FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD
If you know what a baba is, then you will know that BABA’S is a place meant for everyone, where diversity, culture and togetherness are celebrated. You won’t find any foie gras, espuma, or celebrity chefs here. But what you will find is real, honest food. Dishes that are made the way they were always intended — with a mishmash of influences — because that’s the baba way.
Babas love to have a good time. Babas are the soul of the party. They sing, dance and always have a story to share from their travels. Babas love food and the fellowship it creates amongst friends and family.
Traditionally, babas were super cool Chinese Peranakan guys, dressed in the latest trends, involved in the arts and keen entrepreneurs during colonial times. They were the creoles of Southeast Asia – a mishmash of cultures. And with this mélange of cultures comes a mixture of cuisines. That is the inspiration behind every dish at BABA’S.
The restaurant’s owner, Sean Lee, has been actively exploring the culinary traditions of the baba, painstakingly chronicling all the recipes he grew up with as well as the culinary experiences of the BABA’S team. He started by interviewing family members for their best recipes and proudly incorporating some of his own as well. BABA’S signature Nyonya Laksa Singapura is his paternal grandmother’s recipe, from the time when his family sold laksa at a food stall in the neighbourhood coffee shop.
“If my relatives were alive today they would be very happy to know that this family recipe has made its way across the ocean to hip and happening Seminyak … a fact I am most proud of” says Sean.
The food at BABA’S does have a slight twist, however. It is a representation of what babas are today. Traditional dishes are brought into the twenty-first century, holding on to what’s relevant. Old-school babas may turn up their noses or criticise these modern interpretations, but at BABA’S they don’t dwell on the past. They simply want to look back and celebrate baba culture today. The modern baba still loves his food and is proud of what his heritage has become.
A BABA’S Banquet
Just like a baba, BABA’S embraces a kaleidoscope of flavours, with dishes from the major ethnic groups of Southeast Asia: Chinese, Eurasian, Indian, Malay and Thai. Simple, uncomplicated and full of flavour — each dish has a story to tell.
Take the Tok Panjang appetiser plate, for example. Tok Panjang means “long table feasts,” an important part of the BABA’S philosophy. Here they believe a meal is made for sharing, because it brings people together and broadens the dining experience. It reflects Asian-style dinners, where families and friends reach across one another at the dining table, passing dishes, pouring each
other drinks and adding food to each other’s plates as a token of hospitality. The Tok Panjang encourages you to dine in the same spirit, sharing the food family-style.
“When it comes to the dining table, my Nyonya grandmother always believed in abundance; it signifies prosperity and conviviality, and our Tok Panjangs (long table feasts) are the ultimate expressions of sharing. These are moments of laughter, peace and joy,” said Lee.
The giant platter showcases a spectrum of authentic bites from across Southeast Asia, with some British influences thrown in for good measure. It also showcases the restaurant’s unpretentious style, in which the flavours of the food comes before the brand or its reputation. Who says you should pair the finest caviar with an exclusive Champagne? I’ll take BABA’S Chinese-style Golden Wanton Ingots with a side of Worcestershire sauce and the tinned-Lychee Martini any day.
Dip the succulent Chicken and Fish Satays into a rich, instant-coffee infused sauce or gobble an Indonesian Spring Roll with perfectly roasted carrots that are sprinkled with glazed sesame seeds. The tempeh goreng mixes all of Southeast Asia’s different types of tempeh and tofu, while the ‘Begadil Jagung’ corn cakes are the perfect finger food for chattering friends.
Next up is the famous Laksa Noodle Singapura. The rich and spicy aromas are the first thing to rock your senses, followed by the abundance of juicy shrimp, fish cakes and tofu that are gently cooked in the richly spiced coconut gravy broth. It has a pleasant kick to it, almost as fiery as its red and orange hues.
For a real taste of East meets West, try BABA’S Baby Back Ribs. The glaze is full of big flavours, but I can’t quite put my finger on the exact taste. Surely it can’t be coffee… on ribs? It does indeed turn out to be a caramelised coffee sauce, sweet yet savoury and with a whisper of sesame in the aftertaste. Mixed with the jasmine rice, it harmonises the flavours superbly, particularly when washed down with a beer…
Proud to be Different
BABA’S divorces itself from the stereotypes of other pan-Asian restaurants in a number of ways. First, you can’t really define the food at BABA’S in just a few words. Is it Asian tapas? Is it modern pub food? Is it luxury finger food? It’s a little bit of all of these, plus a healthy helping of history and wonderful stories handed down by generations of babas.
Second, BABA’S doesn’t revolve around a chef-owner, or a celebrity chef. The team are the hosts, and they are also part of the food that is served. Sean has explored their own culinary stories. They know what good food is, because they know what they like, and they are recreating recipes that have stood the test of time. They love food and they would never serve anything they wouldn’t eat themselves.
But after all is said and done, what you experience from BABA’S is up to you. It’s what memories or feelings or flavours are conjured up when you eat the food while basking in the Alice in Wonderland-styled al-fresco dining room. All you need to remember as you wander into the wonderland is that BABA’S represents a creole of Southeast Asian heritage, a celebration of their own mishmashed selves.
Sean Lee’s Baba Spring Rolls
The Spring Roll is a popular snack for Nyonya households throughout Southeast Asia. It is so popular that every ethnic group be it Chinese, Malay, or Muslim-Indian (known as “mamak“) has their own interpretation. So, with no exception Nyonya/baba also have their own take on this popular Chinese dish… this one passed down from Sean Lee’s grandmother.
This crispy appetizer is stuffed with fillings made of shredded carrots, shrimp, or pork. Other ingredients such as diced bean curds (firm tofu), mushrooms, and french beans can be added. The ingredients used are quite versatile, but there is one thing that’s almost always served with spring rolls – a dipping sauce. A closely guarded secret, Grandma baba’s spicy, sweet, salty, and garlicky dipping sauce will fire up the palate.
For the filling:
• 3 tbsp cooking oil
• 15g (1 clove) garlic finely minced
• 150g small prawns finely chopped
• 200g ground pork or chicken meat
• 100g dried shitake mushroom, soaked and diced
• 200g grated carrot
For the seasoning:
• 1.5 tbsp salt
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 1/8 tbsp white pepper powder
• 1 tbsp chicken stock granule
• 1 egg lightly beaten
• 23 pieces spring roll wrapper
For the dipping sauce:
• 1 tbsp bottled chilli sauce
• 2 tbsp bottle tomato sauce
• 2 tbsp HP sauce
• ¼ tbsp. table salt
• ½ tbsp. sugar
• 1.5 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1. Heat the oil in a wok till the wok smokes, then add in the garlic and fry until lightly brown. Reduce to a medium heat and add the chicken or pork, prawns and mushrooms. Stir and toss until the meat is lightly cooked, then add in the carrots.
2. Add the seasoning ingredients and stir and fold for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in the lightly beaten egg and mix well.
3. Dish out the ingredients and leave to cool on the side
4. Lay a spring roll sheet on a flat surface and spoon a heaped table spoon of the mixture onto the middle of the spring roll sheet. Fold in the left and right corners and roll up the spring roll. Seal the edge with a dab of water.
5. Heat oil in the wok over a medium heat.
6. Deep fry the rolls until golden brown, then drain on top of paper towels. Place on serving plate and serve with dipping sauce on the side.
7. For the dipping sauce mix in all the ingredients together and adjust to taste.