Ayam Penyet Ria "Smashed Fried Chicken" - 304 Orchard Road, Lucky Plaza #04-25/26
You know you're in for some authentic Asian food when you walk into a restaurant and nobody is conversing in English. This eatery may be tucked away in a near-inaccessible corner of a mall, requiring you to navigate labyrinthine rows of money changers and camera shops just to get there, but be prepared to wait in a long queue of hungry pilgrims chattering deafeningly in bahasa indonesia come lunch time. Needless to say, the chicken was smashingly good.
The eponymous Ayam Penyet with Rice ($6.90) is an absolute must-try. Roughly translated as smashed chicken, the bird is coated in a thin layer of batter, deep fried before being summarily beaten to a pulp; and they said KFC was Kentucky Fried Cruelty. The brutality is well justified in my book though, the chicken was wonderfully crisp on the outside yet dripping with juice within. Lightly spiced and not too oily, it was easy to separate meat from bone in its pulverized state and smeared with a thick, tangy, weapons-grade sambal chilli sauce; the sort that is eaten with relish despite the sweat beading on your forehead and the tears filling your pleasure-glazed eyes. The batter-rubble from the chicken was a decadent indulgence with fluffy white rice and still more chilli. Also eaten with a daring amount of this sauce were chunks of crisp-fried beancurd and - my personal favourite - tempeh; bars of compacted, fermented soybeans with a salty, crunchy shell that yields to reveal a moist, creamy and buttery interior.
My dining partner's Lele Penyet ($6.90) was absolutely phenomenal. The moist, flaky and near-delicate flesh of the catfish was a delightful contrast to its sinfully crispy skin. I'm far from a fish lover (sashimi and beer-battering aside) but I could appreciate how it lacked any fishy or muddy off-flavour that I typically find in catfish, more sambal helped sway my opinion too.
Sop Buntut ($7) or Indonesian Oxtail might eclipse chicken stew as the comfort food archetype. Massive chunks of fall-off-the-bone beef were spiderwebbed with rich and gelatinous tendon for a peerless mouthfeel and a richness that made it all very satisfying. Despite the weight of the meat, the broth was conversely ethereal-light and clean-tasting, spiced subtly in a manner not too different from mee soto.
Less spectacular was the Tahu Telor ($5.90) which I usually polish off with relish elsewhere. Soggy with oil rather than crispy and with far too little jullienned cucumbers to give it satisfying crunch, this was the big disappointment of the meal. Worse still, they dressed it with run-of-the-mill satay peanut sauce rather than the pungent, sharp-tasting, character-filled kicap manis that is - in my opinion - the only standard.
I spotted Teh Botol Sosro ($1.90) on the drinks menu and could not hold myself back. The last time I had one of these was years ago on a community involvement trip to build a library on Bintan Island and it hasn't changed one bit. Strong tea is added with as much sugar as possible without crystallization occurring in this bottled drink, the result is a simultaneous caffeine and sugar high as both hit the bloodstream. Your pancreas will not thank you but it feels so damn good.
We rounded things off with an Es Cendol ($3.50) to share and I was not overly impressed. The sugary coconut drink was a bit too sweet without being salty, creamy or thick enough, the grass jelly and green chewy bits were a tad gummy too. I'll stick to the roadside Malaysian vendors with their 1RM Indian Chendols, despite the inevitable Lomotil I'll have to pop an hour or two later.