In this day and age, it is hard to find something for less than $3 at the hawker centre and still hope that it is made with passion and quality ingredients.
But here it is.
The Nasi Lemak at Lor Ah Soo Market must be the holy grail of the economic-gastro pilgrim seeking the sacred chalice of the cheap and good! Granted that for $2.50, you only get coconut rice, egg, ikan kuning, ikan bilis and chilli, but it makes for such a delicious meal that you would quickly forgive them for missing out on the other staples like the peanuts, cucumber and the, not so staple, chicken wings.
According to Mdm Liang, the founder of the stall, the reason the peanuts is missing is because it is quite difficult to ensure that the peanuts are fried to perfection every time as it gets burnt easily. So years ago, she made the decision to forgo the nuts in order to focus on the other ingredients.
Once you get to the front of the queue, the very first thing that you are greeted with, (aside from the lady taking orders) is the alluring fragrance of warm coconut and pandan leaves. They specially order freshly squeezed coconut milk in order to be able to produce that fragrance which is as mesmerising as the smell of coffee and freshly baked bread in the morning.
The key topping at their stall is the ikan kuning which is supplied by my friend Xiao Hei, the Gen Y fishmonger downstairs. Don’t miss this, even if you normally don’t take ikan kuning. It might just change your mind about this classic topping. The fish is fried to perfection. It is crispy enough to be eaten whole, yet the flesh is still moist and tender and the flavour is superb. In fact, the ikan kuning is such an integral part of the dish that they have been known to close the stall if the fish was in short supply!
The other unique topping is the way they do their eggs. Instead of the usual sunny side up egg, the eggs come as a thin disc, almost like a floppy CD. In order to get that stack of eggs, they actually start frying them at 2am in the morning as each one is individually fried in a wok! I think I still prefer my runny yolk, but this egg does give Yi Liu Xiang its unique identity. The small ikan bilis is also very good. They are fried to a crisp and they are so crunchy and brittle that they won’t accidentally poke into your gums. Taken together with the chilli, all these ingredients make for one of the most satisfying meals that you can buy in Singapore for $2.50. No wonder there is a perpetual queue outside the stall! 4.5/5
Yi Liu Xiang was founded in 1983 by Mdm Liang who took up a stall at the market before its major renovation. She was taught the secret recipe by a chef that she used to work with. The rice, she tells me, has a secret ingredient apart from coconut, pandan leaves and salt which gives it that special fragrance. The style of the Nasi Lemak is much the same as when she had started over 30 years ago except that the foam boxes used to have their name printed on it. She is now in semi-retirement and the stall is now being run by her brother and his son, Ah Cong, a next gen hawker!
After much deliberation, I finally gave a 4.5/5 rating to Yi Liu Xiang despite the fact that I feel that there were several things missing to make it the perfect Nasi Lemak. I came to this conclusion because ever since I first ate there, I have been back almost every week since to buy it for myself and my staff. So the 4.5/5 rating reflects that “need to eat every week” quality of the dish! For the perfect Nasi Lemak, I imagine that I would buy the rice, chilli and Ikan Kuning home and pack it in banana leaves with the addition of peanuts, sunny side up eggs, fried chicken wings and luncheon meat! That would be a meal fit for a sultan!