[Singapore] Dinner at British Hainan, Carpmael Road

British Hainan was started by avid vintage memorabilia collector, Frederick Puah, back in 2013. In an interview in March last year with Time Out Singapore, he shared about how his young family (wife, two newly-graduated daughters and a younger son) all pitched in to help run the eatery which offers Hainanese-Western food, one of Singapore’s “heritage cuisines”.

His restaurant was planned from the onset to display his eclectic collection of curios, most harking back to Singapore’s colonial-British past.

The Hainanese were the last of the Chinese to arrive in British Malaya & Singapore - by the time they came, all the mercantile trade was dominated by the Hokkiens/Fujianese. That was because the great sea-port of Quanzhou, Fujian, was a cosmopolitan trading centre since the 13th-century, with Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Japanese, Koreans, Siamese, Javanese, and other merchants from around Asia residing there. Consequently, Hokkien merchants and traders traded and settled as far south as Java since that period of time.

In Singapore, by virtue of their being the earliest settlers (mainly from Malacca), the Hokkiens gained a lion’s share in lucrative trades like commerce, banking, shipping, and manufacturing,

The rural Cantonese and Hakka emigrated en masse to British Malaya in the 19th-century to work as coolies in the tin mines and ports. Besides that, the urban Cantonese took on roles as bricklayers, carpenters, furniture-makers, woodcutters, goldsmiths and many other crafts-related professions, whereas the Hakkas chose to specialise in shoemaking, garment manufacturing, tailoring and the jewelry trade.

The Teochews dominated the farming industry, starting off with pepper and gambier, then onto sugarcane and other commercially viable agricultural products.

So, by the time the first Hainanese stepped ashore in the late 19th-century/early 20th-century, they were shut out from most professions and industries by the cliquish/tribal nature of the other Chinese dialect groups. But the Hainanese managed to carve out a niche for themselves by specialising in the service industry, especially with regards to servicing the colonial masters: the British, at the time. Hainanese chefs manned the kitchens and mess halls of the British armed forces. Soon, every naval vessel, and every train in British Malaya had Hainanese chefs feeding the hungry soldiers. Every colonial British governor, as well as high-ranking officers, would have Hainanese chefs heading the kitchens of their households.

Hainanese cuisine in British Malaya and Singapore took on its own unique characteristics, and wholly different from the cuisine on their home island, Hainan itself. The Hainanese began to adapt certain Western food items for their own consumption, but tweaked with the introduction of Chinese condiments, and some Chinese cooking techniques: hence the Hainanese baked shepherd’s pie, or the batter-fried chicken chop, served with potato wedges and peas, slathered with a brown sauce which, at first glance, looked British, but upon tasting, yielded soy sauce, star anise and clove flavours and scent.

Frederick Puah’s British Hainan celebrates this unique legacy of his Hainanese-Singaporean forefathers. Our dinner spread when we were there last week:

  1. Curry with sliced baguette

  2. Fish and chips

  3. Hainanese pork chop

  4. Braised lamb shank

  5. Hainanese pasta with chicken chop

This place is a homage to the Hainanese culinary legacy of Singapore, and a testimony to the passion which Frederick Puah has in preserving the past for future generations of Singaporeans to savour and appreciate.

British Hainan
75 Carpmael Road, Singapore 429812
Tel: +65 6336 8122
Operating hours: 11am-3pm, 6pm-9.30pm Mon, Wed to Sun. Closed on Tuesdays.


I’ve eaten a fair few chicken chops in my time, though only in Malaysia, never Singapore. Predominately with crinkle cut chips, though skinny chips or potato wedges occasionally. Never seen it with pasta. A particularly Singapore thing or just a specific restaurant thing?

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Thanks, Peter. As ever, a fascinating history lesson.

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It’s the restaurant - you are right, the standard version comes with potato wedges, or crinkle-cut fries.

The only pasta dishes in the Hainanese-Western repertoire are the macaroni soups.

Penang’s Hainanese also have a macaroni pie, topped with an egg-white souffle. But it’s specific to Penang, and does not exist even amongst the Hainanese culinary fraternity in Ipoh, a mere 155km away, and with a large Hainanese community and a thriving Hainanese kopitiam (traditional coffeeshop) culture.

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Waiting for you to come visit Penang and Singapore, John! There is so much to share.

This month, George Town is celebrating the anniversary of its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site - I’m the official guide for the Penang Heritage Food Trail at the end of this month. We’ll cover about a dozen food places in a 1.5 to 2-hour walk, and I tell them the origins of the food items, as well as the history of the food places.

Am doing this on a voluntary basis (like what I did at the Penang Heritage Trust) - I think I derive as much fun out of doing it, as the participants do.


What a fantastic bit of volunteering, mate.


The lamb shank is calling us . . .

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That was the best-tasting dish we had that evening.

Now, we regret not ordering their house special: the oxtail stew!

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Good on you, because we sense you’ll be back sometime.


Back at British Hainan for lunch yesterday. This time, the loquacious owner, Frederick Puah, was around, and reminded us what a raconteur he was - this was meant to be a 1-hour food-stop on our food safari trail covering the Joo Chiat/Katong district, but we ended up there for 3 hours.

We tried some of his specialty dishes:

  1. 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘥𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘏𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘦 𝘰𝘹𝘵𝘢𝘪𝘭 𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘸. Big chunks of bone-in oxtail were slow-stewed till fall-off-the-bone tender, and served slathered in a thick, unctuous tomato-onion based gravy, with chunks of potato, carrot and celery. Baguette slices were provided to mop up the gravy.

  2. 𝘏𝘦𝘳𝘣𝘢𝘭 𝘮𝘶𝘵𝘵𝘰𝘯 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘱. My personal favourite Hainanese dish - once widely available all over Singapore, but which has become a rarity.
    My favourite rendition of this dish was at the now-defunct Pinetree Club on Stevens Road. The one here at British Hainan was much less herbal in its flavours, but still pretty good: chockful of mutton with soft bone cartilage, dried beancurd sticks or fu chuk. and crunchy wood-ear mushrooms.

  3. 𝘏𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘦 𝘤𝘶𝘳𝘳𝘺 𝘳𝘪𝘤𝘦. This is a rustic rice dish which combines curried chicken, soy-braised pork belly, stewed cabbage with dried shrimps, and a crisp-fried chicken chop in one dish.
    The version here is plated more “neatly” than the usual ones we find in Hainanese curry rice stalls or shops, where everything was piled onto a plate untidily.

  4. 𝘏𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘦 𝘱𝘰𝘳𝘬 𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘱. Frederick’s version has a tomato-based gravy, rather than the more traditional brown sauce which the Hainanese adapted from the British, but to which they added condiments like soya sauce, Chinese 5-spice, etc.

The main dining room of the restaurant was a veritable 𝘸𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘬𝘢𝘮𝘮𝘦𝘳 crammed with a mind-boggling, eclectic collection of curios which Frederick amassed through the years. 𝗧𝗵𝗮𝘁, in itself, was justification enough to visit 𝗕𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗶𝘀𝗵 𝗛𝗮𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗻. :joy:


We see the oxtail.

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