Burmese restaurateur Nelson Htoo moved around a lot as a child, when he was born in Myanmar and spent his teenage years in Singapore for his studies. “The concept of a house has never been defined by geography,” he explains to Tatler to eat. Despite all of these changes of location, he found a sense of comfort in the food, in particular, the Burmese cuisine at home and the variety of Asian cuisines he was exposed to in Singapore.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in London and a master’s degree in Hong Kong, he realized that these flavors of the house came from “a broader regional perspective – a combination of flavors from South East Asia that also tend to infiltrate Burmese cuisine and vice versa “. This is what he intends to recreate at Club Rangoon, the authentic Burmese restaurant he established in Hong Kong, where he is currently based. Here, he offers the dishes his mother and grandmother would prepare for him, accompanied by innovative cocktails concocted by famous mixologist Jack Byrne.
As Htoo continues to make his mark in promoting Burmese cuisine in Asia, we tell him about his youth in Singapore and ask him to reveal to us some of the dishes and drinks he misses the most.
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What food and drink do you miss the most when you’re away from Singapore, or haven’t been back for a while?
Of course, I miss the home cooking that I grew up with above all else, especially since my family continues to live in Singapore, so I miss that kind of community feast when it comes to Burmese cuisine as well. I think having grown up in Singapore and going through different stages of life there that were pretty defining, there are just certain memories that you attach to certain foods or places that you can’t quite replicate elsewhere. In this sense, food is intrinsically linked to experiences – not just what the actual food or drink was, but also the setting, the context, how the food was consumed and how those experiences unfolded.
If you have visitors or guests with you, where do you always make sure you go to make them feel like home?
It is always difficult to recommend places to visiting guests and friends, as Singapore’s culinary landscape is so diverse. There are always too many places and not enough time. I make sure my guests always get a taste of some local classics like chili crab, chicken rice and nasi lemak (personal favorites); but if time permits, I advise them to check out all the innovative new openings in the city to make sure they really have a global feel for Singapore’s burgeoning food scene.
I love taking people to the Newton Food Center, especially booth 74. Although it has a reputation for being a tourist trap, I think it’s totally worth it. It was also one of the first restaurants we visited as a family when we moved to Singapore so definitely some nostalgia there but it kept us coming back regularly. Aunt Jojo from the booth would recognize us immediately due to how often we had frequented the place since I was a child. Their sambal stingray is top notch!
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