A Taste Of The Past

Any Singaporean worth his or her sambal belacan knows how seriously we take our makan. So what better way to celebrate National Day than to set off some loud, patriotic rumblings in our stomachs? Challenge invited four homegrown chefs to each whip up a dish inspired by their memories of growing up in Singapore.
A Taste Of The Past

Chef Malcolm Lee, Candlenut

Chef Malcolm Lee has made a name for himself at Candlenut by mixing modern cooking methods and traditional Peranakan tastes. For Challenge, he went back to basics, making a red coconut curry infused with lemongrass and garnished with kaffir lime – a dish his mum, a personal chef, used to make at home. Back when HDB blocks only had lift landings at every four levels, Malcolm lived on level seven. He would take the lift to level nine and walk down two floors. “I remember being able to smell when my mum was cooking the curry paste from two floors above, making my way down the staircase,” he shared. It’s an experience he misses as his busy mum doesn’t cook at home as much anymore. Happily, he is taking up the mantle and updating this familiar dish with a bit of posh: succulent prawns and lobster, anyone?

Chef Malcolm is keeping his mum’s curry recipe a secret – but he was so inspired by the memories of it that the dish is now available on his menu at Candlenut.


Chef Willin Low, Wild Rocket

Lawyer-turned-chef Willin Low is best known for his Mod Sin (modern Singapore) cuisine – a modern take on Singapore flavours, hawker dishes and the food he grew up with. The self-taught chef has titillated many a taste bud with his desserts such as deconstructed chendol. For Challenge, he whipped up a rockmelon sorbet with swirls of red strawberry and salty ume (Japanese plum) – all served up in a cone. “I was six years old and waiting for mum to get a thumbprint done for a combined passport, when I accidentally bit my lips and they bled,” he recounted. “Poor Mum had to deal with the immigration officer and a crying boy with an inked thumb.” To appease him, his mother took him to the hawker centre next door and got him a slice of rockmelon. “It was my first rockmelon and it was super sweet (with a hint of saltiness because of the blood on my lips) and I stopped crying.” Now that’s a sweet memory to have.


(This recipe uses a Pacojet micro-puree machine.)

Ingredients for rockmelon sorbet

  • 1 small rockmelon
  • 6 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp glucose

Ingredients for strawberry ume swirl

  • 6 large frozen strawberries
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 3 red Sng Muay (sourplum, with seeds removed and chopped)
  • pinch of salt
  1. Half the melon. Remove skin and seeds. Juice half the melon and cut the remaining half into 2-inch cubes.
  2. Dissolve the sugar and glucose in the juice.
  3. Pour everything into the Pacojet beaker. Freeze 24 hours.
  4. Meanwhile, make the strawberry ume swirl. In a non-stick pan, cook the strawberries over low heat until the juice is released.
  5. Add the sugar, salt and the Sng Muay. Let the strawberries break down and the syrup thicken until it can coat the back of a wooden spoon.
  6. Pacotise the beaker completely. Stir in the strawberry ume sauce from the middle. Scoop and serve.

Chef Sebastian Ho, Sebastian Mix Fusion Cuisine

Serving Italian-Japanese fusion fare from a stall in Everton Park HDB estate, Chef Sebastian Ho is one of a growing number of young hawkers. His food, though humble, comes perfectly plated, a mark of his SHATEC-training and having worked in hotels like the Ritz Carlton. Despite his work experience, he has always been most inspired in his home kitchen – as a boy he loved to help his mum with cooking. So for this feature, he chose an unassuming dish: fried Hokkien mee. “It’s my favourite food from primary school days,” he shared. “I used to have it almost every day. I loved the sauce.” In his version, the noodles come with a twist of the fork and flavour, replaced by Italian-style pasta and served with Japanese konbu (kelp) prawn stock. Buon appetito!


(Serves 4)


  • 500g capellini pasta
  • 24 pieces prawns, peeled and cut into bits
  • 4 strips streaky bacon, cut into bits
  • 2 pieces konbu
  • Sakura ebi
  • 1 handful Bonito flakes
  • Nori seaweed (optional)

For the konbu prawn stock

  1. Peel all prawns and set aside.
  2. Boil 1L of water with all prawn shells and head with 2 pieces of konbu and a handful of bonito flakes.
  3. Simmer for 15 mins or until the stock is almost half. Drain and set aside stock.

For the pasta

  1. Fry the sakura ebi in olive oil until crispy. Drain and reserve oil.
  2. Use the same oil to fry bacon bits till brown. Drain and reserve oil.
  3. Cook pasta in a pot of salted boiling water. Cook pasta till it's al dente (60 secs short). Toss in olive oil and leave it to cool down under a fan if possible.
  4. In a frying pan, saute minced garlic with reserve oil till almost brown, add in prawns bits and bacon bits.
  5. Add in the konbu prawn stock and leave it to braise for a while before adding the pasta.
  6. Toss and serve it on a plate and top it off with the crispy sakura ebi and nori.

Chef Benny Se Teo, Eighteen Chefs

Chef Benny Se Teo’s chequered past is well known. A former drug offender who spent 10 years in prison, he is now a force for good with his chain of casual dining outlets that gives ex-convicts a second chance. He takes the Halal status of his business very seriously, so when he wanted to share his dish, he invited Challenge to his home instead. There, he prepared steamed pork with prawn paste – authentic Cantonese cuisine that he remembers his parents making when he was growing up in their HDB home. “This was also served to guests when my parents got married,” he said. More poignantly, he added: “One day, my mum came to the police station to bail me out and made me this dish when we came home.” Comfort food for a man who now offers hope to those on the margins.


(Serves 4)


  • Pork belly (get an amount worth $3)

Marinate with:

  • 2 tbs prawn paste from Hong Kong
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 2 tsp tapioca flour
  • 2 tsp peanut oil
  • 60 ml of water
  1. Leave for half an hour
  2. Steam for half an hour
  3. Garnish with scallions, red chilli and coriander and serve
    Jul 2, 2014
    Siti Maziah Masramli
    Bridgette See
    John Heng
    Yip Siew Fei
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