I was very glad to have been invited to a food tasting at Makko Teck Neo last week. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have discovered this lovely quaint and serene neighbourhood of Telok Blangah Rise where the retro-themed and vintage-style Old Habits Boutique & Cafe is also located in.
I love hidden gems in the heartlands. 🙂
Makko Teck Neo was first established in 2008 as a confectionery that specialised in all kinds of Chinese New Year goodies – think pineapple tarts, sugee cookies, kueh dahlia and the like. They offered catering services previously (still accepting bulk orders now) and decided to have a physical restaurant space too when their long-time patrons encouraged them to go into the business.
Makko (means ‘Aunt’ in Peranakan culture) Teck Neo (name of the Peranakan lady chef behind this restaurant) serves up authentic Peranakan home cooking in a homely and humble setting with old-school, kopitiam-style marble tables, wooden chairs and retro floor tiles.
The menu mainly consists of well-loved family recipes that Auntie Teck Neo had painstakingly put together over the years.
And these are just some of their signatures.
As it was a very hot afternoon, it would be nice to start off with some homemade drinks like Water Chestnut and Barley (S$1.90 each), both of which were refreshing and not overly sweet.
What a glorious sight to behold. Peranakan food is one of my favourite cuisines because my late Granny had Peranakan roots (her mum was a true-blue Nyonya) and she used to make assam fish curry, assam prawns, chap chye, lontong and ngoh hiang especially on festive occasions like Chinese New Year. This meal really brought back a lot of fond childhood memories and I was deeply touched to be eating these food that meant a lot to me while growing up.
The Nyonya Pork Chop (S$11.90) was a totally different rendition of pork chop unlike those crispy pork chop or cutlet you would get from Western food stalls or Japanese restaurants because this pork chop was just coated in egg and then pan-fried. It wasn’t heavily battered and it wasn’t crispy or crunchy on the outside but it had a lovely eggy fragrance from the coating with a strong taste of ground white pepper. The pork chop was of an ideal thickness, was tender and almost effortless to chew. The accompanying sweet & sour sauce was well balanced and it was a real delight to dip the sliced pork chop into the sauce.
These bite-sized Ngoh Hiang (S$11.90) were so addictive, I couldn’t stop popping them into my mouth. It was very salty when the first piece touched the tongue because beancurd skin is salty in general but thankfully the filling inside wasn’t heavily seasoned so there was a good balance of flavours. Dipping the ngoh hiang into the sweet chilli sauce would somewhat counteract that saltiness too. The filling had bits of water chestnut that were very crunchy and I liked that it wasn’t heavy or overly meaty.
This Ayam Buah Keluak (S$14.90) totally stole the spotlight. If there is just one dish to order when you’re eating Peranakan food, this is the one not to be missed.
The chicken thighs were tender and juicy. There was also a piece of pork rib in it. The curry gravy was creamy and fragrant. But it’s not about the meat and it’s also not about the curry.
The hero of the dish had got to be the Buah Keluak (black nut). A small spoon was provided so we could dig out all that thick, black flesh from the inside of the nut.
If you aren’t aware, the Buah Keluak is actually a poisonous tree because it contains hydrogen cyanide so the seeds/nuts would have to go through a fermentation process before they can become edible. Buah Keluak is very commonly used in Peranakan cooking.
And it is because of the fermentation stage that the seeds would turn from white to black colour. The black flesh inside the nut tasted similar to fermented black bean or soy bean paste. It was savoury and sweet and it really made the curry taste more rich and robust.
Rice is definitely needed to go with this dish. Otherwise, it would be too salty to eat on its own.
By the way, they serve basmati rice (S$1.50 per portion) instead of Thai jasmine rice. The rice was cooked perfectly – not too hard or too soft – individual grains could still be seen.
These Fried Assam Prawns (S$10.90) were exactly like how my Granny used to make them. Salty, delicious and a little charred on the outside – these are characteristics of a good fried assam prawn dish. The prawns were meaty, fresh and crunchy and the shells were kinda crispy so we could just eat the prawns with the shells on (some parts were hard so just spit them out – not a big deal). I also chewed and sucked on the prawn heads that were so full of flavour. Finger-licking good.
They used patin fish (a type of freshwater catfish) for their Assam Fish Curry (S$11.90). The fish meat felt firm to the touch but would still melt in the mouth (to my surprise). It tasted muddy and a little fishy which was typical of freshwater fish. The gravy was redolent of assam (tamarind) and was tangy and robust-tasting.
I ordered the Achar (S$6) which I thought would make an ideal palate cleanser. Loved the crunchiness of the vegetables but unfortunately there was too much sugar in it so the flavour of the spices was just overwhelmed by that sweetness.
