Shafinah gets introduced to CRAVE's signature Nasi Lemak that's fit for a President - Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in fact!

Unless you have been living under a rock (or are new to Singapore, in which case you are graciously forgiven but kindly continue to read), you would have heard of the city country region world-famous Adam Road Nasi Lemak before at some point of time in your life. Perhaps you have tried it once. Perhaps it is a weekly affair. Perhaps you are such an addict you’ve sniffed its recent rapid expansion down to the tee (6 whopping outlets in 9 months), and you know that it is now available at all ends of Singapore under the ‘CRAVE’ brand name.

This, my fellow patriots, is the Nasi Lemak that was presented to Indonesian President Joko Widodo when he was in Singapore; this, is the Nasi Lemak that the Sultan of Brunei frequently requests for whenever he visits Singapore. And if you’ve ever attended Singapore Day in New York/Melbourne/London/Shanghai/Sydney, you would probably also recognize this as the Nasi Lemak that was served to you while you were homesick a hundred miles away from home.

 photo 600 PIC 1.01_zpsznl3hebd.jpgCRAVE Ramadhan Special: Satay Nasi Lemak Set, $5.90
Available at all CRAVE outlets until 15 July only 

Ever been sucker-punched with a double craving so bad you can’t help but binge your way through five different meals and then want to crawl into a hole and die?

CRAVE’s Ramadhan Special now allows you to satiate at least some of that without having to live through the same kind of shame or guilt. Yes. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. It is a Nasi Lemak set you see up there served with juicy, well-marinated Satay on the side. A twofer, one might like to call it.

And from its healthier-choice Basmati Rice to its airily fried chicken wings to its non-oily sambal chilli, there is nothing in this reasonably portioned serving that should leave you feeling like you need to spend the next seven consecutive days in the gym.

Because you don’t.

Hawkeyes/Nasi Lemak aficionados will have spotted from a mile away that this Nasi Lemak is not made with the usual short-grain coconut milk-infused rice commonly associated with the traditional dish. Instead, Basmati Rice is used, its polished, graceful long-grain sister that is lighter, healthier and more aromatic to the tastebud. You can still detect a whiff of coconut milk when served piping hot, but it is not clumpy and soaked overly so – a refreshing change from the richly flavoured original.

Does this brazen modification then diminish its authenticity as a true Nasi Lemak dish, one may ask. Hardly. On the contrary, it is probably what plays up all its other elements, alleviating their significance in ways that would not have been possible had the coconut-heavy rice taken up all the spotlight.

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Now, I shall spare you all the humdrum about the ins and outs of Nasi Lemak as if you don’t already know what constitutes a good one. No, let’s not step on each other’s toes like that. Because you may say it’s the rice and I may think it’s the chilli, and we may get into a huge argument over this while someone else comes along and feels that a nice good scrumptious egg with a liquidy egg yolk centre is actually what makes or breaks it all…

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… But you know what’s the best part? With the original Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak, there is no need to settle for one over the other. Because everything you get on the plate is, of equal proportions, heavenly.  

Okay, before we continue, I feel obliged to provide a small clarification of sorts because I am using all kinds of names interchangeably here (are we even talking about the same Nasi Lemak anymore?), and this may be severely confusing some of you at this point.

The legendary Adam Road Nasi Lemak, as it is more colloquially referred to on the streets, is actually officially known as Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak. Avid gluttons Food enthusiasts may have noticed a rather homely food establishment named CRAVE sprouting out all over town and heartland malls of late, claiming to serve the best Nasi Lemak and Teh Tarik in Singapore. It’s not a lie- CRAVE is a collaboration between Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak and Rafee’s Corner, the legendary Teh Tarik from Amoy Street; which means they really do serve the best Nasi Lemak and Teh Tarik in the whole of Singapore.

Behold, the grand masters behind this venerable claim to fame.

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That’s Mohamed Rafeek on the right, owner of the famous Rafee’s Corner of Amoy Street, the man who once travelled far and wide in bid to develop his Teh Tarik recipe to the state of excellence that it is today; and there’s Malik Hassan on the left, the main showrunner of Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak. CRAVE may have been a recent business collaboration between these two food virtuosos, but the zany duo has known each other from as far back as 2009, when they were first chosen by the Prime Minister’s Office to participate in the inaugural Singapore Day held in New York.

With time, it seemed only natural that the best Nasi Lemak and Teh Tarik in town should be available to our food-loving nation side by side under one roof, which was just about where the idea for CRAVE was born.

CRAVE – SELERA RASA NASI LEMAK

“My grandmother started by selling (Nasi Lemak) on the streets. My dad took it to the hawker centre. In my time, I brought it to the malls. I wonder what my children will do next.”

 photo 600 PIC 1.04_zpss5dgeici.jpgCRAVE Chicken Wings, available a la carte at $3.90/3 pairs

Much of it boils down to a string of secret recipes, Malik will be quick to tell you. Ones that were passed down from his grandmother to his father to now, him. Take these mouthwatering chicken wings for example. These are coated with marinade that takes 5 incredible hours to make, a painstaking meticulosity that pays off with a soul-satisfying crunch; resulting in the kind of chicken wings that you see above, fried to a rich golden brown perfection.

