Change seems to be a relative thing for Singaporean chef Edward Chua.
While he is at Raffles Hotel Le Royal this weekend to celebrate Singapore’s 51st Anniversary, the food that his preparing has been almost the same he has cooked when he became a chef 25 years ago.
While he says the dishes themselves have mostly stayed consistent, with Chua specialising in the Malay Chinese blend, or Peranakan, found in Singapore, the ingredients have changed.
“Nowadays people are more health conscious, so with the chicken rice I use less oil, less MSG,” he said.
“It was in the early ‘90s where it was more family style, but now, even though it’s the same dish,
it is a smaller portion now.”
Working at hotels such as Four Points and Swissotel Merchant Court, Chua said he has adapted his cooking style to meet a more international taste.
“There are more tourists who want the finer touch with food presentation, we have adapted to that area,” he said. “Personally I prefer the family style, it’s more enjoyable.”
Food and eating is seen as a national pastime in Singapore, with multiple ethnicities including British, Malaysian, Chinese, Indian and Indonesian, the range of local cuisines is seen as a major part of city state’s cultural identity.
The cuisine that Chua specialises in, Peranakan, stems from early Chinese migrants who intermarried into Malay, Indonesian and Penang families.
“Malay cuisine uses a lot of spices in the dishes, so during the colonial time when Chinese married Malay, they mixed to the two together with the ingredients to create the unique cuisine,” Chua said.
This uniqueness can be seen in Peranakan cuisine adopting Malay spices such as coconut milk and candlenuts, as well other elements including Thai ingredients such as tamarind.
Cooking runs in Chua’s family. He first fell in love with it while making food alongside his sister, while his turn at becoming a chef is thanks to his cousin, who is also in the business.
Chua said he hopes his time in Cambodia leads to him to discover some new ingredients to add to his medley, despite its relative obscurity compared to food from the rest of the region.
“There are some ingredients that I’ve only seen for the first time here so maybe they will complement the dishes I make,” he said.
“Cambodian cuisine is not as popular as Thai food, so they have a long way to catch up to make Cambodian food more recognisable.”
Chua will be showing off the best of his dishes, including laksa at a showcase tonight, after a successful tasting with the Singaporean ambassador, before the festival kicks off.
Despite the change, Chua said his taste in simple cooking remains the same.
“Laksa and chicken rice… these are the two dishes we will showcase tonight. I prefer noodles,” he said with a laugh.
The Singapore Food Festival is on from August 10-12 at Cafe Monivong, Raffles Hotel Le Royal. Admission: $27.