Perfect for either a business lunch or a fun dinner in Tanjong Pagar, The Blue Ginger specialises in traditional dishes like ayam buah keluak, babi pong tay, ngoh hiang and more Peranakan cuisine classics
Scraping out the last morsels of buah keluak; scooping up a chunky, crabby meatball from bakwan kepiting; slathering a spoonful of rice with rendang curry and topping it with crunchy chap chye – if you’re part-Peranakan like I am, then you’ll truly know the joys of everything I’ve just said.
Growing up, the folks would religiously introduce me to Peranakan cuisine at restaurants owned by my extended family along the East Coast. So surely, you can understand my indulgent proclamation when I deem Peranakan cuisine my personal soul food. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s homely, traditional, perfect for sharing, and don’t even get me started on the gravies and curries (Four rounds of rice? No problemo).
Much like the traditions of the cuisine that’s been passed down for generations, I too followed the footsteps of my parents in finding my own go-to Peranakan restaurant. And yes, I could wax lyrical about the brilliance of Violet Oon’s venues, and yap on about how Malcolm Lee’s Candlenut made my brother’s birthday dinner a memorable one, but those don’t quite hit the spot as much as this modest, 22-year-old establishment in the heart of Tanjong Pagar.
If you’ve already stumbled upon this diamond in the rough, good for you. Otherwise, let me share my not-so-secret love affair with my Peranakan Hot 50 Tables pick, The Blue Ginger.
You can’t go to a Peranakan restaurant and not have buah keluak – a fermented, thick, subtly sweet paste that’s made of a black nut that’s only found in the Southeast Asia region. Admittedly it’s an acquired taste; but if you love it, you really love it. While The Blue Ginger traditionally serves ayam buah keluak (that special black nut with chicken), I prefer the sotong keluak – stir-fried squid rings served in liberal portions of buah keluak gravy. I also can’t fail to mention the addictive Ayam Panggang Blue Ginger, which is a deboned chicken thigh that’s grilled in coconut milk to create a creamy, lightly-charred dish that will have you craving seconds.
If the thought of fatty, gelatinous meat makes you drool, then ordering the babi pong tay (another Peranakan delicacy) is a no-brainer – the preserved bean paste that the pork is cooked in deals a satisfying blow of umami. Although technically a Teochew dish, ngoh hiang is another Peranakan specialty; The Blue Ginger’s version is generously stuffed with minced pork and prawns, is neither overly fried nor too crispy (you don’t want to munch on a ngoh hiang that’s all flaky skin), and is extremely moist and juicy.
So what if you’re not Peranakan?
Judging from the grins on my colleagues’ faces (and their ensuing food comas), you don’t have to be Peranakan to relish a feast at The Blue Ginger. Nor do you need to be Peranakan to cook a top-notch Nyonya meal (Nyonya is another way of describing Peranakan food; it basically means ‘women’, but also refers to the style of cooking). The plot twist here is that the chefs (and owner) of The Blue Ginger aren’t Peranakan, but they have nailed the tradition impeccably and consistently.
In five words
Do eat everything with rice.
The Blue Ginger, 97 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088518, p. 6222 3928. Open daily 12pm-3pm, 6.30pm-10.30pm.