The mélange of culinary cultures that has gone to make up Singaporean cuisine is justly celebrated, but according to 36-year-old chef Quentin Pereira, above, there is one kind of cooking Eurasian that has been overlooked. "It's very sad when Eurasian is lumped together with Straits cooking or Peranakan," he says, referring to the predominantly Chinese-Malay style that developed along the Singapore Strait. "Our kind of fusion is backed by 500 years of tradition and a lot of love."
Seven years back, Pereira set up a food-court stall to replicate Eurasian recipes passed down from his grandmother through his "Sunday cook" dad. Two years later, he opened a café and last December moved the eponymous operation, www.quentins.com.sg, into Eurasian Community House, headquarters of Singapore's Eurasian Association. From there, he caters to the curious and to a Eurasian population of around 20,000. Pereira claims that his place is "the only true Eurasian restaurant left in town."
Like Pereira's family name, and an Association lobby fitted with blue tiles, the European lineage in Singapore goes back to the first Portuguese explorers, who arrived via Malacca (although there were later Dutch and British arrivals). But unlike similar restaurants in Macau, where Lusitanian mainstays like dried cod and sausage are faithfully reproduced, or the travesty of Malacca's Portuguese Village, which simply offers mediocre Chinese food, Quentin's serves up long-simmered, syncretic specialities. The style is mostly Indian (going back to Portuguese Goa) with Malay additions, but a couple of Eurasian takes on Western staples (like pot roast or shepherd's pie) make it onto the menu, too.
Pereira's lack of formal training can result in homely items like "cutlets" that are humongous croquette balls made of corned beef hash spiked with cilantro but then that's part of the charm. Three dishes come recommended: prawns bostador, which shocks the tongue with strips of fresh green chilies (bostador means "slap" in Kristang, the Portuguese-Malay creole originally spoken by many Singapore Eurasians); pementa chicken, which is oily yet light, and showered with fresh peppercorns; and devil's curry, made with chicken or oxtail and served with the very European addition of ham hocks and bacon bones. "The devil in the name isn't about spiciness," says Pereira, explaining that it is instead a corruption of the Kristang word debal, or "leftover."
Diners at Quentin's often finish with his trademark sugee, a popular Eurasian almond cake that goes well with a brandy. If you visit while the rest of Eurasian Community House is open, you'll find postprandial diversions in occasional exhibitions on the community's history or in browsing the range of Eurasian books and CDs for sale in the third-floor secretariat.
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