Peranakan cuisine is well-loved by Singaporeans, and is an essential part of the Singapore food scene. This cuisine is the result when you combine Chinese ingredients with distinct Malay and Indonesian spices and cooking styles. This beautiful fusion of Asian flavours form the culinary aspect of unique Peranakan culture, a sought-after cuisine that delights the tastebuds with its standout, complex flavour. Delight your tastebuds with food that is tangy, aromatic, spicy, and herbal.
As a Peranakan myself, I am admittedly quite picky with the Peranakan restaurants I frequent and the food I try. Of course, not many can rival my grandfather’s cooking and homemade Peranakan dishes that shaped my childhood. So when I finally find restaurants serving up delectable Peranakan dishes that tickles my fancy, I get a little bit excited.
Located in the newly-opened Xin Tekka food hall that is just next to Rochor MRT, Casa Bom Vento Express is a quaint food stall that sells authentic Peranakan-Eurasian cuisine with a modern twist. The food hall is also home to popular stalls such as Pang’s Hakka Noodles stall. Casa Bom Vento Express is run by Chef Lionel Chee and his wife Lyn, who are both Peranakan. They are the same people behind the iconic Casa Bom Vento restaurant that closed down a few years ago, and are now back after a four-year hiatus.
If you’ve been around the food scene for quite some time, you might be familiar with Casa Bom Vento, a halal food joint that used to serve up some solid Peranakan cuisine at Joo Chiat. I had the pleasure to speak to the stall owners, particularly chef Lionel, who was kind enough to explain the brief history of his ventures, his signature dishes, and how Casa Bom Vento Express came to be.
Chef Lionel has more than 25 years of experience under his belt, but he admits having a few blunders here and there when he first started out all the way back in 1995. Eurasian food caught his attention, but he did not know much about the cuisine, resulting in a bit of trial and error before he became familiar with the dishes. Being Peranakan himself, he aimed to fuse both cuisines into the dishes he served. When he was successful at doing so, his restaurant and catering services started to flourish.
Within a year, Casa Bom Vento was selected by the government as one of the top five catering companies. Yes, you heard that right! They used to cater to local dignitaries (we’re looking at former chief justices, past four Singapore presidents, the Prime Minister, ministers, foreign dignitaries, and the like). Chef Lionel was grinning from ear to ear when he recounted the time when the former Italian president himself came to patronise his restaurant in Joo Chiat.
For the next 20 years, Chef Lionel catered to every single government state board, and was even awarded Favourite Caterer Of The Year by People’s Association. “We only had 10 people in the restaurant, and once we even catered to crowds of 30,000 people. It wasn’t a small feat,” he chuckles as he recalls that memory. I couldn’t even mask the shock on my face when he said that. 30,000 people?!
It was also a surprise to find out that Chef Lionel ventured into French food many years back. It was a discipline he hadn’t tried yet, encouraging him to set up a tiny stall selling classical French dishes at affordable prices. His humble stall even caught the eye of Mediacorp, who featured him on their channel.
However, we’re all aware of how rapidly the economy can change, and Casa Bom Vento struggled to keep up with the changing patterns. They had their budgets cut down and had to retrench a number of their staff. The crowd patronising their restaurant was also decreasing in size, and Chef Lionel was forced to take a break and close down his restaurant.
That wasn’t the end of the road quite yet. He ventured into guiding, became a licensed tour guide, and went on to claim the title of being the first and only person in Singapore to be an ambassador for the World Food Travel Association.
Tourism was peaking until the fateful COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores. The pandemic caused tourism to go into decline, and Chef Lionel knew he had to come back to the F&B business. “Food was the next area of interest,” He explained. COVID-19 might have impacted and taken away a lot of businesses, but somehow it was the push that he needed to bring back his restaurant from the good old days.
“Surprisingly, our old customers come back quite often!” He gushed. If that doesn’t tell you a thing or two about how iconic and delicious his food is, I don’t know what will.
Of course, I couldn’t just visit without trying their bestselling dishes! I eagerly asked Chef Lionel if I could try his renowned Debal “Devil’s” Curry (S$8.50), which is served with either blue pea rice or French baguette. He was nice enough to give me a bowl to taste, and gave me a short history lesson about this Portuguese Eurasian dish. In Kristang, debal curry means "leftover curry", as it is usually served after Christmas and made out of leftovers from the Christmas meal. How fitting that I patronised this place just three days after Christmas, huh?
Anyways, debal curry is one of Singapore’s oldest recipes, dating back to over 500 years old. The original recipe was said to be very spicy, the taste lingered on for DAYS. But after numerous complaints, Chef Lionel diluted the spice. He also informed me that Casa Bom Vento Express is the only place in Singapore that sells debal curry over the counter.
Be warned: if you cannot handle your spice, I suggest that you skip this dish and try their other less spicy dishes instead. The debal curry might be a tad too spicy for you, but as somebody who loves spicy food, this was perfect for me.
Next up is his signature Nonya Dry Laksa (S$8.50), a modern twist to an old Singapore favourite, and one of their most popular dishes catering to the new generation. Their rempah is blended and cooked every day, and braised in laksa paste. Instead of the usual laksa noodles, he uses spaghetti that is cooked to al dente perfection. A very modern take on a traditional nonya laksa dish loved by many Singaporeans. Somehow, it works!
Lastly, he introduced me to his bestselling Oxtail Stew (S$15). Slow-braised for 6 hours, Chef Lionel can only produce four portions every time, and each portion consists of two pieces of oxtail. This dish has a very East meets West feel, as he blends the Western method of cooking the oxtail with Peranakan rempah. He recommends his oxtail stew to be served with mashed potatoes or fried rice.
Overall, Casa Bom Vento Express is a humble food stall that serves delectable Peranakan-Eurasian food, and I definitely recommend all of you to check it out!
Address: 2 Serangoon Road, Tekka Place Annex Block Stall #01-55, Singapore 218227
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 11am-7pm or till sold out
Contact: 8866 7866