Our Muslim friends here have it good when it comes to makan. For a long time, they are sticklers to traditions. The rendang you get at any traditional makcik (auntie) nasi padang stall is of a certain quality, matched in class to the original versions in Indonesia. They also now have halal Thai, Japanese, Italian, burgers and pizzas plus dim sum restaurants even Vietnamese pho. But that’s not even scratching the surface of the magnitude of flavours and culinary concepts we have in Singapore. I have not seen any of the limited range of Eurasian food, like Debal or curry devil, nor are the full range of Indonesian food (many of our Muslims has Indoneisan heritage) are found here, for example, Asinan, a Javanese sweet sour rojak of sorts and ketoprak, a peanut sauce beehoon salad that’s very unlike satay beehoon.
Then I came across something that slipped by me all these decades, and it seems they are the only Muslim version of this dish in Singapore. Sajian Mak Dara had been offering this porridge for over two decades- since the old Geylang Serai Market last century. Two items stood out and the first, is their Bubur Kampung ($3.50). A bowl of Chinese style plain porridge comes with a separate platter of ingredients- ikan bilis, chopped chai po, peanuts, sambal kangkong, salted egg and yes, a fat dollop of the meanest own made sambal belacan this side of the equator. Sounds like some messed up idea of a Chinese porridge meal but they see lines in their stall every day till they sell out. The porridge comes thicker so it feels “fuller” after the meal. The ingredients are generous and very agreeable and when you smear a smidgen of the sambal over a bit of the salted egg and down it with a mouthful of porridge. It’s an Oprah moment. You get that “why does this feel so oddly strange and comforting” sensation. The crispy ikan bilis and crunchy nuts lend texture and umami while the spicy sambal kangkong is not adjusted for chilli wimps.
Then, there’s their Nasi Lemak (from $3.50). Now, I had dozens of so called “highly recommended” versions here and even in Malaysia. Some are “myopic good” recommended by bloggers who only eat that one version and gush over it. Some are slightly better because they have a range of like 16 ingredients offered behind that glass shelf (which is more like nasi lemak campur or economic rice dishes) and then there’s the iconic legends. One bite into the rice and sambal makes you stop and have that childhood flashback moment. It was exactly that when I devoured their nasi lemak. They use basmati grains and it came not overly lemak, soft, fluffy and it gently slipped off the spoon each time I scooped it. The scintilla of lemon grass with a hint of saltiness in the rice was remarkable. The sambal has spicy sweet notes that paired well with the rice and the chicken was freshly fired batch by batch. The whole fried ikan selar was unlike the dry, fried through and bone crispy version. It tasted like, well fried fish, and was moist inside. This one sits way up there in my list of nasi lemak favourites.
Sajian Mak Dara
#02-108, Geylang Serai Hawker Centre
7am-4pm, close on Mondays