Violet Oon is a name familiar to many. With three eponymous restaurants under her name, she remains one of Singapore’s most prominent food connoisseurs and often acts as our little island’s food ambassador whenever she is abroad. Oon has also written three cookbooks: Peranakan Cooking, Violet Oon Cooks, and A Singapore Family Cookbook, with a fourth in the works.
Why should people spend time exploring the food scene in Katong?
There’s still a lot of past in Katong, which is beautiful. If you visit this neighbourhood, you should enjoy all those things that herald from decades ago, which are still there today — such as Chin Mee Chin and Mei Yuen. When they’re gone, they’re gone. We can create things at any time, but once the old is gone, it’s never coming back, especially in Singapore. It’s so different from Spain, for example, where you get the most innovative chefs but the tapas bars are like how it was 300 years ago. It’s very important that as the culture changes, the past shouldn’t die with it.
What do you love most about the places that you’ve recommended?
At Katong Antique House, which only opens on Sunday mornings till it sells out, the popiah, durian salat, nasi kunyit, and pineapple tarts are very famous. You can’t get it cooked this way anywhere else in Singapore — it’s old-fashioned and very authentic. As for Chin Mee Chin, it’s always full of queues but I’ve been going there since I was a child. It’s known for its kaya, cream puffs, and butter cakes. It’s been like that for forever. I also love the duck rice at Mei Yuen, and how the laksa at Roxy Square took their version of home cooking and elevated the dish. Finally, at Glory Catering, even though what they sell might be similar to Katong Antique House, every chef cooks differently and that’s the beauty of it. You get various recipes and interpretations of the same thing.
What does starting the Violet Oon business mean to you?
For my children (Su-Lyn and Yiming) and myself, it’s slightly romantic because it involves the food they grew up with. We make our own spices and don’t buy any sauces or use any MSG. On a restaurant front, we try and make it as home-style as possible — the difference is that you elevate the ingredients.