Say you’re starving but you still want variety – something quick, tasty and wallet-friendly. Say those hunger pangs hit hard whilst you’re in the Orchard Road area. Nasi Padang might not be the most obvious choice to fulfill those criteria – unless your Makan Kakis Farah & Claudinho de Morais (behind Brazilian home business Claudinho’s Kitchen) recommend you try one of their favourite hidden gems, tucked away in a quiet fourth-floor corner of Far East Plaza.
Mansor D’Cafe is a mini makan place that can barely fit more than 12 diners (thanks, safe distancing!) in its compact premises. But what it lacks in space, it makes up in masses of flavour and choices. There, classic Malay lunch plates are served cafeteria-style (just get in line and point at what you want) by a charming couple, Mr Amin Mansor and his wife Jamilah Md. Daud.
“Our Nasi Padang is Singapore style! You really cannot find this in other places. All home recipes,” said Mr Amin, affectionately calling Madam Jamilah the “chief chef” and main pillar of their restaurant. Home and heart were never far from his lips when Mr Amin spoke. Respectfully named for Mr Amin’s father, they’ve been keeping Mansor D’Cafe in the family for more than fifteen years at Far East Plaza.
The whole Mansor D’Cafe experience – from the kampung spirit, through which customers were warmly welcomed and treated as more than friends, to the delicious home-spun recipes using fresh ingredients and celebrating local flavours – was like a home-coming.
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The sounds of sizzling food and the aromas wafting from their little kitchen were almost too much to bear, as Mr. Amin rattled off some of their must-try dishes – ayam masak merah (sweet and spicy chicken), sayur lodeh (coconut vegetable stew), lemak chilli padi (“This one is killer. Doesn’t look it, but it’s the hottest of all our chicken dishes!”) and Madam Jamilah’s special-recipe, 2-hour-marinated, juicy-on the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside fried chicken. “Each day we sell 20kg of my ayam goreng!” she revealed, with a smile.
Mr Amin was especially thrilled to share his tongue-combusting condiment. “This is the spiciest sambal in Orchard Road! If you love spice, must try,” he encouraged. A glutton for punishment, it was the first thing I popped into my mouth, which immediately went up in flames. A deep orange colour, dotted with lots of chilli seeds and flecks of green lime, Mr Amin wasn’t exaggerating about his sambal belacan (toasted shrimp paste). As he put it, “It’s not mixed with normal red chilli. It’s 100% pure chilli padi. The taste is solid!”
Tears sprang from my eyes and my nose had started to run, but the masochist in me adored the searing heat. Amused at my reaction, he added with a gleeful laugh, “I tell my customers, this is free, take and try. Most of them say, ‘Abang (elder brother in Malay), I cannot tahan (tolerate).’ But they try it anyway and next time they come back, they say, ‘ Sorry Abang, I surrender. Too hot!”
Although a challenge for this spice lover, I refused to wave the white flag, even though the fire in my mouth had to be doused with plain rice so my tastebuds could continue to do their job. I confess I blew the budget with my order, exceeding the usual $6 for one main (chicken, beef, fish or squid) and two sides (vegetables, potatoes, ikan billis, etc.). Instead, my greedy hands held a plate full of beef rendang, sambal ikan, sambal goreng, begedil and a big dollop of sambal belacan, all carefully arranged atop steaming white rice.
Mr Amin’s relationship with his customers was disarming. He was just so grateful for the support of his regulars, whom he treats more like family than friends. No wonder they call him big brother, phone him often and keep returning with their entire families in tow for a taste of tiny but mighty Mansor D’Cafe’s Singapore-style nasi padang with a side of sincere hospitality. Such long-time customers continue flocking to Mansor D’Cafe, whose popularity has spread by word of mouth to new customers like myself.
A queue can be seen most lunchtimes, ravenous for the glistening, rainbow-coloured array of freshly-cooked favourites. Get there before 11.30am to avoid disappointment. Mr Amin advised, “First come, first served! By 2.30 or 3pm, there’s not much left, you might not get your choice.”
Mr Amin said it best – It’s not just food they’re sharing, but their hearts. With every plate, they’re feeding you like family and welcoming you into their home. So next time I feel homesick, I’m heading back for the ayam goreng, lemak chilli padi, sayur lodeh and all the other dishes I’ve yet to try.
Far East Plaza, 14 Scotts Road, #04-34, Singapore 228213.
It’s open Mondays to Saturdays, 11.30am to 5pm. Closed on Sundays and public holidays.
Tel: +65 82965539