The 5-month-old Baba Chews, housed within the former Joo Chiat Police Station building, brings Nyonya cuisine to a whole new level in the very heart of Peranakan/Baba-Nyonya culture - the Katong district of Singapore. Here, Nyonya cuisine - perhaps the most indigenous of all of Singapore’s variety of multi-ethnic cuisines - is given a make-over, updated but with careful attention to the basic fundamentals of the cuisine. The Babas and Nyonyas, Singapore’s hybrid Straits-born Chinese, are well-known for their conservative attitudes, especially in their complex, labour-intensive cuisine.
I was here to try Baba Chew’s much-touted Katong laksa - a local version of Nyonya laksa which was purportedly popularised by Janggut, a legendary itinerant street vendor back in 1940s Singapore. Katong laksa has since grown into a national brand-name of sorts.
Disappointingly, the Chews Laksa Cocktail was not available on the day I was there, as one important ingredient - the laksa-infused whipped cream, was not available. So I settled for the Katong Sling, the restaurant’s take on the Singapore Sling. Theirs consisted of Beefeater Gin, Cointreau, Peter Heering, Pineapple Juice, Lime Juice and a house-made “Katong Sling mix”.
Finally, the piece de resistance - the Nyonya laksa, upon which Katong laksa was based upon.
How was it - well, first of all, the portion is huge, perhaps twice larger than the average bowl served at nearby Katong laksa stalwarts : Janggut at Roxy Square next door, or 328 Laksa across the road. But the luxe version here was packed with fresh prawns, quails’ eggs, tofu puffs and clams - to justify its higher price, I guess.
Flavour-wise, I wished the spices were stronger. This was a bit too mild, almost a Katong laksa 101 to introduce to foreigners who may balk at the spice level which Singaporeans are used to.
If I come back, I’m going to try the restaurant’s more inventive menu items, e.g. chili crabcakes or foie gras mantou buns.
Baba Chews Bar and Eatery
86 East Coast Road, #01-01 Katong Square
Operating hours: 6:30am–midnight, daily
Tel: +65 6723 2025