Tok Panjang (which means ‘a long table of food’ in Malay) is a staple at old-school, grand Peranakan celebrations. While it traditionally involves elaborate dishes, this same-named cafe at Bukit Timah Plaza offers quite the opposite: a simple, unfussy menu reminiscent of a nonya bibik’s everyday cooking.
Do not confuse this with the cafe of the same name at Dorsett Residences (formerly in the east) — it’s unrelated. This almost seven-month-old eatery is run by friendly husband-and-wife Patrick Teo, 48, and Angelina Lim, 46.
The secondary school sweethearts do everything themselves here, from the cooking to washing, with the occasional help from their 20-year-old son, Preston, and Patrick’s aunt.
They serve a modest range of Peranakan savouries, kuehs and (oddly enough) Western-style shepherd’s pie and cakes as Angelina has a passion for baking the latter.
Before investing $60,000 to set up her own shop, she used to make desserts at another Peranakan cafe.
“Opening my own place has been in the pipeline for a long time and when this space opened up, I decided to give it a chance,” she explains. Angelina churns out all the kuehs and angmoh cakes sold at Tok Panjang fresh daily, a time-consuming process which sees her working up to 16 hours a day.
When she’s in town, that is. She shuttles between Singapore and overseas (she declined to name which country) where she runs another food biz. In her absence, her hubby takes over cooking duties.
She had learnt how to cook savoury mains from her Teochew-Peranakan mother, a formidable home cook, and taught herself to make kuehs out of personal interest. “My mum wasn’t very good with sweets,” she laughs.
Meanwhile, Patrick, a former superintendent in the petroleum industry who left his job to help his wife out, has also picked up cooking using his wife’s “calibrated” recipes. He now preps dishes like the laksa and mee rebus. “In the past, he didn’t even know how to cook, so I’m very proud of him,” Angelina beams.
THE LOOK: If you’re looking for an Insta-worthy cafe, this is not it. The simple 36-seater is long and narrow like a tok panjang, and half the space is taken up by an open kitchen with a massive countertop that gave the cafe its name.
You’ll leave the shop smelling like Eau de Rempah after your meal, but at least the food is good. “I’ve always wanted to serve a Peranakan buffet [at my cafe] ’cos when I was young, my family would celebrate birthdays with a tok panjang meal,” muses Angelina, adding: “But I’m not here to do [fancier, pricier] Peranakan food like buah keluak. We want to keep prices affordable.”
Even so, the selection of kuehs here is pretty impressive; nine types on weekdays and up to 12 on weekends. Angelina makes about 120 pieces of each type of kueh, which typically sells out by early afternoon around 3pm.
Tip: go in the morning to get first dibs on the attractive array of sweets displayed in a cooler.
Check out our photo gallery for our verdict on what’s good to eat here.
Tok Panjang is at #B1-52C, Bukit Timah Plaza, 1 Jln Anak Bukit, S588996. Tel: 9273-7979. Open daily except alternate Thurs, 9am-5.30pm. Last orders while stocks last. www.tokpanjang.com.sg.
PHOTOS: AIK CHEN