O Rumah Makan Minang. If only you weren’t so far from my flat in Sengkang, I would have lunch with you every week.
I’d like to state for the record that I was the first to really discover this little outfit and one of the people responsible for propelling it into the popularity stratosphere. This was before the area became this cool place to hang out, with grafitti on the walls, and industrial hipster styled eateries popping up.
At that time, maybe around the late 90’s to 2000’s, Sabar Menanti at the end of Kandahar street was our family go-to for what we felt was the closest rendition of Padang food in Singapore. But towards the 2000’s I started to think the flavours were changing, leaning slightly more towards the Malay flavours, which I wasn’t too keen on when I wanted Padang (now that I’m thinking about this, my walk down Kandahar street grumbling over the lack of Padang, I can see in my mind’s eye the gravestones and coffins still being made and stood up against the wall where the public carpark now is, near Sabar Menanti, hence I presume the name Jalan Kubor somewhere nearby. Also, the Malay Heritage Centre was not yet called the Malay Heritage Centre at that time, and didn’t look as jazzed up as it does now; we knew it as the yellow house). So I’m walking along Kandahar Street towards North Bridge road and come upon this little hole in the wall, and thought I’d buy bungkus, or take away. Got home, and oh man, it was good! I started bringing my family to it whenever they were back in town, and some of my friends, eventually my fiance, and now my husband and my kids, and everybody has always liked it (or they’re just very kindly humouring me).
In fact, one of the Rumah Makan’s corporate accounts was thanks to me because my husband, on my suggestion and of course after eating there countless times by then, put up a recommendation to his bosses to cater from them for events as they had complained of how boring the current food was. This led to a long term contract, because the big boss liked it so much. You’re welcome Singapore.
And so from going there for early lunches at 11am to ensure they still had food and hadn’t closed yet (at that time, these Padang places, because of their popularity, would finish all their food by lunch time! Woe betide all who arrive late), to finding out they’re on facebook, and open from 7am til late in the day, Rumah Makan Minang has remained our firm favourite. It still operates on a canteen/foodcourt style ordering system where you go to the counter and say rice please, four! to indicate number of portions, followed by makan or bungkus, meaning eat in or take away, and usually throw in the word hidang to say you want separate plates for each dish, while each person has their own plate of rice, like the Chinese Tze Char, or the Indonesian/Dutch rijsttafel. Don’t break down, you can also just say it in English. Then point away at whatever you fancy. They”ll then carry your food laden tray for you because you will probably over order and will be clearly too giddy to do heavy lifting and they don’t want to clean up your mess when you drop it. You will pay for it straight away at the cashier, whilst also telling them your drinks order, and then tell them that you’d prefer to sit upstairs in the air-conditioned section. By the time you get over yourself and find your way upstairs, your food will probably already be there on the table waiting for you. They are SO organised now, it’s brilliant.
It’s interesting to note that this is a family business and it seems that Sabar Menanti, Rumah Makan Minang and another famous nasi padang outfit called Nasi Pariaman are owned by the same family but different extensions of it, and all three are on the same street. I personally feel Sabar Menanti and Pariaman, both of which I’ve tried, have more of a Malay slant to their flavours, and being Javanese I think plays a part in my preference for Minang. Also, I’ve stayed in Indonesia for varying lengths of time and eaten Padang food from its source and let me tell you, it is trippy, there is nothing more stunning than authentic Padang food. Minang is not the same kind of food you’d find in, say, Bukit Tinggi, but it is the closest you can find in Singapore. Now if anyone can find me a dendeng batokok, please tell me.
I tend to order the same things, and I like to think we kind of know what Padang really is, so if you go, be sure to try one of these:
- dendeng belado (dehydrated slabs of beef fried til crunchy and drenched in fried chilli)
- ayam goreng belado hijau / merah (fried chicken with a fried chilli sambal)
- lemak pucuk ubi (tapioca shoots in coconut milk)
- rendang (rendang)
- tahu telur (eggy fried tofu with shredded vegetables and a soy sauce concoction)
- bergedel (fried potato patty)
- tempe goreng (crunchy fried tempe)
- ayam lemak chilli padi (chicken in coconut milk with birds eye chilli)
- sambal ikan bilis (fried anchovy in sambal)
Notice how everything has chilli in it! If you’re going with kids, like us, order the fishball soup! The tofu isn’t spicy either as is the bergedel and so, kid-safe. And apart from the sambal belacan that they offer as a condiment (and is incredibly good here!), nothing else really has that strong flavour of belacan (dried shrimp paste) which I prefer. Most Malay homes would put belacan in lots of their food, assam pedas, fried rice, mee siam, sambal goreng, kerabu, lemak….
I have one other random nugget of information to offer. Assam pedas is technically not Indonesian, it is Malay. Sayur Lodeh is Javanese, and you won’t find it in Padang, and is usually only ever eaten with lontong or pressed rice cubes. Having said that, the Assam Pedas at Minang is pretty good.
Find them at 18 Kandahar Street, just outside Masjid Sultan, the big Sultan Mosque with the gold dome, and adjacent to Bussorah street, that pedestrianised road that is host to a backpackers hostel, a lovely book shop called Wardah Books, souvenir shops, the Children Little Museum and other gems. Bussorah street is also where my mother’s father lived as a child. I remember one story where he would sneak bugs into the charpoys that his neighbours would lie on outside of their homes, and watch in glee with his friends from a hidden vantage point, the owner after having a lie down, jumping up and scratching all over.
After stuffing your gob, take a walk through all the little streets and uncover something new, try in particular Haji Lane (we’ve been to a barber shop on that street, who weren’t friendly at all, save for the lady actually cutting my husband’s hair, everyone else was so weird. Maybe we caught them on a bad, silent day because they seem so friendly with everyone else going by their IG!).
And if you stumble on a place called Honeycomb, specialising in a soft serve given to you in a cup, with a honey comb, and a syringe of honey, don’t bother. It is gimmicky, the syringe is unnecessary and messy, the honeycomb takes on an awful texture when cold and is over priced. By yourself a llao llao.