A restau­rant seeks the mid­dle ground be­tween two cuisines

Balestier crosses bound­aries and fuses two cuisines

Northern Living - - CONTENTS - TEXT OLIVER EMOCLING PHO­TOG­RA­PHY SAM LIM

Balestier Road is a Sin­ga­porean food des­ti­na­tion. But be­fore it be­came home to hun­dreds of hawk­ers and restau­rants, it has al­ways been a food hub. It used to be a mar­ket, then a food ra­tion dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter dur­ing World War II. Even be­fore that, Amer­i­can Con­sul Joseph Balestier orig­i­nally used the land as a sug­ar­cane plan­ta­tion in the 1830s. The idea of an Amer­i­can tilling Sin­ga­porean soil led restau­rant pro­pri­etor Mi­kee Ro­driguez to build a fu­sion restau­rant named af­ter the place, where he also had his culi­nary train­ing.

While it may seem dif­fi­cult to find a mid­dle ground be­tween Western and Asian cuisines, Ro­driguez eas­ily dis­cov­ered their sim­i­lar traits: both cuisines (Ital­ian and Asian, in par­tic­u­lar) have rice, noo­dles, and lots of carbs. “A lot of [our] fla­vors are Asian, but the way they’re cooked is Western,” he says.

His affin­ity for fu­sion cui­sine is ev­i­dent in the slid­ers: he uses man­tou buns in­stead of reg­u­lar buns. There are three baowich op­tions at Balestier: pulled short rib, chili crab, and chicken; the pulled short rib, how­ever, stands out. The steamed man­tou cra­dles ten­der slices of saucy and sa­vory braised beef short rib that had been cooked for four hours, and the re­sult is akin to the ubiq­ui­tous siopao. Al­though the fill­ing is vis­i­ble, the sweet­ness from the cin­na­mon

and other herbs still sur­prises the palate. Each baowich is served with sweet po­tato chips on the side.

Ro­driguez also merges Sin­ga­porean and Ja­panese cuisines in his laksa tsuke­men. The dish is like a de­con­structed laksa: the egg noo­dles, topped with prawns, fish cake, and sous vide egg, are served sep­a­rate from the laksa soup. You have to crack the egg to let its runny yolk mix with the noo­dles, then you dip the noo­dles into the soup. The egg makes the dish creamy yet ev­ery slurp of the laksa leaves a mild spicy fla­vor in the mouth.

“At Ital­ian restau­rants, ev­ery­one or­ders pasta and pizza, but I al­ways get the risotto,” Ro­driguez says. Since he grew up eat­ing Ital­ian food for Sunday lunches and fam­ily cel­e­bra­tions, he also tries to shine a new light on his fa­vorite dish by us­ing bak kut teh in­stead of chicken stock. “It’s ac­tu­ally hang­over food in Sin­ga­pore,” he says of the pork rib broth. The re­sult is a hearty meal that’s both pe­cu­liar and fa­mil­iar.

For Ro­driguez, the food he presents at Balestier is his sim­ple definition of com­fort food. “[If I com­pli­cate things,] that de­feats the pur­pose of en­joy­ing the food.” The twists he had made to clas­sic cuisines may sound com­plex at first, but at the end of the day, it’s still easy to revel in each dish.

Laksa tsuke­men is Balestier’s take on the clas­sic laksa, eaten like tsuke­men.

Chili crab, chicken, and pulled short rib baowich.

Mi­kee Ro­driguez and Mandy de Rivera crafted Balestier’s brand­ing.

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