I believe this achar contained cabbage but because I had mentioned to them earlier that I didn’t eat cabbage (‘cos Doc asked me to stay away from cruciferous vegetables since my thyroid surgery last year – so sad!) when they tried to recommend me their Chap Chye, they must have taken note of my preference and removed all traces of cabbage in this achar. Didn’t expect them to do that but nonetheless I really appreciated it.
I would never miss out on ordering these Nyonya Kueh Pie Tee (S$9.90) which has always been my favourite thing to snack on since I was a kid. The shells were crispy and the jicama (‘mang guang’) filling was juicy and very tasty too. Some of the KPTs that we would get from elsewhere wouldn’t even come with prawns of such size – these prawns were fresh and crunchy to the bite. A separate squeeze bottle of chilli sauce was given which was quite thoughtful so we could adjust the amount of chilli based on our individual preferences.
The Dry Mee Siam (S$5.80) might not come with any gravy like the regular mee siam but this was actually quite moist and not ‘dry’ at all. There was a dollop of thick mee siam gravy in the middle and it was best to toss the rice vermicelli thoroughly before eating so they could be evenly coated in the essence of that concentrate.
Every mouthful of the mee siam was packed with so much flavour from the spices used. I enjoyed the fiery spice that gradually kicked in and with a squeeze of that calamansi lime, the overall taste was immediately boosted with an extra tangy note. Very appetising. I also loved those puffy-looking tau pok (fried beancurd puff) cubes as they oozed out juice (or rather, gravy) when bitten into. Best thing was, this mee siam wasn’t oily at all.
The Chendol (S$4.90) was served in a milkshake glass with a straw and a long spoon.
The ice was quite coarse but at least they wouldn’t melt so easily. The gula melaka syrup was right at the bottom of the glass so try to mix everything up as much as you can.
Overall, it wasn’t too sweet and there wasn’t too much coconut milk too so the taste was well balanced between the various elements. Besides the green-coloured chendol jelly, there were also red kidney beans and attap chee.
This was definitely one of the best Burbur Cha-Cha (S$4.90) I ever had which had more ingredients than soup, lol.
The yam and the sweet potatoes were so soft, they just melted in the mouth. And those coloured tapioca jelly cubes gave a nice chewy texture too. Not overly sweet or overly coconut-milky. Overall, this didn’t taste cloying or heavy at all. Good!
The Nonya Dumpling (S$3.90) had a tinge of blue colour on the bottom which came from butterfly pea flowers as pictured above.
This rice dumpling had so much ingredients in it that was evenly distributed so you’d get rice and meat with every mouthful. It was more on the sweeter side which made the filling taste like meat floss.
There were also many different varieties of kueh kueh and snacks that we could buy and bring home to enjoy.
The Pineapple Tarts (price list below) were very crumbly and I just loved that light, melt-in-the-mouth texture.
They didn’t feel greasy to the touch but would have been perfect if they were more buttery.
The pineapple jam wasn’t overly sweet and still had the texture of pineapple fibres. These tarts were pretty addictive.
Prices for the pineapple tarts are as follows:
S$2.50 for 3 pieces (small packet)
S$8 for 10 pieces (pictured above)
S$19 for 24/25 pieces
$23 for 50 pieces (mini tarts)
What I love most about Nyonya kueh are their vibrant colours that make them look so delicious too. And indeed I enjoyed all of these kueh kueh but my favourite had got to be the yellow-green one right at the back. That was the Kueh Talam (S$1.10) made from pumpkin (yellow) and pandan (green). It had a lovely eggy flavour just like kaya.
The green-coloured rolls on the front aka Kueh Dadar (S$1.10) had a coconut filling that wasn’t too sweet and still had ample fragrance of gula melaka (coconut palm sugar). The smooth-tasting crepe skin was of a nice thickness and spongy texture.
The multi-coloured Kueh Lapis Beras (S$1.00) had a springy texture (neither too hard not too soft) but was quite sweet. It was just fun to peel and eat the layers one and one.
The Kueh Salat Pandan (S$1.10) was not bad too. The green part was like a pandan custard/pudding and the other half of glutinous rice with a tinge of blue colour (from butterfly pea flowers too) was al dente and very fragrant.
If you are a Peranakan food lover, it is definitely worth coming to Makko Teck Neo for its homey fare. I highly recommend the Dry Mee Siam, Ayam Buah Keluak, Ngoh Hiang, Nyonya Pork Chop, Fried Assam Prawns and Kueh Pie Tee. Remember to leave room for the Burbur Cha-Cha and kueh kueh too. Extremely comforting meal.
And if you think you have had too much to eat, go take a walk at Mount Faber Park which is just next to this neighbourhood. Perfect way to walk off those calories! 😉
Makko Teck Neo
Blk 35 Telok Blangah Rise
Tel: +65 6275 1330
7.30am to 9.00pm (Tue-Sun)
Closed on Mon
Disclaimer: This was an invited food tasting session. All opinions expressed here are my own personal views.