Review: A Bite of Old Singapore at Kin
By Tristan Chan
Jan 15, 2020

Review: A Bite of Old Singapore at Kin

Chef Damian D’Silva offers Singapore heritage food amid modernising menus

The city’s heritage food is a rich culinary mish-mash of cuisines from the West and “local flavours from Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnicities”. And that, is what Damian D’Silva, now Chef-Owner at recently-opened Kin, is fighting to save.

But one industry observer says that high prices make it tough to do so. Singapore ambassador of the World Food Trade Association Lionel Chee points out that “mostly due to costs from extra cleaning at hawker centres and disruptions with imports, Singapore’s hawker stall holders have to swap original ingredients and flavours”.

This, means the food Singaporeans used to eat could soon disappear.

Already, he adds, Peranakan cuisine today has replaced native spices with curry powders. And dishes such as fried Hokkien mee have left out pork slices or squid, both typically found in traditional recipes. 

Kin, located in the lobby of Straits Clan. Photo: Kin 

Still though, Chef Damian, who’s built a name for himself whipping up lip-smacking Peranakan and Eurasian fare for over two decades, is keen to embark on the challenge. He recalls a particular heritage dish always served during year-end festivities and the need to keep food like this alive. Well, his grandfather used to spend extensive efforts to cure ham in a dish called curry-devil or debal, by salting it as early as April, before it is served during the festive season. The Eurasian-rooted dish is a concoction of spare ribs, roast pork, ham and bacon bones is slow-cooked with rempah, mustard and vinegar giving it an unusual texture and distinct spicy quality.

His grandfather also liked to add roast goose, which Damian replaces with roast duck, to give the dish a slightly richer finish. “It’s one of those heritage foods that can easily be forgotten. Indeed, heritage food is misunderstood in Singapore and it’s our job to keep our legacy going.”

So in came Kin, a restaurant serving Singapore heritage food at private members’ club Straits Clan. Damian’s new menu draws inspiration from cuisine rich nations of Malaysia and Indonesia. The 63-year-old believes it’s necessary to include these Southeast Asian cuisines at his newly opened restaurant, as they’ve left their traces on Singapore’s own complex cuisine. 

Babi Masak Assam. Photo: Kin

One of them includes a savoury, sweet and juicy Babi Masak Assam, or pork belly and ribs with tamarind and traces of fermented soybean. 

Gulai. Photo: Kin

Another is an Indonesian-Indian curry dish, or Gulai. You bite into meltingly-soft beef cheeks slow-cooked with 15 spices in a smooth, fragrant curry that includes cinnamon and star anise. 

And there’s more. 

A platter of kuehs, including Kueh Kosui. Photo: Kin

Try delectable desserts like Kueh Kosui, some say it’s a must-order - chewy and touchably soft, with the rich, deep flavour of sweet Gula Melaka.

Damian’s latest restaurant, Kin, goes beyond Eurasian and Peranakan fare to cook up some of Singapore’s best heritage cuisine, see more here

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