A wonderful spread of authentic Malay dishes (Pictures by ALAN TEH LEAM SENG)

Runs by third generation owners, Hjh Maimunah Restaurant in Singapore serves up a variety of authentic Malay and Indonesian cuisine, writes Alan Teh Leam Seng

“OH no!” Words of utter dismay escape from my mouth as I focus my sight on the “Closed on Sunday” sign hanging on the front entrance of the Jalan Pisang shop, Simngapore.

Then, just as I am about to walk away a voice calls out from behind me. “Excuse me. Are you planning to dine at Hjh Maimunah?” I turn around and see a young Caucasian couple behind me. I nod.

“Why don’t you go to their Joo Chiat branch? They are open today,” they suggest. My face brightens up immediately. Looks like not all is lost after all.

I try to pacify myself during the 20-minute journey. Although I will not get the opportunity to dine at Kampung Glam as planned, looking on the bright side, at least I will get to sample something new. I keep my fingers crossed.

The Hjh Maimunah branch is located in three restored pre-war shop houses along Joo Chiat Road. The entrance in the middle building leads into a large dining area. There are not many people around as it is just 5.30pm.

I head straight for the buffet-styled spread next to the stairs leading to the first floor. At a glance, I can see an astounding 30 dishes available, ranging from piping hot soups to fragrant rendang and ayam bakar. The air around me is a potpourri of conflicting smells; each is trying to outdo the other at enticing me to make them my choice.


A SNAIL DISCOVERY

After pondering my choices for five minutes, I happily begin my culinary adventure. The first to reach my plate is the lemak siput or local riverine snails cooked in coconut milk. It an uncommon dish these days as the snails are no longer that easy to find.

A cheerful man with boyish good looks approaches me just as I am returning the ladle back to the lemak siput tray. He introduces himself as Ismail Didih, the third generation owner of Hjh Maimunah.

“I am glad you like our lemak siput. These molluscs are rich in minerals and collagen. It used to be a very common dish in the past. During those days, people benefitted from eating these freshwater snails. They had very good complexion and rarely complained of painful joints,” Ismail adds while encouraging me to also take some of the beef rendang and ayam bakar padang.

My conversation with Ismail continues as he joins me for an early dinner. I learn that that the restaurant is named after his late maternal grandmother who, in the beginning, had a thriving business that catered to haj pilgrims. These pilgrims came from all over the Nusantara or Malay/Indonesian archipelago. They stayed at Kampung Glam before leaving for Mecca to perform one of the five tenets of Islam.

“After some time, my grandmother decided to focus solely on the restaurant business. She aspired to keep alive the Malay traditional techniques of cooking while at the same time, provide reasonably priced wholesome food to the Kampung Glam residents. Over the years, she accumulated many authentic recipes as the Malay and Indonesian cooks she hired brought in their respective expertise,” says the 31-year-old MBA graduate.

I listen intently as Ismail reveals how he and his team sources for local sustainable seafood and premium ingredients to maintain the high standards at Hjh Maimunah Restaurant.

“Even the snails you are eating comes from a trusted supplier who ensures that his harvesters only collect the large snails and leave the smaller ones to continue growing in their natural habitat. They also stop harvesting during the breeding season to ensure a continuous supply in future. During that time, we rely on our frozen stock to cook lemak siput. This is the only way we can ensure sustainability.”


LIME AND SUGAR

The ikan bakar has a nice thin crust while its inside is tender and juicy. Ismail squeezes a small limau kasturi over the fish and suggests we let the juice infuse for a while.

“The slightly acidic lime juice complements the smokey barbecue flavour,” he informs, while putting a generous portion on my plate. The flesh is firm and very sweet.

I understand from Ismail that the ikan siakap comes from the floating fish farms around Singapore’s Pulau Ubin and St John’s Island. These modern farms utilise the latest state of the art breeding techniques to increase food fish production.

In between spoonfuls of delicious sup ekor or ox tail soup, I learn that the restaurant has recently ventured into the catering as well as the wedding planner business.

“Hjh Maimunah Restaurant is constantly looking for new ideas to expand while at the same time, remain true to the values set by my late grandmother. I sample the food daily to make sure that every dish is consistent and up to the mark. After that I concentrate my energy on planning for the future. We recently started our home delivery service which sends bento boxes to homes around Singapore,” says Ismail.

Before leaving, I miraculously find space to savour the Bubur Cha Cha and Odeh Odeh (pandan mixture filled with palm sugar) desserts. I am so glad the helpful couple at Kampung Glam introduced me to this wonderful place.


FAST FACTS

Hjh Maimunah Restaurant and Catering

20, Joo Chiat Road, Singapore 427357.

Tel: +65 63485457

Fax: +65 63488746

Email: hjh.maimunah@gmail.com

Website: www.hjmaimunah.com

HOURS 8am-9pm daily except Mondays

FOOD A large variety of authentic Malay and Indonesian cuisine.

PICK Must try the Lemak Siput, Asam Pedas and Ikan Bakar.

PAY Price ranges from S$2 (RM6.20) to S$50 per dish. Some portions are quite large and can be shared.

MOOD Relaxed and comfortable. Another plus point is that the restaurant is located within the Joo Chiat heritage area.

SERVICE Polite and attentive.

I SAY… Go give it a try!

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