Perhaps I’m bias but I truly believe that Singapore food are some of the most unique & delicious because there’s so many aromatic herbs & ingredients that’s available only in this part of the world so her cuisine are always bold & full of flavour.
Between 1840 to 1950, factors such as economic hardship and war pushed large waves (in the millions) of Southern Chinese to migrate to Southeast Asia - Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia - in search for work. Over time, some of them decided to settle in Southeast Asia, adopting the native’s customs & marrying locally. As a result, their offsprings became what were known as Peranakan Chinese, a person of mixed Chinese & Malay/Indonesia heritage & they adopted Chinese as well as local traditions in their way of life, from the way they dress to their religious practices.
Peranakan food are an important hallmark of the emergence of these unique blend of these cultures. One of their classics is Ikan Assam Pedas or Sour & Spicy Fish - a dish of local fish stewed in a hot, spicy & tangy broth. While the flavours are bold & pack a punch, it‘s quite unlike the Tom Yum soup from Thailand which is also hot & sour. There’s a zest & sweetness that differentiates the two.
However, Peranakan food is notoriously elaborate & a dish like Ikan Assam Pedas has easily 20 ingredients, and before kitchen appliances existed, the various herbs & spices would have to be finely chopped & pounded to the consistency of a paste, which are tasks that would have taken hours. Hence why, it’s not uncommon to see a Nonya (Peranakan lady; males are known as Baba) bustling round the kitchen for an entire day to prepare an evening meal. Cooking Peranakan food are a grand affair that would involve several of the women in the family.
Nowadays, good, fresh pastes are available to buy from Asian provision shops so it’s possible to make Peranakan food without having to slave over the stove for a day.
I personally prefer to use a paste to save time & enhance the flavour through additional spices.
IKAN ASSAM PEDAS
Ikan Assam Pedas paste
3 x lemongrass
3 x shallots
3 x garlic
Thumb of ginger
2-3 x red chillies, roughly chopped (de-seed if you don’t want it too spicy)
3 x tomatoes, chopped
Small jug of stock (veg, chicken, fish - up to you)
1 pack diced mixed fish (fish pie mix)
Bunch of sugar snaps, halved
10-12 x new potatoes, halved
3 x carrots, thickly sliced
Handful of peas or broadbeans
Some brown sugar
1. Slice & dice the shallots, garlic & ginger & pound them into a paste-y consistency
2. Chopped lemongrass into 3 sections & pound then to release their aroma
3. Heat up some cooking oil in a casserole dish & throw in the shallot, garlic & ginger paste + lemongrass & chillies; stir fry for a couple of minutes so they soften out
4. Add the tomatoes followed by the Assam Pedas paste & fry for no more than 2 mins or when tomatoes begin to soften
5. Pour & stir the stock in with the ingredients in the dish; when it starts to boil, throw in the carrots & potatoes - at this moment, you may wish to turn the heat down to a simmer so it’s bubbling lightly
6. You may want to taste the broth - salt & pepper if required; add some brown sugar to balance out the tanginess from the tomatoes
7. Simmer for 15 mins roughly then add in the peas/broad beans + sugar snaps; simmer for another 5-8 mins depending on how soft/crunchy you like your veg
8. Quickly taste again if you like, to make sure flavours are good & adjusting where necessary
9. You want to add the fish at the very end coz it only takes minutes to cook; turn up the heat & bring the broth to boil - once it starts to bubble, add in the diced fish pieces
10. Let it cook for no more than 5 mins; over-boiling & the fish will disintegrate - as long as it’s cooked through, it’s ready to be serve
Hongyi the yogi
Full-time yoga teacher & trainee yoga therapist in London. Eager to share, eager to learn!