A Taste of Home: Jimmy Lim on the Local Dishes He Misses the Most in Singapore
Singaporean chef Jimmy Lim's life has always revolved around food, starting as a child when he used to help out at his parents' restaurant. It was no surprise that he enrolled in a local culinary school then further honed his skills at lauded establishments, including The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Per Se in New York, Noma in Copenhagen and Le Moût in Taichung.
In 2017, he opened JL Studio in Taipei where he continues to dish out inspired modern Singaporean fare using Taiwanese produce. It quickly became one of the hottest restaurant openings in Asia, racking up accolade after accolade such as the Miele One to Watch award at the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2019, as well as two Michelin stars in the Taiwan Michelin Guide 2020.
While he spends most of his time dreaming up new dishes for his restaurant, he makes it a point to visit his home country regularly to catch up with family and friends and find inspiration from the eateries he enjoyed while growing up. Here are some of his favourites.
What do you miss most on the food/drink front when you are away from Singapore or haven’t been back for a while?
Jimmy Lim (JL) I miss curry fish head, char kway teow, hae mee, prata—you name it. Although I can cook them here in Taiwan, they just taste different because there’s always one missing ingredient called ‘home’. For me, eating is not just about filling up your stomach.
What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?
JL My first meal in Singapore always depends on my schedule. But before I leave, I always make it a point to visit The Banana Leaf Apolo in Little India. This is the place my dad would often take me when he was still around. I’m sure everyone has their favourites, but for me, returning to this eatery is like telling my dad, “Hey, I am back!”. It’s more like a memory meal for me.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in Singapore? For fine dining/special occasions and for more casual experiences?
JL I love Candlenut as chef Malcolm Lee and his team whip up top-notch Peranakan cuisine. For fine dining, I am always sure I’ll be pampered at chef Julien Royer’s Odette. It’s a special place for a special occasion.
If it’s a casual meal, KEK Seafood in Bukit Merah gets my vote. Its moonlight hor fun and claypot pork liver are really delicious.
If you have visitors/guests with you, where do you always go to give them a real taste of Singapore?
JL I will guide them to Maxwell Hawker Centre and Hong Lim Food Centre for our hawker centre makan tour. Then, we will visit the Buddhist and Indian temples around the area before we walk around Chinatown and further down to Raffles City.
Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food/drinks?
JL We’d usually meet up at a coffee shop near where my friends and I grew up. But the last time I went there, the shop had new owners. There are a lot of memories for us as we used to play basketball and after the game, we’d eat and chat until the wee hours of the morning. Over the last few years, most of us have moved away and we would just meet at a place that’s convenient for everyone. But one thing is for sure: we always choose a place where there’s good food.
Anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?
JL Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak. I used to have supper there with my buddies.
What do you always take back home with you when you leave Singapore?
JL A few bottles of sambal and Bengawan Solo’s prune lapis, which I buy at the airport. I have to carry them back to Taiwan at all costs.
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home when you’re in Taiwan?
JL I am still looking out for one. If I miss the flavours of home, I either cook it at home or visit my other casual restaurant Chope Chope eatery in Taipei.