Brace yourself for up to 45 items on its nasi melayu-nasi padang spread. It also has a salad-sambal bar with 13 varieties. It is possibly the only one in Singapore and is the best I have seen in the region. To seal the deal, there is a sweets, snacks and kueh section offering eight items daily.
Aroma Kampung is opened by former vegetable-seller Siti Khadijah Syariffuddin, also known as Kak Ijah (Big Sister Ijah in Malay), and her husband, Mr Syariffuddin. Kak Ijah, a Boyanese, opened Aroma Kampung in a quiet corner of Joo Chiat Complex in February. The eatery does not look like much, with a Malay wedding stage facing about 20 tables with PVC covers. But it comes alive when you get to the salad-sambal bar. Try recognising some of the sambals on display - selasih (basil), petai (stink bean), limau (lime), nenas (pineapple), cincalok (fermented shrimp) and kicap (soy sauce). There is also the common belacan (shrimp paste).
I started with a pile of fresh greens - four-angled beans, bittergourd, cucumber, blanched eggplant and okra - to dip in some of the sambals I chose: tempoyak (fermented durian), budu (fermented fish sauce) and mangga (mango). Then the main goodies beckoned. I kind of have a photographic memory of the buffet offering laid out before me.
Sambal eggs, siput lemak (snail curry), rendang, whole tempura quail, spicy gong gong (conch) soto, ayam kurma (korma chicken), assam pedas (spicy fish stew), blanched cockles, spicy coconut sweet potato leaves, fried chicken, sambal fish roe, fish ball and vegetable soup, deep fried ikan selar (yellowtail scad), sambal kangkong, tempeh goreng, mussels, sambal bittergourd, sambal prawns, chap chye (mixed vegetables)... The stomach began to growl. I gave in.
Photo: Facebook / Aroma Kampung
Then Kak Ijah brought out a la carte special nasi kerabu ($10) - flavoured blue pea flower rice with raw salad and sambal budu. Life was good when I tucked in. The nasi kerabu was full of crunch and went so well with the rempah-basted grilled chicken. But the clincher was her Boyanese signature kalak assam, a tamarind soup sweetened with nangka (jackfruit) served with chicken, fish, beef or even string beans. It is so spicy and sour that your eyes will squeeze themselves close. This dish is hardly available in Singapore, with Kak Ijah telling me she "grew up eating it in Indonesia".
The dessert spread was a blast too, teasing us with treats such as lopez, pengat pisang (banana in sweet coconut sauce), kueh jagung (corn cake) and lepat pisang (steamed banana packets). The best part? The buffet costs just $25.90, with the dishes freshly cooked up to three times daily.
On why a meal there is such a steal, Kak Ijah said: "Yes, the price seems low, and I may have to adjust a little upwards, but I still need to cater to the older regulars with shallow pockets. I will find a way."
Block 2, Joo Chiat Complex, #03-1111
9am to 7pm daily
This article was first published on The New Paper.