[Singapore] Halal Nyonya dinner at Babalicious, East Coast Parkway

Babalicious at Marine Cove is one of the rare Nyonya restaurants in Singapore which has a halal certification.

The origin of Nyonya cuisine, native to Singapore, Malacca and Penang, is estimated to be more than 4 centuries-old, amalgamating Chinese and native Malay-Indonesian cooking styles. As the Baba-Nyonya society is patriarchal, headed by a Chinese (Baba) husband, the cooking will normally have pork (the meat of choice for the Chinese) but spiced using Malay-Indonesian techniques as their wives were native Malay/Indonesians. By the 19th-century, Baba-Nyonyas have become largely Chinese in physical appearance, with the influx of Chinese immigration and the predilection of the Baba-Nyonyas to marry among their own fraternity, as well as with the newer Chinese immigrants. But the Baba-Nyonyas are culturally and linguistically closer to the native Malays than to the Chinese. Cuisine-wise, Nyonya food tilts towards spicy cooking, favoured by the Baba-Nyonyas, yet retaining the use of pork which the Muslim-Malays will shun.

In Singapore, most well-established Nyonya restaurants like Ivins, Charlie’s Peranakan or Guan Hoe Soon will offer popular dishes like Babi Pongteh (pork stewed with fermented soybeans/豆醬, coriander powder), Babi Tempra(pork with lime juice, soysauce), and Bakwan Kepiting (pork-and-crabmeat ball soup), among others.

However, Babalicious, since it started in 2016, has made a conscious effort to offer a pork-less menu, substituting pork for chicken in most of the Nyonya dishes on their menu. Their clientele included a large proportion of Malays, prompting the restaurant to finally apply for, and obtain a halal-certification from the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapore (MUIS), the official Muslim body responsible for certifying food outlets as halal, among its duties.

The young, personable Malay-speaking owner, Kevin Seah Hock Lye, and his Sarawak-born wife, Ruby Lim Mei Suan, oversee the busy 160-capacity restaurant with a crew of 15.

What we had for our family dinner on a Sunday evening last month:
(1) Bakwan kepiting - the chicken-and-crabmeat balls lacked the richness of pork (which will have the fatty part to lend juiciness to the meatballs) but still a fairly decent version, complete with bamboo shoots cut into matchstick-sized pieces.

(2) Ngoh hiang - this meat-roll wrapped in soybean sheets and deep-fried is a popular Chinese-Fujianese appetiser co-opted into Nyonya cuisine. Here again, the use of chicken meat in place of pork meant that the resultant dish is drier than I’m used to. But the 5-spice flavouring and other condiments used were spot-on.

(3) Otak-otak - very nice rendition of the spicy fish mousse dish.

(4) Beef rendang - average rendition. Beef rendang is not typical in Nyonya cuisine but probably included here to cater to their large Malay customer base. There is no beating a genuine beef rendang dish at a Padang-Indonesian or Malay eatery. The version here paled in comparison.

(5) Assam prawns - I didn’t quite enjoy the ones here as the prawns tasted like they were frozen ones, not fresh ones as I’d have liked.

(6) Ayam Buah Keluak - a perfectly respectable rendition of this very popular dish.

(7) Nyonya Chap Chye - an okay rendition. I can never find good Nyonya chap chye commercially in Singapore or Malaysia - it just has to be home-cooked as the “rempah” (spice mix) used in home-cooked version are never used in restaurants.

Babalicious fills a niche in the halal market, offering Nyonya cuisine to a Malay-Muslim clientele willing to give the unique dishes a try.

Marine Cove #01-02, 1000 East Coast Parkway
Singapore 449876
Tel: +65 66363681
Operating hours: 11am-3pm, 5pm-10pm Mon-Thu
11am-3pm, 5pm-11pm Fri
8am-3pm, 5pm-11pm Sat
8am-3pm, 5pm-10pm Sun