Have you heard of kedgeree? How about country captain chicken curry?
These are Anglo-Indian dishes that have fallen into relative obscurity in Singapore today, but are rich in tradition. The history of British presence in our region is well known, but perhaps what is less remembered is that they had an influence on our cuisine, too.
We discovered this, along with Chef Zach Elliott-Crenn of London’s Michelin-starred Portland restaurant, when he was in town last week to do a four-hands collaboration with Chef Seumas Smith of modern European restaurant Maggie Joan’s.
The event was focused on the best of British produce brought over from the UK. But during his time here, Elliott-Crenn and Smith got an insight into how British flavours evolved into unique Anglo-Indian dishes – served up by heritage food guru Chef Damian D’Silva. CNA Lifestyle had the pleasure of going along for the ride.
An early-morning wet market sojourn acquainted us with the intricacies of Indian spices such as turmeric and fennel, as D’Silva took us to his favourite spice shop at a market in New Upper Changi Road.
He then took us back to his house, where tantalising smells of expert cooking began to emanate from the kitchen. “I enjoy cooking for my friends,” said D’Silva, explaining that the dishes he was about to serve us originally evolved from the interaction of British wives with their south Indian domestic helpers.
First up was the kedgeree, a dish of rice cooked with smoked haddock and garnished with boiled eggs. Typically a breakfast dish, D’Silva explained that the rice comes alive after you squeeze a lemon over it. “I’ve never tasted anything like this before,” said Elliott-Crenn, tucking in with relish.
The mulligatawny, a soup with shredded chicken, was Smith’s favourite, he said, indicating that he wouldn’t mind a second helping at all.
And country captain chicken curry, D’Silva explained, is a dish named after the captains of the ships, known as country ships, that used to sail the straits.
“I knew of these dishes but I didn’t know of their heritage,” said Smith, adding that he was inspired to try putting his own spin on the dishes. “I’d do a take on the kedgeree. It’d be interesting. I’d do a more western version of it, perhaps by doing a risotto. I might try different versions of the eggs.”
As for Elliott-Crenn, he’s inspired to try making a fennel ice cream in “maybe a chocolate dessert”. “The freshness of the fennel seeds in Indian cooking is just wonderful,” he said.