It’s easy to rationalise forking out a double-digit sum for, say, carbonara or a club sandwich at a modern cafe in Singapore. But what about paying a similar sum for nasi lemak? It’s a curious situation that has driven debate on the matter: Why so much, compared to the usual $2.50 rice and fish wrapped in coconut leaves?
At Village Nasi Lemak Bar, a plate of the basic fare can go up to more than $10. “We get customers questioning our prices all the time,” says Michelle Chen, director of business development at the cafe-bar in Circular Road.
Chen wanted to put a new spin on the dish to appeal to a younger crowd by adding other items such as sambal sotong, otak-otak and even a wobbly onsen egg drizzled with truffle oil. While the restaurant wants to modernise the dish, the more traditional aspects of it are not forgotten.
THINKING OUT OF THE BOX
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“Everything about what we do is 80 per cent traditional, because if you don’t know how to cook the traditional version, it is impossible to revamp it,” Chen says. The concept took one and a half years of research and development, before it was realised as brick and mortar.
The nasi, or rice, is steamed in a pot with coconut milk and fragrant pandan leaves, to retain texture and taste. As for the all-important sambal, it is prepared in house with shrimp paste, garlic and ginger.
“We want to bring fresh, flavourful ingredients back to the community,” she adds. “In an age where our diets consist of artificially coloured and flavoured ingredients, we want to bring back the idea of making things from scratch and help others understand that good street food does not have to come from a packet, and it does not have to be processed,” points out Chen.
It’s a revival of tradition that rides on the back of a burgeoning Modern Singaporean cuisine. “Our own local hawker food has stagnated, compared to the influx of international cuisines in Singapore; many of our hawker masters are also disappearing,” Chen says.
“What we do encourages reminiscing about these hawker flavours and making such food popular again.”