What do legendary actor P. Ramlee & fried chicken have in common? They are the passions of one man – Mr Haswandi Hashim – converging deliciously at his stall in Jalan Besar. After my Makan Kaki Chef Bjorn Shen, judge of MasterChef Singapore and Middle-Eastern restaurant Artichoke proclaimed it “the most amazing ayam goreng in Singapore” earlier in February this year, I hurried down to confirm this and was not disappointed. A few things have changed since February and on my last visit, I finally met the man behind Chef Bjorn’s favourite fried chicken. Turns out, this ayam goreng comes with rice and sambals as colourful as the story behind it.
Mr Haswandi and his wife Nur Hafizah Ahmad launched La Porpo just two years ago with little fanfare, but have quickly gained a still-growing fan base. As a massive fan of film legend P. Ramlee, Mr Haswandi decided to name his stall after a catchphrase from his idol’s 1972 movie Laksamana Do Re Mi.
“It was a hilarious comedy and there’s one part where P. Ramlee was sitting on a flying carpet when he said ‘la porpo’, which sounded Spanish to me,” he explained. “La porpo is a phrase used often between me and my childhood friends. We all watched the same movie, so that’s our connection and appreciation of P. Ramlee. To us, it means something friendly, warm, creative.”
Like a secret password or magic code within his social circle, it brings together their shared love for movies and makan that Mr Haswandi hopes will extend to his customers. “I want them to come and get crazy about our flavours,” he said with a smile.
That’s why he even named his F&B company Rasa Loca (an amalgamation of Malay and Spanish words that means crazy taste) and one of his spicy chilli pastes Sambal Loca. Mr Haswandi is also pleased he has his son’s seal of approval for a greeting he often uses (almost like the stall’s tagline) and can be seen in signage on the storefront, “Yo… What’s good?”
So what is good at La Porpo? Hands down, their ayam goreng or fried chicken, of course. Mr Haswandi’s recipe, “legendary in the family since my grandparents’ time”, has been passed down orally through generations. Combined with Nur Hafizah’s own family recipe, husband and wife have created the ultimate fried chicken, after much trial and error. Theirs is a fundamental fried chicken recipe versatile enough to use in many dishes like their best-selling Kelantan-style nasi kerabu, ayam penyet and ayam geprek. All started off with the same fried chicken foundation, but the difference is in the sambals.
Early one Wednesday morning, I found myself at Marine Terrace Market & Food Centre to try a dish that came highly recommended by my Makan Kaki, Gayle Leong of Asian Specialty Gelato Store, Ice Ke Lim. At her urging to get there early to avoid missing out, I was one was of the first of a steady stream of customers at Ole Ole Bumbu, a family-run Nasi Padang stall in Marine Terrace.
There, I met affable and chatty matriarch and chef Eliza Abdul Mutalib, who regaled me with tales of her culinary-crazy upbringing, as well as her love for cooking and for her customers. Take the name of her stall, which she created herself by combining the Malay word for spices (bumbu) with the world of sports. “You know, like the football cheer? Ole, Ole, Ole, let’s go! Simple to remember, yet lots of meanings,” she said. Also, in Indonesia, ole ole can mean souvenirs or as Eliza explained, “Tidbits are also called ole ole.”
The stall’s name certainly had layers of meaning, but would their lontong bring the same in flavour? I was very keen to find out if the spices were indeed worth cheering about. Perfectly confident, Eliza proclaimed that her lontong was a cut above the rest because she grinds all her spices from scratch.
Garlic and onion are added along with two other “secret” ingredients that Eliza willingly divulged, “Lemongrass and dried prawns. Not the small ones, not udang grago. Those are $5 or $6 per kg. Ours is special and can cost $18 to $20 per kg! It makes a lot of difference to the taste. There’s more sweetness from the prawn. I sauté it for longer so the flavour and fragrance really comes out.”
A whole lot of grinding also goes on for Eliza’s lontong toppers. First, her sambal, made from dried red chillies and belacan (fermented shrimp paste) is sauteed with ikan billis (dried anchovies) for a flavour boost. Next, her serunding (fried, spiced coconut sambal) gets the same treatment with dried shrimp and dried fish. “I add ikan parang that’s dried and ground. One packet costs $50!” Eliza revealed.
SEE: Hi Makan Kakis, this week brings a double-whammy of deliciousness with not 1, but 2 makan recommendations from MasterChef Singapore judges Audra Morrice & Bjorn Shen! First, authentic, quality Nasi Padang from a renowned restaurant that has been in Singapore since 1920. Chef Audra loves Sabar Menanti II, right across from Sultan Mosque. The Nasi Padang is so good you need to bring reinforcements to navigate the queues. For the best time, make sure you have someone to line up for food, and someone to “chope” a table!
