Thursday, May 19, 2016
I first heard of (and ate) the famous Changi Village Nasi Lemak when I was a Slave on the Island of Doom (Pulau Tekong).
Trapped as we were on that Accursed Isle, it tasted heavenly to us, fame aside.
Now, more than a decade later, there're multiple Nasi Lemak stalls (in 2002 I think there were at most 2), which can confuse the hapless visitor.
One does not trek all the way down to Changi Village only to be unsure of which Nasi Lemak to eat. And even if one knows that International Nasi Lemak is the original (and famous) stall, there might be a nagging suspicion that it might not (still) be the best.
As a public service, I mobilised a panel of 3 others to sample as many Changi Village Nasi Lemaks as we could. Because I knew that alone, or even with an assistant, by the end I would have Nasi Lemak coming out of my ears and I would no longer be able to appreciate the subtleties of each stall's product.
So did International Nasi Lemak come out tops? The answer might surprise you.
I did a sweep of Changi Village Hawker Centre, and found that there were 5 Nasi Lemak stalls (a couple were closed, but from the stall names and signboards they didn't seem to sell the dish):
1) International Nasi Lemak, #01-03
2) Mizzy's Corner, #01-26
3) Sri Sujana Nasi Lemak, #01-30
4) Changi Famous Nasi Lemak, #01-28
5) Traditional Nasi Lemak, #01-12
Unfortunately, Traditional Nasi Lemak had sold out by the time we arrived at about 7:20pm, so they were immediately out of the running. I do note, though, that name notwithstanding, it looked like most of their food was not actually nasi lemak. Readers can draw their own conclusions.
When we arrived, International Nasi Lemak had the longest queue, followed by Mizzy's Corner, and the last 2 had no queues.
All nasi lemaks were standardised as chicken wing sets with egg for a fair comparison, and evaluated on 5 criteria: Egg, Rice, Ikan Bilis, Chili and Chicken. Ratings were purely qualitative - no numerical scores were given. However many comparisons were made between each.
As an aside, all 4 stalls didn't mix their ikan bilis with peanuts, which a friend who was briefly in the industry told me was the traditional practice - most stalls nowadays cut the fish with peanuts to reduce costs.
1) International Nasi Lemak
This was the only stall we ordered two plates from (partly due to its fame, and partly due to its long queue - we were anticipating feasting on the other plate after we'd discharged our duty).
Oddly enough, despite it being the most famous stall it only had one award - the Green Book award.
Egg: The egg here is pan fried. One plate's egg was overcooked but another plate's was okay, and the yolk was even slightly runny.
Rice: This was particularly disappointing as it was remarkably flavourless. It was dry, hard and not very coconut-ish.
Ikan Bilis: This was not bad and was crispy enough. One person thought it was the worst of the lot, though.
Chili: This was more sour than the usual nasi lemak chili and not very nice. One panelist thought it too sweet. It was also inconsistent (on each plate it tasted different).
Chicken: This was fresh and crispy (because they fry it in small batches - it was the only stall whose chicken was warm) and had a very simple taste. The batter was on the thick side.
2) Mizzy's Corner
Egg: The egg was oil poached and over-cooked.
Rice: It wasn't bad, though it was not super. It tasted like chicken rice rice - not just coconut rice.
Ikan Bilis: This was robust.
Chili: The chili was sweeter and thicker than that of International. I personally found it had a vague fruity edge.
Chicken: The batter was even thicker than that of International's but the chicken was more flavourful than it. The meatwas a little rubbery/dry though.
3) Sri Sujana Nasi Lemak
Strangely enough this stall had quite a few awards - even more than International.
Egg: Pan fried, this was not just overcooked but rubbery.
Rice: While very coconuty (most of us felt that the other stalls' rice was not quite there, in comparison), this was a bit mushy.
Ikan Bilis: This had less body than that of the first 2 stalls. The fishes also seemed smaller than those at the first 2 stalls, but it was still crispy.
Chili: This was quite spicy. It had more character than that of other Nasi Lemak places. But then, that was to be expected as this was not Nasi Lemak chili, but rather some other concoction.
Chicken: The meat was a bit flavourless, though the batter was more spiced than that of the other 3 stalls. It was rather old though, and the crispiness of the batter didn't stand the test of time (from whenever it had been fried) well.
4) Changi Famous Nasi Lemak
Despite its name, I'd never heard of this stall before this day.
Egg: This was the best of all 4 stalls where the egg was concerned. The doneness was about right (though perhaps a little on the long side, especially if you like em runny) and the egg had the best flavour of the 4. It was like what one might imagine free range eggs would taste like compared to factory farmed ones.
Rice: I thought this was the most coconuty of the 4 stalls but 2 others disagreed. It wasn't mushy.
Ikan Bilis: It tasted like it'd been sun dried for so long, all the flavour had been bleached out of it. The crisp was good though. I thought this had the worst ikan bilis of the 4.
Chili: This had the sweetest nasi lemak chili of them all, and it was also the most typically nasi lemak-ish of the 4. Nothing particularly stood out in this paste but it was well-rounded: not too sweet, nor too spicy.
Chicken: This was soggy and quite flavourless, tasting like generic chicken would if you deep fried it without seasoning.
Overall, Changi Famous Nasi Lemak was the most like generic nasi lemak, but rather well done (certainly, better than International Nasi Lemak, which everyone thought was the worst). Though one of us found an egg shell fragment while eating.
There Can Be Only One
Each panelist was asked which of the 4 they would choose, if they could only haveo ne.
Panelist 1 declined to choose any of them and plumped for Adam Road Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak.
Panelist 2 opted for Changi Village Famous Nasi Lemak.
Panelist 3 opted for Sri Sujana Nasi Lemak.
And I chose Changi Village Famous Nasi Lemak.
So if you go down to Changi Village, it's clear that you should steer clear of International Nasi Lemak (unless they were having a bad day when we were there), and you could do worse than queue up for Changi Village Famous Nasi Lemak.