One half of us would eat nasi padang any chance he gets, while the other half, would rather a bowl of noodles if faced with the choice (and if it isn’t Rumah Makan Minang that we’re faced with). So, even whilst hungry because we skipped breakfast in our haste, and having trekked through unfamiliar Chinatown, in the drizzle, pushing the stroller through puddly, narrow lanes with one hand, and trying to keep the six-year-old next to me from slipping or getting lost, we came upon Nur’Ilham June and Family Nasi Padang Stall in Manhattan House (151 Chin Swee road), and I admit I was less than thrilled. I don’t know, everytime I see a nasi padang stall, I think generic flavours, no punch, lots of blind chilli, under seasoning, and not a whole lot of love or care for detail. It’s just the token Malay guy in the HDB block. Yay.
But because we were early for our appointment, and everyone was hungry (everyone meaning, again, the two kids, the husband and I), I relented and said, fine (more like, FINE!). Then, as I got nearer, I realised the food was just starting to come out of the kitchen, and everything was still steaming (that’s another thing I don’t get about some nasi padang shops, why do you serve the lauk/dishes at room temperature? WHY?), which was a good sign because they didn’t appear to have warmers for their dishes. (Tip: eat nasi padang early when the food is fresh, particularly in parts of Indonesia where they serve hidang-style; sometimes what was served at your table, and they serve everything, and what isn’t touched gets recycled, but even if it’s not, there are flies buzzing around man. I had batokok once with a cockroach egg in it, wooooo!) Upon closer inspection, I realised the food looked better than decent. I remember whipping my head round and whispering to the husband, …this …actually looks good… it might actually be good…there is potential!! He nodded in agreement.
The next thing I saw emerge from the kitchen was freshly cooked sayur lodeh (vegetables in a coconut milk gravy, yellow with turmeric, and tinged with salty, umami anchovy). I whispered to the husband, do they have lontong?? He asked the ‘abang’ in Malay who replied in the affirmative, and my order of pressed rice with sayur lodeh, altogether called Lontong, was settled (minus chilli unfortunately because the belly was very unhappy with the torture of my devouring all things chilli from Minang the last couple days). The kids shared a nasi lemak (coconut rice, served with fried anchovies and peanuts, cucumber, sweet chilli sambal, and egg), and the husband had his usual rice and sides. It was GOOD laaaaaa!! I was honestly, pleasantly surprised at how good it was. And can I just add, their sambal belacan was ace, and hot as heck, always a good mark of a great nasi padang shop.
Needless to say, we polished everything off pretty happily. My lontong wasn’t too sweet which I find is often the case and dislike, it was seasoned well, and I was happy that it also included the root vegetable called yam bean in english in some parts of the world, or in Singapore, bangkuang, which is what my mum would put in her lodeh too. The sambals were of correct heat judging by the husband’s sniffling, the children cleaned their plates, and the little madam went on to devour the kueh which means it passed muster too.
Seriously, what a great little hole in the wall find. When we went for our appointment and mentioned having had breakfast there, the person we met said it’s a famous stall, and there’s always a queue. Each day apparently features a special on their menu, and in fact that day, I noticed as we left, was the day for Rawon. Rawon! Im afraid we were too full to try the rawon, but if you have a chance, do. Rawon is Javanese in origin, and is the name of a sort of runny meat stew traditionally made with stewing cuts of beef combined with the off cuts, or offal, including, the fats, sinewy bits, and tripe or the lining of the cow’s stomach. But that’s not the prize. The star is the gravy, coloured black and deeply flavoured by a large seed called pangium edule in ‘English’, or better known as Buah Keluak, a golf ball sized ‘nut’ that is first fermented by being buried in ash to remove its toxins, then cracked open and its flesh removed to use for cooking. Rawon is served with white rice and some choice accompaniments like bergedel, keropok (fish crackers), and fried tempe, to name a few. I will do a post on Rawon and buah keluak one day soon, when I get my hands on my blender again. But back to the shop; we were told that Wednesday is the most popular day because that’s their day for Biryani, and the crowds really descend. So our advice? Go early, we were there around 10.30 or 11am which is always the best time to be standing in front of a nasi padang stall anyway.