A journey across the causeway results in an unexpected discovery of a culinary gem for Karen Ho
MALAYSIANS can be having a perfectly great time visiting another country when a sudden yearning hits. You know that feeling. The urge to have a taste of something familiar or something spicy. It’s understandable when one’s travelling halfway round the globe, but it can happen even if the destination is closer to home.
One of the great things about hopping across the Causeway is that it's not too difficult to satisfy any food craving, given the vast range of culinary offerings in Singapore. When it comes to spicy food or Malay food, make sure your search brings you to Telok Blangah near Vivo City Mall where you’ll find the newly opened Bay Hotel which houses Rumah Rasa.
Resembling an urban sanctuary, dominated by wood accents and dark brown furnishings, this House is a cosy and contemporary venue for authentic Indonesian cuisine while doubling up as the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant.
The Pan-Indonesian menu is a collection of various provincial specialities and cooking styles that are a small reflection of the country’s culinary diversity. With influences from Sumatra and Java to Bali and Aceh, the selection of dishes includes familiar favourites like gado gado, fried chicken, beef rendang and asam fish head, plus a decent choice of drinks and desserts.
Having stuffed myself elsewhere the night before with a delicious spread of Padang food and then filling up again at the buffet breakfast a few hours before, I seriously wondered how I was going to squeeze in the Rumah Rasa offerings (and into my clothes the next few days!)
But it must have been the ikan bakar (grilled fish) that did it. It was guilty of fully reviving my appetite, reminding me of one of my favourite street foods from home. It may not have been ikan pari (stingray), but the freshly grilled golden sea bass topped with a delicious homemade sauce was irresistible and had me going for second helpings of the mildly spicy and sweet fish meat. Already flavourful on its own, the tender flesh is even tastier when combined with the side serving of sambal badjak, a piquant paste that’s both fresh and fragrant.
We persuaded chef Sharifah Zaharah to part with her recipe for the fish and the sambal badjak as it could get rather costly to make regular trips down to Rumah Rasa for our fix. Her aromatic sauces make their mark throughout the menu, reflecting her belief in using only fresh seasonal ingredients to enhance the cuisine. Various combinations of chillies, lemongrass, ginger, onions, coconut milk, spices and other flavours are blended together for seasoning, stir-frying and simmering.
EGGS & TOFU
From then on, there was no holding back my palate. The familiar-looking tahu telur Surabaya was a charming sight, with its crispy coat, a crown of julienned vegetables and splashes of sweet and spicy dark sauce. The fluffy egg and tofu mixture, while subtle on its own, took on a stronger flavour after mopping up the sauce that was too sparse.
Thankfully it was a light dish, leaving me room for the udang petai Belado, a plate of succulent prawns stir-fried in chilli sambal and scattered with bright green petai. Although the fresh red chillies in the belado sauce looked ready to heat up my tastebuds, I found the spiciness to be mild but enough to nicely complement the flavour of the juicy prawns, not outshine it.
The entire spread resembled a culinary journey through Indonesia as we were transported from Sop Buntut Bali to Ayam Panggang Berkakak Jakarta while in between, guzzling down a smooth es alpukat, that famous avocado-based drink, which thankfully, did not have an overpowering avocado taste.
So immersed in the cuisine was I during those moments that if someone had called me Ibu, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye.
Ending the meal with banana fritters was a little unexpected till I remembered the European influence on the archipelago from this far continent. My sweet tooth happily crunched on the thin and crispy casing which held a super soft filling inside. Beautifully light and not too sweet, even with the addition of vanilla ice-cream, the dessert was a divine way to complete the tour of Rumah Rasa. Comfortable, familiar and good food memories.... Just like home.
IKAN BAKAR RUMAH RASA
1 whole seabass (gutted)
20g turmeric leaves (chopped)
50ml coconut milk
50ml sweet soya sauce
30ml calamansi juice
30g lemon grass
1. Mix all marinade ingredients and marinate the fish for about 30 mins.
2. When grilling, place banana leaves on the baking tray and grill fish for about 15 mins at 200°C.
20ml tamarind juice
30ml coconut milk
Salt, sugar to taste
50g green chilli
10g shrimp paste
1. Sauté all ground ingredient in hot oil.
2.Add coconut milk and tamarind juice.
Level 1, Bay Hotel, 50 Telok Blangah Road,
Tel +65-6818 6681
Opening hours 6am to 4am
Most convenient options are via taxi or MRT. Nearest station: Harbourfront. Exit Vivo City mall along Telok Blangah Road. At the big junction, cross to the opposite side. Bay Hotel is on the corner.
Ikan bakar Rumah Rasa, tahu telur Surabaya (ask for extra sauce)
Contemporary and cosy
From S$14 (RM30) to S$28 for main courses