Mary’s Kafe @ Queen’s Street Singapore
Just when the gastronomic landscape in Singapore constantly evolves and changes to keep up with the trendiest and most current around the world, some places choose to remain exactly as they were when they first started. A blast from the past quite literally, these establishments served as old guards of Singapore’s rich culinary heritage, firm reminders to what would probably have been quickly forgotten, if not for them. On a slightly less serious note, they breathe an air of nostalgia and reminiscence, food that bring us right back to our childhoods, prepared by our mothers and grandmothers in an utmost unceremonious manner yet so unpretentious and unassuming. Just as the world goes gaga over cronuts and whatnots, I crave for a good Pang Susie and know exactly the place to find a good one. Mary’s Kafe must surely be the place to go!
Mary’s Kafe, helmed by Mary Gomes started out as a small deli in SWCO along Waterloo Street. It has since shifted to Kum Yan Methodist Church at Queen’s Street, just next to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). Despite the relocation, little has changed, still serving comfort food and local delights that warm not only the stomach but also the heart.
Operating only on weekdays from 10.30 am to 5 pm, the real hustle and bustle usually starts around noon when set lunches are served. Considering that it is located right smack in the middle of town, the prices are really affordable and draw the working lunch crowd in the vicinity, many of whom have become regulars at her cafe over time. On the day of our visit, there was a table reserved for folks who came all the way from Alexandra in fact!
We were there slightly before noon and lunch wasn’t quite ready but the air permeated the buttery aroma of freshly baked pineapple tarts and Pang Susie. So we went ahead and got some pastries to work up the appetite.
Pang Susie is an interesting filled bun that is common to both Eurasian and Peranakan cusine. What makes it extra special is the incorporation of sweet potatoes into the dough as well as the heavenly spiced meat filling. And Mary’s Kafe is one of the few places where Pang Susie is available in Singapore. Don’t expect the Japanese sweet bun kind of fluffiness. The texture is denser from the sweet potatoes which also imparts a natural earthy sweetness to it.
More varieties of pastries popped out of the oven as we enjoyed our Pang Susie and pineapple tarts… tempting, but we thought we’d better save our stomachs for lunch!
We’d ordered 2 set lunches to share as well as a chicken rendang for myself! The chicken chop was crisp and well-fried, with part of the batter readily soaking up some of the flavours from the ketchup-based sauce drizzled on it. The overall appeal reminded us of Hainanese Pork Chops but interestingly, the flavours were much milder.
The lunch sets come with a generous portion of vegetable side dish and on the day we visited, it was either cabbage or long beans stir-fry depending on the sets ordered.
Beef Smore was the other dish we’d shared. Essentially a stew, the hearty chunks of beef were delightfully tender. The gravy was once again, less robust than what we had expected but nonethless flavourful. And this seems to be in line with the notion that lunch should be light, just sufficient and not overbearing.
Additional dishes could be ordered as it is without rice, drink and dessert which came with the set menu. I’d wanted to go for the braised pork ribs initially but Mary commented that the pork ribs were not quite tender as yet so we settled for Chicken Rendang instead. Given the amount of gravy that accompanied the chunks of chicken thigh, I would have thought that this is more of a “gulai” instead. It was reasonably “lemak” and went very well with the rice but I would have happily “celup” some Asian-styled French loaf in it instead!
While waiting for dessert to be served, I saw Mary preparing another batch of Pang Susie to go into the oven. The first batch sold out rather quickly, “sapu-ed” by a couple of early birds like us. Perfect opportunity to get some cooking and baking tips from Mary! Apparently she uses the leftover eggwhites from her famous sugee cake as an eggwash for Pang Susie and other pastries so practically nothing is wasted!
Despite the additional number of tables available at the current location at Kum Yan Methodist Church compared to SWCO, we still saw a full house on that day we’d visited. An hour into lunch time, quite a number of lunch sets had already sold out, as Mary limits the number of portions for each dish she could manage and prepare each day. Given the decent spread of options available. It is really quite a feat for her and her two helpers already.
Dessert served with the set lunches was a Tapioca and Coconut Cake, which tasted much like Bengka Ubi Kayu apart from the fact that it was steamed and not baked. This is very home-styled old school kind of cooking which could hardly be found elsewhere anymore. I loved the wonderful aroma from the coconut milk added and the level of sweetness was nicely balanced. Perfect as a “cuci mulut”.
We also got to sample Mary’s signature Sugee Cake which was incredibly buttery and luscious. J loved the aroma and “buttery-ness” of it while I savour the gritty crunch from the semolina and chopped almonds used with relish! So I guess this adds on to my to-bake list now!
An impromptu encore was Chicken Sheperd’s Pie, an extension of Mary’s generosity like her Sugee Cake which she insisted that we must try. True enough, it was very good! The minced chicken was very well seasoned and moist while the layer of potato mash was baked to become beautifully crisp. Flavours wise, it perpetuates what was carried forth by the other preceding dishes, home cooked food which was truly hearty but never too hefty or heavy.
Apart from some signature dishes which are available on an almost daily basis, the “Dish of the Day” rotates down the week between Chicken Shepherd’s Pie and other classic Eurasian dishes like Curry Debal (Devil’s Curry) as well as some Peranakan delights like Ayam Masak Buah Keluak and Apom Berkuah. Otherwise, what’s available for the day largely depends on what Mary manages to get fresh from the market and what she felt like whipping up! Nothing short of surprises!
As a doyen in Eurasian cuisine, Mary Gomes has also written two very well-received cookbooks. Especially worth mentioning is her first book on Eurasian food published back in 2001 and has since been reprinted a couple of times. It archives her family dishes and bears true reflection to the influence of a multitude of cultures – Portuguese, Dutch, English, Chinese, Malay, Indian and even Peranakan, to shape what we now know as Eurasian cuisine. This must surely come as a rare gem in the cookbook genre for local cuisine as so few have been written on Eurasian food. A must for aspiring foodies and cookbook collectors. I grabbed my copy from Mary’s Kafe where is it going only SGD 15 a copy. And we got to meet the author in person to get the books autographed. Can’t get a better deal than that!
So yes, if you are in for really home cooked comfort food without all the frivolities of plating and presentation, Mary’s Kafe is definitely worth a visit. Try to go before 12 to “chope” your Pang Susie and her signature Sugee Cake is a must try!
1 Queen’s Street
Kum Yan Methodist Church
Open 1030am – 5pm Monday – Friday