The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia, has a rich culinary heritage to boast. Embodying this cultural asset is Pagi Sore Indonesian Restaurant. A halal-certified eatery, it is located in the heart of Singapore at 88 Telok Ayer Street. Since its opening in 1989, the restaurant has evolved from serving up famous Nasi Padang to À la carte, zi char style fare.
Walking through the doors of Pagi Sore, you’ll be welcomed by the unmistakable Indonesian elements in its interior design. Dark teak wood furniture, with Angklungs (a traditional Indonesian musical instrument) and little hand-carved wooden animals perched atop shelves, all add to the traditional feel of the place. Already, the simple, family-style seating feels cozy and welcoming.
Being greeted by the fragrant waft of coconut, garlic, and spices, is probably the most exciting! It almost feels like you have left the hustle and bustle of the CBD and stepped foot into a lively Indonesian village.
Starting up Pagi Sore
Founder and Chef Liyana Kwan set up Pagi Sore just within a year after giving birth to her son, Park. Steadfast and determined, she wanted to establish her own career quickly. And Liyana saw the gap in the market to bring in Indonesian cuisine. With her self-taught skills and a lot of hard work, she proved naysayers wrong. Mastering culinary skills while managing the business simultaneously is no easy feat, but she succeeded.
In a seemingly male-dominated industry, it is rare to know of a founder-chef who is a lady. She must be iron-clad, having to raise her child and also keep the stoves afire and business going.
Giving back to the community
Yet when asked what is her most memorable moment, her unquestionable heart for the people of the business shines. When the Yellow Ribbon project was launched to encourage SMEs to hire ex-offenders and assimilate them back to society, Liyana Kwan accepted this task. She felt a desire to do her duty for society and spent time personally counseling these new hires.
This wasn’t just a job, it was about us extending a helping hand to them.
Liyana Park, founder of Pagi Sore Indonesian Restaurant, on the Yellow Ribbon Project
Chef Park, her son, has started his own culinary journey as well. Now the second-generation owner at 32, he attests to his mum’s work ethic. “Everything she does has a lot of heart put into it and she has poured a lot of effort into it. And I felt that I had to bring that forward.”
Pagi Sore: Indonesian cuisine with a twist
Although Indonesian fare has a reputation of being too hot for most to handle, the tastes here have been slightly adjusted for the local palate, with a special focus on each of the five major flavours—sweet, savoury, sour, spicy and umami. Plus, the infusion of traditional Indonesian and Chinese cooking techniques is the restaurant’s secret to its remarkable dishes.
One of their signatures dishes is the Ayam Panggang Bali (from $9.90). A tender chicken thigh glazed in sweet and savoury Balinese-styled sauce. Braised to get all the flavours packed in before being grilled at over 300 degrees Celsius, the top layers of the skin become caramelised. The crisp chicken skin and the tender inside, juxtaposed against each other, lived up to the hype! As for the rice, it is steamed in a wrapping of freshly-cut banana leaves. Mildly fragrant and fluffy, the rice enhanced the flavours of the main dishes.
As for an umami favourite, it would be their Terung Tao Chio (from $9.90), featuring eggplants topped with a Special Bean Sauce.
Don’t forget to have a dip of their homemade sambal belacan with your spoonful of rice. While the recipe hasn’t changed in 30 years, what makes it even more special is that it is handmade with a specific Indonesian variety of chilli, the cabe keriting, which the restaurant imports into Singapore.
Chef Park recalls his mum teaching him to make the chilli, and he comments “the only way [to master it] is to feel it”. He had to cook over 200kg of chilli to understand how to control the fire and to unlock the key to creating the fragrant paste. Not easy training by any means, but it has paid off for sure!
You will be sure to savour the sambal belacan chilli, which goes well with all of their dishes.
Supporting one another
When the lockdown happened in 2020, the responsibility of the business fell on the shoulders of Chef Park. Liyana Kwan shared that at that point in time, she had full trust in her son. To reduce his burden, she took on the role of taking care of his daughter while he hustled day-and-night to keep Pagi Sore going.
Regarding the pandemic, Chef Park shared, “For the first time ever in my life, I was not sure whether a 30-year-old history would end with me. I think the lack of control wasn’t something that I could make up for. It wasn’t a mistake that I could say ‘I’m sorry, I will work harder.’ It was never that kind of problem. It (COVID-19) was out of my hands.” And the only silver lining in the clouds for him was his mom.
“The biggest thing I inherited from her was resilience.”
Chef Park, second-generation owner and chef of Pagi Sore Indonesian Restaurant
That alone kept him striving to keep the business going.
Pagi Sore opens every day of the week. Now, it is also delivering its delicious, halal-certified dishes islandwide with Oddle Eats. Have a taste of the mother-son duo’s 30-year Indonesian cuisine, which has amassed the love of customers from all walks of life!