The Singaporean snack chain, Old Chang Kee, has made its keenly awaited European debut, opening on New Row in Covent Garden this week. The 62-year-old street food brand is famous mainly for its curry puff — a buttery, curried pastry parcel, packed with a filling of meat, potatoes and spices — which is compared to a Cornish pasty or South American empanada. As well as the famous and “shiok” (Singlish for tasty and delicious) curry puff, the brand will also serve a number of other curries and soups of Singaporean heritage.
“The curry puff is Singapore’s version of the Cornish pasty, but more fiery,” Sandra Leong, director of Old Chang Kee UK, said. “As a crossroads of the East, Singapore was once the centre of the spice trade and was colonised by the Brits in the 1800s. Legend has it that chefs who worked for the Brits back then reinvented the pasty with our native herbs and spices. We like to think that it’s one of the things that the British regretted leaving behind and now, we cannot wait to bring it to Britain.”
It began in 1956 as a small stall, Old Chang Kee is said to hold legendary status among Singaporeans, expats and tourists alike. The curry puff has long been the “hero” of the snack chain and, the brand says in an announcement today, is “enjoyed by everyone from presidents to schoolchildren.” Old Chang Kee has more than 90 outlets across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.
Old Chang Kee says it sells over 1.5 million curry puffs a month and, pointing to the fact that that it was a huge hit for Londoners when the brand popped up in Kentish Town last year, decided the British capital would be a sensible place to mark its European debut. It sold out in four hours. The curry puff will retail at £2.80 in Covent Garden.
“The phrase, ‘I eat therefore I am’ really sums up the Singaporean approach to food. We take it pretty seriously! The know-how to prepare our curry puff has been passed down from generation to generation of Old Chang Kee chefs. But at the same time, the secret curry recipe is known only to a select few, and is protected and locked in a bank vault. It is a secret combination of herbs and spices that give it a distinct flavour,” said Leong.
The Covent Garden restaurant offers space to eat in as well as a menu for take-away. In addition to the curry puff, the menu includes Singaporean chicken curry, nasi lemak and laksa.