Eurasians are among the ethnic groups in Singapore that make up that cryptic official “others” category of the local population. Travellers typically know little about them, but the Eurasian Association in Singapore, founded in 1919, is the perfect place to learn more.
A Eurasian of course is a person of mixed European and Asian descent; in Southeast Asia the term was originally used to describe the children of Europeans and locals during the colonial era, many of whom either migrated to Singapore from places like Melaka and Penang, or were born in Singapore themselves. Most Eurasians in Singapore can trace their ancestry to three main groups: the Portuguese, Dutch or British.
The Eurasian Association, housed in a four-storey building in a tranquil residential area in Singapore near Katong — where many Eurasians used to live — educates people about this ethnic group.
A well curated heritage centre at the association looks at the history and culture of Eurasians, and you can even listen to snippets of Kristang, a creole language with Portuguese and Malay words still spoken by some older Eurasians of Portuguese descent today.
Beyond the introductory exhibits, the upper levels of the centre tell a sordid tale of how World War II affected the lives of Eurasians. During the Japanese occupation in Singapore, many Eurasians moved to Bahau, an agricultural settlement in the Malayan state of Negeri Sembilan specially set up for Eurasians and Chinese Roman Catholics by the Japanese authorities. Under the scheme, Eurasians were encouraged to resettle where they could farm and live off the land. Many flocked there willingly, only to suffer from malnutrition, given that they were mostly white collar workers and did not know how to farm. It’s a poignant picture, that of them bringing their curtains and pianos to patches of poor soil in areas where malaria was endemic.
Eurasians are now free to revel in their rich heritage. For travellers, after learning some history, food is a part of the Eurasian culture most easily enjoyed; their culinary tradition involves blending exotic ingredients from both Asia and Europe, including the latter’s passion for decadent desserts.
You won’t find Eurasian delicacies such as devil’s curry in hawker centres, but one of the few Eurasian restaurants in Singapore where you can savour these dishes is Quentin’s — and it’s located right at the Eurasian Association.
Eurasian food, like Peranakan food, is based on rempah, a basic spice paste made of a long list of ingredients such as shallots, various herbs and spices, shrimp paste, chillies, the exact combination of which is a chef’s ultimate secret. Food at Quentin’s is spicy and rich and portions are generous, so go in a group and share a wide range of dishes with rice.
End your meal with sugee cake, made primarily with almonds, or cendol, that favourite of Singapore and Malaysia made with coconut milk and gula Melaka. There’s salt fish pickle to bring home too.
So beyond Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street is another one-stop shop to savour a Singaporean culture; and the next time you walk down a road with a name like Tessensohn or Pereira, you’ll appreciate the Eurasian story behind it.
The Eurasian Association, Singapore Eurasian Community House 139 Ceylon Road, Singapore T: 6447 1578 Open Tues-Sun 10:00-18:00 Admission free (call ahead to ask about tours and price) www.eurasians.org.sg
Quentin’s Level 1, the Eurasian Association T: 6348 0327/8198 1660 Open Tues-Sun, 11:30-2:30 and 18:30-22:30, till midnight on Fridays Mains S$13-20, desserts $3-5 plus tax www.quentins.com.sg
By Fen Chia.
Last updated on 1st February, 2017.
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