Last time Chef Audra went, her group tucked into “divine” Tahu Telur (crispy, fluffy tofu omelette in a peanut dressing), Lontong (compressed, steamed rice cakes served in a rich coconut vegetable curry), Ikan Bakar (grilled fish, or in this case, fried in turmeric flour and doused in a thick kicap manis and sprinkled with cut chillis, onions and a squeeze of lime) and fried eggplant smothered in a sambal that takes you to a totally different place.
Chef Audra also raves about the Kueh-Kueh, which are a great sweet finish to your Nasi Padang feast. From Ondeh-Ondeh to Kueh Dadar, these are really very good, so order a variety!
Sabar Menanti, which loosely means “good things come to those who wait”, is definitely one of Chef Audra’s favourite places to visit in Kampong Glam and that’s just scratching the surface! Remember to go in a group (of legal size) – that way, you can order and try lots of different delicious dishes to go with your hot, white rice!
Next, Chef Bjorn recommends the perfect pairing of rich salmon head with tangy, spicy asam pedas. Remember his last recommendation of Ayam Geprek from La Porpo? You’ll find the Salmon Head Asam Pedas at a stall right next to it in the same coffeeshop along Jalan Besar, right across from Sim Lim Tower.
Full disclosure, Masmidah’s Kitchen is run by the mother of Chef Bjorn’s restaurant manager, but hey, the family that works in F&B together, stays together, right?
And fish-lovers, if there’s one thing you must try at Masmidah’s Kitchen it’s got to be her Salmon Fish Head Asam Pedas. As Chef Bjorn explains it, salmon is such an oily, fatty fish, but the head is even fattier and gelatinous to boot. All that richness needs to be balanced by some acid, which is where the sour and spicy tamarind gravy that drenches the fish head comes in. Lots of vegetables accompany the salmon, including tomatoes, brinjal and lady’s finger. This is one fish dish that’s big in flavour and aroma.
But that’s not all! Take a look at the rest of Masmidah’s menu. Chef Bjorn calls this good old soulful Malay home cooking. Together with the fried chicken at La Porpo, you’re going to have a very good time at these two neighbouring stalls!
TASTE: MASMIDAH’S KITCHEN 29/31 Jalan Besar, S(208798) Open: Mon – Sat (best to go at lunchtime)
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.
This week I’ve discovered excellent halal food you can order in or takeaway quickly with just a budget $20 & enough to feed 2 – 4 people. At Tanglin Halt Food Centre, I found Warung O.M.C., which stands for Oh My Chicken! And Oh Yes, their Ayam Penyet, or deep fried, smashed chicken is yummy!
Their standard rice set comes with a big piece of chicken, plus lettuce leaves, fried tempeh and fried tau kwa on a bed of what I thought was steamed white basmati rice. But one bite & I realised it was far from plain. It was actually tasty chicken-flavoured rice that complemented the ayam penyet, which was a gorgeous golden-yellow colour from turmeric – very crispy on the outside, moist & juicy on the inside, with an extra topping of battered shards for lots of added crunch.
What really pushed things to the next level was their excellent chilli sauce, which will have you seeing stars! It’s very spicy and you’ll feel the searing heat nibbling on your tongue and lips long after you’ve finished your meal. But the extreme chilli is tempered by a soothing sweetness that just goes so well with the entire plate.
If you want to really treat yourself, go all out with their Ayam Penyet fried rice. You’ll get the same chilli sauce and massive piece of crispy chicken, usually the wing & drumlet portion attached to the breast. These sit on a mountain of nasi goreng.
I reckon the fried rice was made with the same flavourful chicken rice, seasoned bright orange with chilli and fried with red cabbage onion, fish cake, peas, sweet corn and carrot. Hot and fragrant from the wok, this ayam penyet fried rice was decadent and delicious.
Both rice sets were enough to feed 4 people comfortably, but you can also supplement your meal with their mee rebus or mee soto.
The Mee Soto ($3) was characterised by the flavours of clove & coriander, with shredded chicken, bean sprouts, coriander and fried onion topping yellow noodles. If you’re not keen on the alkaline taste & smell of yellow noodles, you can opt for Bee Hoon. Same for the Mee Rebus (also $3), which was pungent with spices. Thick and sweet, I think I detected ikan billis in the gravy. Bean sprouts, lime, fried onion and tau pok completed the dish.
Warung O.M.C. serves their noodles first thing in the morning, but keep in mind you’ll have to wait for later if you want the Ayam Penyet. And I would definitely wait for it – that’s the star dish, after all – they’re not called Warung Oh My Chicken for nothing! I was able to get the standard Nasi Ayam Penyet from around 9am, but the fried rice was only ready around lunch time. You can order via most food delivery apps (see below).
However, I popped by to takeaway this time because I had to collect a rare treat from a neighbouring stall. Popular for their lontong, mee rebus and mee soto, Queenstown Lontong actually shuts down all other food sales to concentrate on their Ramadan specialty – Kuih Jongkong. It’s so in-demand, you can’t just rock up and take away – you have to pre-order by what’s apping them in advance.
