“There’s nothing in northeast Singapore that can’t be had better elsewhere in the country”.
That was my conclusion after a good two decades here scouring the city streets for delicious delights…maybe, besides Ponggol Nasi Lemak (maybe).
From roti prata to prawn noodles, the northeast corridor appears to be afflicted by mediocrity – good enough, but nothing the rest of Singapore would ever find it worth to travel for. Even the northeast poster boy, Serangoon Gardens…it divides people. When I was in college, I thought Chomp Chomp had no equal, but in recent times, I’m like, “right…”
From roti prata to prawn noodles, the northeast corridor appears to be afflicted by mediocrity. Even though you should’ve realized it by now, I don’t write about all my food adventures. I take pictures of all my meals – just in case, you’ll never know when it might come in handy – but I don’t document all of it. And during my unintended sabbatical two years ago, I visited a lot of places in the northeast – a lot of places. However, more often than not, most of those adventures were underwhelming, to say the least. Yes, I’d agree that Little Wimbly Lu’s quite awesome but it’s the exception to the norm, unfortunately. Sure, there’s Nakhon Kitchen in Kovan, but there’s a Nakhon Kitchen in Ang Mo Kio as well.
So, I wasn’t very excited when Kellen, an ex-colleague of mine, suggested that we try Curry & Curry. Despite her best efforts at persuading me that they served good food, I just couldn’t get excited, but let’s see, shall we?
Located in Kovan – formerly known as Hougang South – beside Fairprice Finest supermarket is Curry & Curry, which is apparently known for serving Singaporean Chinese Peranakan dishes. I say “Singaporean Chinese Peranakan” because it’s an interpretation, really. As a Peranakan myself, I’d say that the exploration is almost entirely off. Just because a lot of sambal (prawn paste) is used, doesn’t actually mean it’s Peranakan, you know, but imma let it pass. At Curry & Curry, you’ll find a lot of Singapore Chinese favorites like Fish Head Curry, Prawn Paste Chicken and Sambal Kangkong. To be fair to their Nonya spin, they also serve Rendang but apparently it’s not the real thing. Seeing that it was just the two of us, we ordered the signature Nonya Fish Head Curry and a Sambal Petai to keep things balanced.
Being Peranakan is a lot like being Korean – you get pedantic about authenticity and you’re annoyed when it fails expectations. As a regular Singapore Chinese Fish Head Curry, it’d have been alright – excellent, even. However, as a Nonya Fish Head Curry, it just didn’t work. There’s a certain ignorance about Peranakan cuisine in this that it came off as offensive, and it pissed me off. It’s almost as if the Singapore Chinese zhi-char community decided to create stereotypes… For the Malays, let’s add tomato chili paste with stir-fried noodles and it’ll look like “Mee Goreng”. Let’s mix sambal and/or tamarind paste (assam) in everything and put the “Nonya” in front of it, and it’ll be Peranakan. There was no subtlety in this dish whatsoever – you got the assam, sure, but it didn’t blend in right with the diluted curry, so it stood out like a sore thumb. The worse thing is, Singaporeans like this, and I just don’t get it, seriously.
The Sambal Petai fared a little better, but it was just a little bland, for some reason.