Most people would not give Jalan Besar coffee shop stall Impian Wahyu a glance if they pass by. It is neither professionally laid out nor slick, with steam billowing out amid the bright lights. But if you observe what goes on in Impian Wahyu's kitchen, you will notice an Indonesian-style lesung batu (mortar and pestle), which comes flatter and has a stone pestle that looks like a telephone receiver.
Next to it is a wok, which is constantly frying chicken, tofu and fish, and you will also see the couple behind the stall plonk a pre-made, half-recipe sambal on the lesung batu, adding chillies, salt, sugar and fresh tomatoes before pounding and rolling away. It stopped me in my tracks. How can anything served with this gorgeous sambal go wrong, I wondered. So I ordered three of the stall's signatures, and the next wonderful surprise came.
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Every item is fried upon order, and it comes piping hot with crispy batter and a dollop of that dangerously appealing sambal, or what Indonesians call sambal terasi. Mr Abang Batman - as he is known, I kid you not - takes the orders, while his wife, Ms Wahyu Ning, cooks. She hails from Surabaya, on the Indonesian island of Java. The Ayam Penyet ($5), which was not all flat as its name suggests, was juicy and hot. The meat - the first part of the dish - was soft and well-fried, and the batter completed it. The sambal was part two, and it was the show-stealer. The rice was plain, no lemak or flavour to complicate things.
When the Sup Buntut ($8) arrived, I knew immediately it would taste like it looked - a sambal-spiked, boldly coloured beef broth paired with fall-off-the-bone chunks of oxtail with hypnotically gelatinous fat and skin and soft yet crunchy carrots. You can turn up the heat by stirring in the blob of sambal on top of the broth. It was hard to stop eating this one. But my favourite was the Bawal Penyet (from $8), or fried pomfret and rice set. The fish was soft and juicy inside with a roasty, crispy skin. Mix the sambal into the rice and carve a little chunk of the pomfret over it, and you will experience a nearly out-of-body moment. The cool slices of cucumber were a bonus.
This article was first published at The New Paper, 10 August 2017.