Hotels can adapt, recreate and interpret national signature dishes as long as the essence of the dish remains true. The result can be an innovative taste of home for locals and something exotic for international travellers.
“Same same, but different” is a saying in Thailand which perfectly captures the way well-loved classic dishes are being given new life by innovative chefs.
Take for example regional and international MICE travellers who often look for specialities of a country. Kitchens need a few recipes that will always be popular with visitors, but with their own special twist to delight travellers from everywhere.
It’s not about fusion; it’s about staying true to what made a dish a favourite in the first place, while making sure it does not just stay preserved like a piece of heritage.
Few have changed as fast as Singapore, which lays claim to signature dishes from three major races. Traditional dishes get a makeover at The Quarters, a restaurant serving food inspired by Singapore’s culture, where Malay satay is re-interpreted as a burger while retaining the spicy peanut sauce of the grilled street food; chicken rice, the hawker favourite, becomes a chicken poached in a Hainanese broth with chilli sauce; and chicken with a curry leaf and cream sauce captures Indian cuisine in a whole new way.
Thai flavours, such as the hot and sour notes of Thai broth tom yum goong, have also found their way into other dishes, such as tom yum fried rice and tom yum pasta. The Singapore restaurant Som Tam, for example, serves up tom yum truffle fries and tom yum chicken wings – just two of the fun new ways to enjoy a traditional flavour.
On the same note, classic tastes can be adapted for local ways of eating too. To cater to Western visitors who are more comfortable with burgers than skewered meats, Sambal Shiok Restaurant merges Malaysian flavours of satay and beef rendang with pickles and sambal chilli, in their burger patties served with toasted buns.
Sometimes it can simply be a case of packaging timeless food into an easier to manage mouthful. Chilli crab is popular in Singapore, but even its greatest fans will agree that it’s messy to eat. So The Bao Makers Café and Bakery took the three essential parts – mantou buns, crab meat and chilli sauce – and made them into something between a burger and a pau.
Meanwhile, restaurant chain Din Tai Fung combines sweet, delicate crabmeat and hot chilli in a steamed pau: easier to eat, but no less tasty. This item is among their range of ‘signature’ pau, proving that reinventing one classic dish can turn it into another.
Hotels can also put their mark on traditional food while still protecting the authentic core. Giovanni Sias, Waterfront Manila Pavilion Hotel’s Executive Chef, says “I recently did chicken adobo. I chopped the meat, mixed it with goat cheese, egg white, and the adobo sauce, and then froze it to firm it up. And then I rolled it in flour, egg, and bread, and I made chicken adobo croquette.” Also in the Philippines, the Manila Hotel’s Café Ilang-Ilang simply added adobo to pizza, delighting traditionalists and adventurers alike.
Perhaps Michelle Lean, the Cordon Bleu-trained host of CCTV’s Travelogue show says it best when it comes to re-inventing classic dishes: “I love the movement of these different cuisines, as it brings so much more variety to a city.”1
Indeed, whether it’s re-interpreting a traditional classic or giving a well-loved favourite a twist, chefs can always find so many ways to re-invent flavours and create a whole new spectrum of taste.