Made from a thin batter of rice & tapioca flour, coconut milk, pandan and gula melaka, this traditional kuih jongkong is wrapped and steamed in banana leaf to yield a smooth, creamy, savoury-sweet paste. To me, it looked and tasted similar to hot hoon kueh (sans banana and corn), if it was served in soup!
These beautiful parcels were wrapped in a distinctive style, held together tightly by a couple of strategically placed toothpicks. I did a little research and discovered that in Malay, jongkong could mean ingot, so maybe that’s why they look like wallets or purses, containing treasure within! But I read that jongkong can also mean canoe. Again, it could be because the wrapped parcels look like little boats!
Unwrapped from its green jacket, you’ll see a mound of bright green paste, pudding-like in consistency , swimming in a pool of gula melaka, coconut, pandan and banana leaf infused sauce.
Taste-wise, it’s so reflective of our tropical Asian flavours, delicately flavoured by the earthy gula melaka and creamy coconut, but thankfully not too sweet. When I picked up my pre-order, the kuih had just been removed from the steamer and were still warm in the bag.
They continued to retain their heat so when I got home, I was treated to a truly comforting, belly-warming afternoon tea snack. I chilled the other one in the fridge and it made for a really sublime dessert later on.
All in all, I spent $17.70 on the 2 Ayam Penyet rice sets and 2 Kuih Jongkong, plus parking!
Here’s the breakdown:
Nasi Ayam Penyet – $5
Ayam Penyet Fried Rice – $5.50
(add $0.30 for takeaway containers – bring your own containers to save $ & the environment. I reuse the takeaway containers at home for leftovers and when I give food to friends and family)
Kuih Jongkong – $6 (each $3)
From home to the food centre for takeaway and back, I was done in less than 20 minutes flat. No Joke!
I have to say my trip to Tanglin Halt Food Centre was a double winner with Ayam Penyet from Warung O.M.C. and Kuih from Queenstown Lontong! If you’re popping by for your takeaway, the best time is in the afternoon before 3pm during this circuit breaker season.
TASTE: Warung O.M.C.
Address: #01-17 Tanglin Halt Food Centre
2A Commonwealth Dr, Singapore 141002
Open: 8am–7pm (closed Sundays)
Order via: foodpanda.sg, deliveroo.com.sg, bungkus.sg
Tel: +65 98958581 (call in advance to order then pop in quickly to pick-up. Ample parking available).
Address: #01-21 Tanglin Halt Food Centre
Tel: +65 9182 2189 (WhatsApp Kuih Jongkong pre-orders only)
Opening Hours during Ramadan: 11am – 5pm.
Babas and Nyonyas, stop me if you know this one: What do you get when you cross a herb salad with rice? Any true-blue Peranakan will tell you the answer is nasi ulam. The combination of aromatic Asian herbs, rice and, sometimes, seafood, is what makes nasi ulam such a wonderful, cool dish for our Southeast Asian climate.
Found all over southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and here in Singapore, recipes for nasi ulam differ from location to location, family to family, but this Peranakan version was recommended to me by KF Seetoh, the founder of renowned food guide Makansutra.
Chendol Melaka at Soy Eu Tua Coffeeshop along Upper East Coast Road is run by the irrepressible Daisy Tan and her husband Colin Yam. Once the regional director of a shipping firm, this self-confessed “200 per cent” bibik is now wholly dedicated to preserving her Peranakan culture through her culinary delights, like delicious chendol, kueh-kueh and her signature dish, nasi ulam.
TASTE:Chendol Melaka is located at Soy Eu Tua Coffeeshop, 15 Upper East Coast Road, Singapore 455207.
It’s open 10am-5pm (Tuesdays to Fridays) and 9am-5pm (Saturdays and Sundays). Closed Mondays.
To “reserve” your nasi ulam, call Colin Yam at 9777 6471.
As a Southeast Asian staple, there are few things as comforting and versatile as rice. From biryani to economical “point-point” rice and nasi padang, as well as nasi goreng or yangzhou chao fan, I thought I was familiar with them all, until my Gold 905 Makan Kaki, batik fashion designer Oniatta Effendi, told me about two rice dishes I’d never heard of before.
The avid home cook and self-confessed rice-mad “nasi girl” said when she wanted something a little more extraordinary, she indulges in her favourite nasi jenganan and nasi rawon. Nasi what? A casual poll among friends and colleagues confirmed that these Javanese dishes are, indeed, little-known. Feeling slightly vindicated for my ignorance, I hurried over to Bedok Corner for a little rice re-education.
TASTE: Nasi Jenganan is only available on Sundays, Nasi Rawon available daily. SATAY SOLO
Stall 9, Bedok Corner Food Centre (opp. Bedok Army Camp)
1 Bedok Rd, S(469572)
Open: Tues – Sunday 7am – 10pm (Closed Mondays)
Tel: +65 97110116