It does not need a posh or comfortable setting to qualify as an epicurean destination. Rather what qualifies as epicurean comes from a true understanding and adherence to the concepts and culinary techniques of a cooking style. Take the cuisine of Padang for example, a cuisine that rules in Singapore as the epitome of fine Malay cooking.
This is a food that came with immigrants from the Indonesia’s West Sumatran region of Minangkabau which has Padang as its capital. Having feasted in Padang itself, I can truly assert that the cooking at Rumah Makan Minang in Singapore’s Malay heartland of Kampong Glam represents the best of this culinary tradition.
Sited at the crossroads with Muscat Street, under the shadows of the looming Sultan Mosque, this corner open-fronted coffee shop eatery is one of the three spawns of the original Sabar Menanti Restaurant, all run by the children of the late matriarch Hajjah Rosemah Binte Mailu who started her business in 1944. In Malay, “sabah menanti” means to “wait patiently” and the customers of Hajjah Rosemah certainly had to wait very patiently for their food as the queues were often long.
Two of her children run Rumah Makan Minang – former teacher daughter Cik (this means Madam in Malay) Zulbaidah Marlian, 48, and her brother Encik (this means Mister in Malay) Linar Marlian, 55 and her son Hazmi Zin, 24.
Sitting outdoors you get to look at either the Sultan Mosque or the fortress-like walls of the Malay Heritage Centre, formerly the palace of the last Sultan of Singapore. Upstairs there is an air-conditioned dining room which is also available for group bookings.
Must taste dishes are Rendang Beef or Chicken, Sayor Lodeh, Ayam Belado Hijau, Ayam Goreng Berempah, Ikan Assam Pedas (Singapore-style), Ikan Bakar, a barbecued Selar fish topped with a garnish of dark soya sauce, sliced onions, sliced green chillies and freshly squeezed lime juice from the limau kesturi lime. Then there is the Sotong Masak Hitam of squid cooked in a dark soya sauce and the Sambal Petai Udang.
For vegetables have a taste of my favourites of Sambal Goreng and Sambal Nangka Gulai (a spiced coconut vegetable gravy made with unripe jackfruit), Gulai Pucuk Ubi (young tapioca shoots in a spicy coconut gravy) and Bergedil (a fried potato cutlet).
All meat, fish and main dishes cost $2.50 per single serving while vegetables cost $1.80 to $2. Rice costs 70 cents per plate. If you opt for a plateful of rice with a main dish and two side dishes, the price is $3.50.
What sets the cooking apart is the taste and texture of authenticity – all belado (chilli) dishes contain chillies which are roughly ground, the sour and hot fish dish of Ikan Assam Pedas contains semi finely ground spices while the Gulai gravies are smooth with finely ground spices and coconut milk. The star dish of Beef Rendang comes with finely ground spices of lemon grass, lengkuas (galangal), shallots, turmeric and ginger cooked for three hours in a pure coconut cream specially ordered and with finely ground coconut flesh. Cik Marlian says, “In my mother’s day, the Rendang was cooked for 4 hours over charcoal till the gravy is thick and the coconut fragrant. Today with gas cookers, the time is 3 hours.”
To ensure the deep seeping of the spice flavour into the meats, the Rendang dishes are cooked the night ahead and allowed to infuse with flavours overnight.
Conversations with Cik Marlian reveal even more culinary gems like the fact that Botok Botok is a dish of fish steamed in coconut milk and a mixture of Malay herbs and leaves like the young shoots (called Puchok) of the Paku plant, turmeric leaf, young shoots of the tapioca and long beans. You may not like this dish as it tastes rather like “grass” but it is an authentic village dish of the old school.
She remembers a childhood spent in the vicinity in Lorong Fatimah in Kampong Ceylon (Ceylon Village) at a location which is now Raffles Hospital, behind the Poh Heng goldsmith shop. “We were very poor but very happy,” she recalls. “Though my parents sold food for a living, we were never allowed to eat the meat dishes as they were too precious. We would thoroughly enjoy an egg in the rendang sauce eaten with rice. And at Hari Raya, the festival which celebrates the end of the annual Ramadan month of fasting, we would persuade mother and father to cook 3 chickens for the family so that we could have chicken for a few days.”
Rumah Makah Minang, sited as it is in the shadows of the Sultan Mosque, sees the days of its life closely mirroring the hours of a Muslim day and the seasons of the Muslim calendar.
“We serve breakfast from 7 am to 10 am and dishes include Nasi Lemak, Lontong, Meesiam, Tahu Goreng, Mee Soto, Soto Ayam, Mee Rebus, Mee Goreng and Kuih Muih (this is a selection of Malay cakes) and Bubur (porridges) like Terigu, Pulot Hitam and Pengat Pisang. Each of these cost $2.50 a serving.”
After lunch there is afternoon tea which features similar dishes to breakfast and then from 4 pm onwards a fresh batch of cooked food is placed on the glass showcase to cater for the customers to come to the Mosque for the last prayers of the day and who will then have a meal.
Many of the mosque visitors who go to attend classes also find that the restaurant offers a quick snack or a delicious meal.
INGREDIENTS IN PADANG COOKING:
Picture Caption: Cik Marlian with from top right: Tahu Telor, Sambal Goreng, Sayur Urap, Sambal Lada Hijau, Ikan Gulai, Chicken Rendang. In the centre from left are Ikan Pepes (fish wrapped in banana leaves), Beef Rendang and Sambal Terong.
Picture Credits: © All pictures by UV Picture Library. Illustration by Eilena Ong.
| EATING OUT | DINING
IN | MARKETPLACE | TASTES
& TRADITIONS | EROTICS &
EXOTICS | RECIPE FILE