan Peninsula.
The menu is really a history lesson you can eat. The Heritage Salsa (S$15++), for example, is a tangy mouthful of summer with winged bean, green mango, pineapple, torch ginger and seasonal fruits in a citrus-spice dressing. Positioned so close to the equator, Singapore doesn’t enjoy the four seasons but the annual monsoon brings powerful rains ushering in new harvest. “Who says we don’t have seasons?”, D’Silva asserts.
Nasi Ulam (S$18) is another standout that you’ll find yourself thinking about for the next few days. Before they’re fried with rice, the rest of the ingredients—sand prawn, salted fish, wolf herring, herbs and ginger—are cooked then sliced so thinly that none overpower each other in a spoonful. The rice is cooked then oiled to ensure every grain gets coated with flavour when its finally mixed in and served with sambal belachan. It’s extremely laborious to the extent that only ten portions are prepared daily.
He also brushes up some classic ethnic dishes. Chap Chye Masak Rempah Titek (S$30) is almost nothing like the mild-flavoured vegetable stew made by the Chinese. The paste of red chillies, shallots, belachan and candlenut added has given it a hearty, thick consistency. D’Silva’s also added Indian spices to his version of Gulai (S$38), originally an Indonesian rendition of Indian curry, which has a darker, more full-bodied gravy.
A meal at any D’Silva establishment is, of course, not complete without his famous Kueh Kosui ($12) and Kueh Bengkah (S$12). One is a melt-in-your-mouth steamed tapioca and gula melaka treat rolled in grated coconut and the other, a slightly chewy, warm tapioca cake. Alternatively, the concise cocktail menu offers a sweet note or two. The Mamasita (S$18) comprises house-made roselle, tequila, mezcal, ginger and grapefruit.
31 Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore 089845. Opening hours: 12pm to 1.30pm, 6pm to 9.30pm from Mondays to Fridays, and only dinner service on Saturdays.