Makansutra: Seek comfort in sambal porridge
The dish at Sajian Mak Dara is comforting and delicious
Our Muslim friends here have it good when it comes to makan.
For a long time, they have been sticklers to tradition.
The rendang you get at any traditional makcik 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, Western and even Vietnamese restaurants.
But that is not even scratching the surface of the magnitude of flavours and culinary concepts we have in Singapore.
I came across something that slipped by me all these decades: sambal porridge.
Sajian Mak Dara in Geylang Serai has been offering it - the only halal version of this dish in Singapore apparently - for over 20 years.
Two items stood out, the first being the bubur kampung ($3.50). The bowl of Chinese-style plain porridge came with a separate platter of ingredients - ikan bilis, chopped chai po (preserved radish), peanuts, sambal kangkung, salted egg and a fat dollop of the meanest homemade sambal belacan this part of the globe.
It sounds like some messed-up idea of a Chinese porridge meal, but Sajian Mak Dara sees queues at its stall every day till it sells out.
The porridge comes thicker than most so you feel "fuller".
The ingredients are generous and 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 is a revelation.
You get that "why does this feel so oddly strange yet comforting" sensation.
The crispy ikan bilis and crunchy nuts lend texture and umami while the spicy sambal kangkung is not adjusted for chilli wimps.
Then, there is the nasi lemak (from $3.50).
I have had dozens of so-called "highly recommended" versions here and in Malaysia.
Some are "myopic good", recommended by bloggers who eat only that one version and gush over it.
Some are slightly better because they have a range of 16 ingredients offered behind that glass shelf (which is more like nasi lemak campur or economy rice dishes).
And then there are the iconic ones - a bite into the rice and sambal makes you stop and experience a flashback of your childhood.
That was what happened when I devoured this nasi lemak.
Basmati grains were used and they came not overly lemak, soft and fluffy, and they gently slipped off the spoon each time I scooped them.
The hint of lemongrass with a tinge of saltiness in the rice was remarkable.
The sambal has spicy and 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 on my list of nasi lemak favourites.
Sajian Mak Dara
#02-108, Serai Market & Food Centre, Geylang Serai
Opens 7am to 4pm, closed on Mondays