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How a Former Communal-Style Singaporean Supper Club Found Success as a Market

With lines of house-made kaya jam, sambals, and weekly takeout boxes, Holly Ong and Pat Lau turned their supper club Sibeiho into something new and adaptable during the COVID-19 era

A table with plates of a yellow braised duck dish, shrimp chips, braised vegetables, and rice.
Tingkat, a Singapore Chicken Curry meal
Nori De Vega/ Official

In 2019, Sibeiho co-founders Pat Lau and Holly Ong were hosting an intimate recurring pop-up dinner experience from their homes, sharing the foods they grew up eating in Singapore. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, it was clear that their communal style of eating wasn’t as adaptable to the state’s safety standards. After taking a lengthy hiatus, Sibeiho returned at the start of winter 2020 with a completely different business model, designed with the pandemic in mind. With a new storefront on NW 23rd Street, Sibeiho now functions as a weekend takeout service for pickup, also selling house-made sambals and Singaporean lifestyle items like books and dishware both in-store and online.

“We’re not a deli … we’re not a restaurant,” Ong says. “We just like making food that people want to eat.”

The weekend takeout meals, inspired by the Indo-Malay “tingkat” boxes that Lau and Ong’s grandparents used to pack for them, feature regional-specific Chinese dishes, along with Indian, Malaysian, and other Asian foods: Malaysian and Singapore-style Bak Kut Teh, or pork rib soup; tea leaf-soaked eggs; aromatic soy and five-spice-braised duck. Sibeiho’s classic laksa comes with a coconut soup stock that simmers for five hours before serving. “It’s pretty much what we feel like eating, and traditions we have back home that we wanted to continue doing here,” explains Ong.

Similar to the supper club, customers join Sibeiho’s email list to check out the menu, which gets sent to subscribers at the beginning of every week. Along with company news and sambal supply updates, the emails give readers the scoop on the prix fixe meal for that week. The meals typically serve two very hungry people comfortably, consisting of four to six dishes.

Out of the shop, Ong and Lau make and sell a robust line of pantry items: small-batch retail kaya coco jam (a Southeast Asian breakfast staple), seasoned snack mixes, and sambals for customers to use at home. There are currently three umami-forward sambals on the product line with separate intentions for use; while the smoky “Boomz” and tart “AF Chili Chunka” sambals are more of an all-purpose condiment, Ong and Lau think customers should use the savory “OMG!” sambal while cooking to season foods like marinades and soups. The idea came after several requests to make them available to the chefs’ former supper club guests. They’re packaged without preservatives, so the intention is to blow through these jars as soon as you get them.

Outside of the sauces and sambals, the market side of Sibeiho’s shop celebrates the creatives of Singapore, with cookbooks by Singaporean chefs and handcrafted plate ware by Supermama—A Singaporean ceramics brand that Ong and Lau used to present their dishes on during the supper club days.

Between the opening of Sibeiho and its COVID-induced transformation, Ong has come to learn that her customers are inherently curious about Singaporean food and culture. Beforehand, Ong and Lau were able to share family recipes and Singaporean history at pop-ups, but now they have had the opportunity to expose this information to a wider audience: With every weekend tingkat meal, customers receive pamphlets that explain the history behind each dish they’re eating, along with its significance to Sibeiho. This information is also detailed on their social media outlets, where Instagram plays a huge role in expressing to their community what their food truly means in the broader context of the global food community. “We’re creating a little piece of our childhood home,” says Ong, “because Portland is a big foodie city, and I think people appreciate all the different things that are available here.”

To sign up for Sibeiho’s dinners, you can join the email list here. The market is located at 740 NW 23rd Avenue.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the location of the restaurant and market. It is located at NW 23rd. The image is of a curried chicken dish, not a braised duck dish.

Sibeiho [Official]
Portland’s New Supper Club Is a Homesick Celebration of Singaporean Cuisine [EPDX]

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