If you have been to Peru, you would know that canchita is a type of corn, typically eaten as a snack in and around the region. And at Canchita Peruvian Cuisine, it is everything you would expect from a convivial Peruvian restaurant.
Following the closure of the nine-year-old Spanish restaurant Ola Cocina, chef-owners Daniel Chavez and Tamara Chavez Lopez decided to start anew albeit this time with Peruvian cuisine at its focus. Located in the luscious foliage at Dempsey, Canchita is situated away from the other iconic food establishments in the area.
The menu offerings, according to Head Chef Lopez, is split into five categories: tapas or small bites; grilled items, such as fish skewers and grilled octopus; cold dishes, the likes of ceviche and tuna tiradito; rice dishes, including the Peruvian version of Cantonese fried rice; and finally, a fry-station section for those who crave crispy bites, like fried nuggets of pork belly or pork rinds or as they call them “chicharrónes”.
In doing so, the restaurant poised itself to constantly produce menus that cater to the needs of the people. Chef Chavez adds, “Singapore hosts people from many different parts of the world who have very different requirements, religions and food preferences. Every region has a unique way of eating, yet at the same time guests want to eat something authentic from far away.”
In this issue of Crew Eats, we hear from Daniel Chavez, chef-founder of Canchita Peruvian Cuisine; Tamara Chavez Lopez, head chef and Chef Chavez’s wife; junior sous chef Shaun Ng; assistant bar manager Lau Wei Jin; general manager Celvin Chiang; and supervisor Vijay Kumar Rai.
Daniel Chavez, Chef Founder
Having opened other establishments, such as Spanish restaurant Ola Cocina Del Mar and Peruvian restaurant Tono Cevicheria, on this island republic, Chef Chavez is no stranger in the food and beverage scene here. According to an interview with Yahoo! Life he was initially a business student but decided to make the transition to be a chef when he realised he had no passion for what he was studying.
An avid foodie, Chef Chavez confesses that he used to patronise western restaurants in town, but decided to change his preference to local cuisines in order to better understand local food. Just like the team at Ippoh Tempura Bar and JAAN by Kirk Westaway’s head chef Ng Guo Lun, one of Chef Chavez’s favourite food haunts is Keng Eng Kee Seafood. He says, “The food is robust in flavour and unpretentious which is exactly what I am looking for when I look for comfort food.”
Chef Chavez is also forthcoming with recommendations, such as Moonlight Hor Fun, Claypot Pork Liver and Coffee Ribs to list a few. “There are just so many! You should also give their Chilli Crab a try,” he adds. “I am not the biggest fan of this dish, but the dish here is just awesome; the sauce is not overly sweet and the dish is perfect in texture. Super balanced.”
Keng Eng Kee Seafood
Address: 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-136, Singapore 150124
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 11.30am – 2pm; 5pm – 10pm
Tamara Chavez Lopez, Head Chef
Canchita’s head chef Tamara Chavez Lopez’s favourite comfort food is chicken rice, but it should not be confused with hawker fare. “Everyone has his or her own version of this dish and it will likely remind you of your mother, grandmother and your home no matter how far away you are from it,” she says.
The 32-year-old Mexican-born chef, who previously trained in Peru under Rafael Osterling, whose eponymous restaurant was placed top 19 in the Latin America 50 Best Restaurants in 2019, enjoys heading to the Geylang district to dine. She says, “I love the party of flavours that you find on that street. At the same time, it brings back many memories of good meetings with friends and family.”
“I visited this place on my first day at work in Singapore. I remember my colleagues inviting me to dinner with the famous and clear word ‘Makan!’,” Chef Lopez says, recalling her first visit to Geylang. Some of her recommendations include frog legs or frog porridge at Geylang Lorong 1 and Lorong 9, and the plethora of seafood options in the area.
Shaun Ng, Junior Sous Chef
Junior sous chef Shaun Ng’s go-to comfort food is a simple bowl of congee. For Mr Ng, congee is a versatile dish that can compliment any ingredients. His favourite dining haunt is at Legendary Hong Kong Restaurant in Jurong Point Shopping Centre. “Go for the congee and of course, the dim sum,” he adds.
Legendary Hong Kong Restaurant
Address: Jurong Point 2 Shopping Centre, 63 Jurong West Central 3, #03-80, Singapore 648331
Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 11am – 10pm; Saturday – Sunday: 10am – 10pm
Celvin Chiang, General Manager
Hailing from Malacca, Malaysia, general manager Celvin Chiang used to live aboard in Britain for a few years when he was studying at the University of Birmingham, before heading to Singapore to work. For the 32-year-old, comfort food is food made at home. “I always have a soft spot for Peranakan cuisine which originated from Melaka,” Mr Chiang says. “Malaysia and Singapore food cultures have their differences and yet, they can taste similar.”
Mr Chiang recommends dining at Rempapa. Opened by MasterChef Singapore judge Chef Damian D’Silva, the restaurant puts a spotlight on local flavours. It would be a folly to assume its dishes are ritzy hawker fares. The restaurant presents a variety of dishes from Chinese, Peranakan, Eurasian, Indian and Malay cuisines, underscoring the MasterChef Singapore judge’s knowledge of the culinary.
“The dishes in Rempapa are simple and yet complex in cooking methodologies,” he adds. “I love their kedondong (ambarella) salad. It’s a very refreshing wing bean salad with the combination of kaffir lime leaves, ginger flower, peanut, dried shrimp and kedondong. Very refreshing and tangy!”
Address: Park Place Residences at Paya Lebar Quarter, 2 Paya Lebar Road, #01-01/02/03, Singapore 409053
Opening hours: Monday – Sunday: 10.30am to 10.30pm
Vijay Kumar Rai, Supervisor
Restaurant supervisor Vijay Kumar Rai loves a plate of bamboo biryani from Paradise Biryani. According to the 33-year-old, the dish comprises long-grained rice cooked with spices and chunks of meat in a bamboo.
“Paradise Biryani reminds me of India through its interior décor and ambience,” he says. “My comfort food would be anything from Indian cuisine. From north to south India, there’s a huge variety of dishes to choose from.”
Address: 369 Sembawang Road, #01-07, Singapore 758382
Opening hours: Tuesday – Friday: 10am – 9.30pm; Saturday – Sunday: 10am – 3pm; 4.30pm – 9.30pm; Closed on Mondays
Lau Wei Jin, Assistant Bar Manager
Assistant bar manager Lau Wei Jin has been with the team at Canchita for a little over six months. The Sarawakian loves to patronise Sarawak Delicacy Laksa & Kolo Mee in Bedok. According to the 41-year-old, the dishes there remind him of home. “Without flying back to Sarawak, you are able to get a taste of the original flavour,” Mr Lau says. For him, the Kampua noodle is a must-try.
Sarawak Delicacy Laksa & Kolo Mee
Address: 204 Bedok North Street 1, #01-435, Singapore 460204
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 9am to 7pm