Hakka cuisine is becoming a rarity in Singapore, partly because the younger generation (like myself) are more drawn to fusion dishes rather than sticking to tradition. This restaurant in River Valley hopes to bridge the gap by serving unique Mexican-European-Hakka dishes. Who would’ve thought that these three cuisines could come together so seamlessly?
Martin’s Kitchen is located along Zion Road in River Valley and is the first restaurant in Singapore to serve dishes inspired by the bold flavours of Mexican, European and Hakka cuisine. On the menu, you’ll find your traditional Hakka favourites like lei cha or thunder tea rice, “abacus seed”, kong ba pao, and more but with a slight twist.
The Hakka “Lei Cha” Chopped Salad is inspired by the classic Mexican chopped salad. The salad comes with a unique house-made matcha vinaigrette that is drizzled over the chopped veggies, preserved radish, and spiced peanuts. Fun fact: this was actually my first time trying lei cha and it was really refreshing.
The pickled radish added a touch of sourness to the dish, while the peanuts added a nice crunch. The matcha flavours from the vinaigrette is a little muted so matcha lovers might not enjoy this dressing. But, it is a very unique and unexpected pairing (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t typically eat salads).
As an avid fan of ravioli, you can only imagine the excitement I had when Hakka Ravioli was served. The ravioli is stuffed with minced pork, fish and prawn filling, topped with a blend of Szechuan sauce and habanero oil — kinda like a chilli oil dumpling.
The ravioli dough is made in-house and has a nice and chewy consistency, which contrasts well with the smooth filling. I absolutely loved the fragrant chilli and the crispy yam which gave the dish a delightful crunch.
Of course, you cannot go to a Hakka restaurant and not order the Hakka staple “abacus seeds”. Here, the abacus seeds are also made with a slight European twist, hence the name “Abacus Seed” Yam Gnocchi.
The dish comprises leek, shimeiji, dried shrimp, sakura ebi, and dried ceps, doused in a secret in-house sauce to enhance the flavours. I really liked that the chef tried to mimic the chewiness of the yam in his rendition of abacus seed.
Flavour-wise, the dish tasted very much like a creamy mushroom soup. However, I think I’ll stick to the traditional abacus seed dish as it’s much more savoury and flavourful.
If you enjoy tacos and kong ba pao, then you will definitely enjoy this next dish. The Kong Ba Pao Taco. The braised pork belly had a good fat-to-meat ratio and the sweet marinade just stole my heart. The fatty layer melt-in-your-mouth soft while the meat was tender and juicy.
Unlike your usual kong ba pao which typically comes with a soft steamed bun, Martin’s Kitchen’s rendition comes with a tortilla garnished with pickled cucumber, red onion, and coriander mayo — yes that’s right, coriander. While the coriander flavour isn’t overpowering, you’ll still be able to taste hints of it towards the end. So, if you’re not a fan of coriander, this dish might not be for you.
On the menu are two noodle dishes — the “Hokkien Mee” Tagliatelle and the Hakka Noodles. The noodles are all made in-house and have a very nice chewy consistency. It’s a tough choice choosing my favourite between the two but I’d have to go with the Hokkien Mee Tagliatelle.
The lobster and prawn broth used in the hokkien mee is simmered for over eight hours to give it a robust and very umami flavour. This dish is only available in limited amounts daily so make sure to grab it when you’re there!
Otherwise, the Hakka Noodles are also a good alternative. Spice-lovers, make sure to try the super spicy red habanero, jalapenos habanero, and chipotle hot sauce. It certainly has a potent and fiery kick to it.
Of course we had to have dessert, and we had the Hakka Mochi “Qiba” (yes that is the actual name of this dish). It comprises traditional Hakka mochi, fried coconut shavings, peanut brittle, and red bean jelly, drizzled in an orange chocolate glaze. I loved the chewy mochi and the sweet peanut brittle which brought me back to my childhood. I was, however, not a fan of the orange chocolate glaze.
Drinks-wise, we tried Martin’s Kitchen’s Hakka-inspired cocktail, he Thunder Tea cocktail, which was sweet and creamy, with the chopped silverfish and peanuts adding a slight touch of savouriness to it. There’s also a light matcha fragrance to the drink — having tried this drink, I can see why some people enjoy the matcha-alcohol mix.
Other notable cocktails include the Martin’s Negroni and the Flor De Sauco which has a very pretty artwork printed on top of the drink.
Which of these modern Hakka dishes are you most excited to try? Reservations to Martin’s Kitchen can be made here.
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Photos by Marcus Leong