Tip: Do not do injustice to these wings but attempting a takeaway (unless you’re intending to eat it immediately after). These need to be consumed hot and fresh out of the wok.

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There was an inner bliss of a whispered ‘yes’ the moment this touched my lips. I am no Michelin food critic, but I can be painfully critical of sambal chilli – especially if you claim to have a secret recipe; and this surprisingly passed my test with flying colours. This gritty sambal chilli is glorious, for the lack of a better word; it’s not oil-soaked, and it brims with just the right balance of sweet-savoury spiciness that won’t leave you gasping for water with every mouthful.

How does one maintain the consistency of anything then, given just how much of this one single dish is comprised of so many smaller secret recipes?

A central kitchen.

This magical scullery is where Malik personally conjures up his secret marinades and sambal chilli potions, after which they are then promptly distributed to the various CRAVE outlets for on-site preparation. You’d think that spells enough dedication for a stretch, but when you’re labelled the BestAnything in the local food arena, consistency becomes paramount; and together with Rafeek, Malik makes surprise visits to all Crave outlets on a weekly basis, ensuring tight quality control and standards.

CRAVE – RAFEE’S CORNER

I felt a strange affinity with Rafeek about forty seconds into our first conversation. Turns out he hails from the same hometown in India as my father; and coincidentally enough, both set sail for Singapore at the age of 10 to help their dads with their businesses. However, unlike my father who then went on to do boring stuff like marketing and timber trading, Rafeek took on a more colourful route, dropping out of school after his dad passed away in order to take over the family’s Teh Tarik trade.

And to greater heights, he took it. After years and years of continuous research and development, Rafeek’s secret Teh Tarik recipe today consists of a unique blend of tea dust sourced from Sri Lanka and Indonesia, resulting in a concoction so intricately smooth and earthy it makes every other tea you have ever tasted seem insipid by comparison. I’d like to think I had the best Teh Tarik when I was in Chennai, but this by far trumps them all, hands down. For a while, I was even trying to make out the secret ingredient- Cardamom? Masala? Fresh cow’s milk, perhaps?

There is something different about this teh tarik, anyone will tell you that. It’s light, it’s fluffy, and there is a little something floral about its texture even; a smooth note of lushness that doesn’t quite leave a strange aftertaste on your tongue like most teas do. Is it any wonder why it’s been dubbed the best teh tarik in Singapore?

And this isn’t even the only showpiece Rafeek has up his sleeve, by the way.

 photo 600 PIC 1.07_zpses0unt96.jpgCRAVE Ramadhan Special: Cendol Melaka & Air Limau Selaseh, $2.50 each
Available at all CRAVE outlets until 15 July only 

Now, I must admit, I am no fan of Cendol Melaka. I feel that I don’t know what to feel as the whole thing slithers down my throat – more often than not, it is too sweet, too thick, too ‘gelat‘ in a way that isn’t even satisfying; not to mention that I always associate it with foreboding diarrhoea.

Alas, my astringent views were instantaneously laid to rest the second the taste of this delicious concoction hit my brain- a sip huge enough, by the way, to reduce the cup’s contents by about a third. The glorious Gula Melaka-and-coconut milk combo aside, it is the cendol jelly itself that will steal your heart away. These green jelly strips are homemade and soft with a nice, springy chew; perfectly balancing out the deeply rich and earthy tones of the drink. It’s great caramelized goodness packed in a cup; with just the faintest, most delicate touch of bitterness to even out the sweet

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HAPPY BELLY RECOMMENDS

The Nasi Lemak is, needless to say, a definite must-order at CRAVE. While the Satay Set is an interesting mergence, DO NOT leave without trying the chicken wings or Begedil. The Lontong is also surprisingly well-done and satisfying to the gut; marred in a rich, flavorful coconut-based gravy tinged with a complex note of spicing. If you’re there with a friend, switch up your combination so that you may enjoy the best of both worlds. Don’t forget to tie your wonderful meal up at CRAVE a classic serving of Teh Tarik!

CRAVE City Square Mall
180 Kitchener Road #B2-K2/K3/K4 and K11, Singapore 208539
Opening Hours: 8am – 8pm
http://crave.com.sg/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CRAVEnasilemak/
Instagram: @cravenasilemak

Other CRAVE Outlets:

1. HOUGANG MALL, #B1-11
Operating Hours: 8am – 9pm

2. ION ORCHARD, #B4-58/59
Operating Hours: 9.30am – 9.30pm

3. BEDOK MALL, #B2-22
Operating Hours: 10am – 10pm

4. PARKWAY PARADE, B1 Food Republic Stall 18
Operating Hours: 10am – 10.30pm

5. PUNGGOL WATERWAY POINT, #B1-K7
Operating Hours: 7.30am – 9.30pm

6. JUNCTION 8, #B1-K8
Operating Hours: 8am – 9pm