A spirit of candour, an air of minimalism, and a hint of the economical — these are the aspects you’d associate with Ananas Café, a refreshing eatery that has quickly spread its gospel of prudence with its tributaries and offshoots across the nation.
Discarding gastronomic gimmicks, this endearing nook of a diner offers a seemingly infinite variety of culinary combinations. Should I order the dainty chicken chunks lovingly wrapped in seaweed together with (presumably handmade) glass noodles? Does today feel like a day for battered mackerel on a bed of aromatic steamed rice? The possibilities are endless, and I found myself quickly covered in a layer of ebullient sweat just thinking about the sheer magnitude of choices.
After half an hour mulling over my choices, the matronly waitress behind the counter yelled at me to quickly choose or get the fuck out. Such character this establishment has! I requested to take a look at the specials of the day, but I was hastily yelled at again. Based on the quaint notices on the wall behind her, I ordered the succulently pictured presets of dishes to sample what the café had to offer — the ‘Set A’ and the ‘Roasted Chicken Rice’. For my third course, I asked the sweet quadragenarian for the chef’s recommendation, but again I was yelled at before she picked out a selection of succulent fried noodles and topped it with choice chicken cutlets and homemade curry.
I absolutely love the white, minimalist aesthetic of their chic packaging, and it’s extremely convenient too. Opening the box revealed the palatable treasure inside, as lukewarm as when they were freshly served out of the café’s kitchenette.
To kick off my latest culinary expedition, I started with their trademark dish: the Set A ($2.30). A feast for the eyes and the palate, it features a precisely shaped fried egg (surely imported from southern Barcelona!) and a stunning chicken wing, lovingly battered with fresh shrimp paste laid on a bed of fragrant coconut rice, coloured in a delightful hue of green. A side of a single piece of cucumber and a splash of homemade sauce came along for the ride.
After only one bite of the rice I was reminded of my days by the seaside in Seminyak. Hearty and decadent, the rice had a chewy texture, and left a glutinous taste in the mouth. Combined with the sweet sugary chilli sambal and the greasy crunch of the chicken wing, it was truly a classic combination that really could never go wrong in the eyes of the Food Gods. However, the egg had seen better days, and I couldn’t help but think that Set A would have scored 10/10 if they had included truffled eggs benedict instead. I then cleansed my palate with the slice of raw cucumber (how thoughtful of the chefs!), but not before dipping it in the dwindling remains of that sweet red sauce.
On to the chef’s recommendation next — fried noodles with a centrepiece of curry-smeared chicken cutlets ($3.80). The main action of this dish takes place in the haute preparations of the noodles itself, which at first I thought would be singular in flavor. But no sir, Ananas Café wouldn’t have become the behemoth of a modern franchise it is now if they were simply set on hankering post-recession appetites.
Never have I been more unprepared than when I dug into the noodles, which were the absolute apex of neo-Asian cuisine. Such complexity! Dripping with a mysterious grease and fused with strands of egg and soy sauce, each bite of the noodles provided a heady rush of endorphins, cloying in its layers’ fatty flavor. Tripling the taste was the addition of curried chicken cutlets, which provided a contrasting yin-yang texture of soft and brittle. Hands down, best culinary experience of the week.
It took me a while to recover from the second course. Upon opening the box of the final sample — Roasted Chicken Rice ($2) — I was at first highly perplexed by the bountiful amount of space that was left by the chef. Maybe it was a political symbol of protest against the elite society. Alas, I managed to figure out the purpose of the empty space — it was where I could pour out the accompanying ginger sambal condiment.
The dainty little plastic packet that stored the elusive condiment was filled with a large amount of air, which I presume was imported from the piri piri farms of Mozambique. Pouring the chilli into the organized chaos of the chicken rice, I jumbled up all the ingredients together, folding the yellow rice and the condiment along with the intricately shredded chicken and cucumber slices. The result was shockingly delicious, a delightful joining together of the chicken’s essence and hints of garlic with layers of seasoning.
The restaurant has a hint of pedestrian straightforwardness, but it’s the perfect conclusion to a very celestial session of food culture. Ananas Café, you make this country proud.
Le Cheap Gourmand is an original Coconuts Singapore series offering grandiose high-end reviews of food you can actually afford. Got an idea about something we should pursue? Tweet us!
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Photos: Ilyas Sholihyn