Burmese restaurateur Nelson Htoo moved around a lot when he was a child, so while he was born in Myanmar, he spent his teenage years in Singapore due to studies. "The concept of home has never been defined by geography," he explains to Tatler Dining. Despite all these location changes, he found a feeling of comfort in food—specifically, Burmese cooking at home and the variety of Asian cuisines he was exposed to in Singapore.
When he completed his bachelor's degree in London and master's degree in Hong Kong, he realised that these flavours of home come from "a larger regional standpoint—a combination of Southeast Asian flavours that also tends to find themselves seeping into Burmese food and vice versa." That is what he aims to recreate at Club Rangoon, his authentic Burmese restaurant in Hong Kong (where he's currently based) offering dishes that his mum and grandma would make for him, coupled with innovative cocktails concocted by renowned mixologist Jack Byrne.
As Htoo continues to make a mark promoting Burmese cuisine in Asia, we check with him on growing up in Singapore and some of the dishes and drinks he misses the most.
What do you miss most on the food/drink front when you are away from Singapore or haven’t been back for a while?
Nelson Htoo (NH) Of course, first and foremost I miss the home cooking that I grew up with, especially since my family continues to live in Singapore, so I also miss that sort of communal feasting with regards to Burmese cuisine. I think having grown up in Singapore and being there through various stages of life that were quite defining, there are just certain memories that you attach to certain foods or places that you can’t quite replicate elsewhere. Food in that sense is so intrinsically linked to experiences—not just what the actual food/drink was, but also the setting, context, how the food was consumed and how those experiences unfolded.
If you have visitors/guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of home?
NH It’s always difficult to recommend places to guests and visiting friends, because the Singapore food landscape is just so diverse. There’s always too many places and not enough time. I ensure that my guests will always get a taste of some local classics like chilli crab, chicken rice, and nasi lemak (personal favourites); but if time permits, I would advise them to check out any new, innovative openings around town to make sure they really get a holistic idea of the booming food scene in Singapore.
I do love taking people to Newton Food Centre—stall 74 in particular. While it has a rep for being a tourist trap, I think it’s genuinely worth it. It was also one of the first eateries we visited as a family when we moved to Singapore, so definitely some nostalgia there, but it kept us coming back regularly. Aunty Jojo from the stall would recognise us immediately because of how often we frequented the place since I was a child. Their sambal stingray is top-notch!