Well, it's been a year and Father's Day has swung around again. So I asked my father where he'd like to go. I suggested a few places and met with pretty lukewarm responses. Then I mentioned PeraMakan (where we went to on his birthday) and the response was immediate. "That's quite good", he said.
So we arrived at PeraMakan (again) for lunch, and ordered their beef rendang, sambal lady's fingers, otak-otak, ikan kuah nanas (lemak) and the Father's Day special, nasi ulam. Of course we had to take care not to eat too much of the main courses or else there would be no place left for their yummy desserts.
All too soon it was over. PeraMakan's quality control is high and all the dishes come out just right. It was a bonus getting the nasi ulam, as this dish is not commonly found in peranakan restaurants. I do recall however that the Princess Terrace buffet also includes nasi ulam. Other than that, the only one which regularly put nasi ulam on the menu was the now-defunct Yuen restaurant on Upper East Coast Road. Even there it was available only on Fridays. The reason why this is so is probably because this dish is very labour intensive to make, with the many herbs which must be located and chopped up really small in order to make the dish.
There are also many different recipes for nasi ulam, with each family having its own combination of herbs. It is really a good opportunity to get to know and use more Asian herbs. Tasting PeraMakan's version of nasi ulam, the main flavours which came to mind were the laksa leaves (daun kesom), lime leaves, and the bunga kantan (ginger flower). The cooked rice is mixed with fried fish, hae bee (dried shrimp), toasted grated coconut, finely cut long beans, belacan, and the herb mixture. PeraMakan tops it off with some shredded omelette and prawns but that is purely optional. It is eaten cold and I like eating it with sambal belacan on the side (Yuen's version, if I recall correctly, had a little more belacan flavour).
u n a m i actually has posted a recipe for nasi ulam from "Nonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine" - with photos of the herbs used. I was pleased to see that I correctly identified three of the main herbs, but there were so many more - lemongrass, basil, mint, cekur leaves (type of ginger), kadok (wild pepper) and tumeric leaves. I have found two other recipes, one from "Cooking with Asian Leaves" by Devagi Sanmugam and Christopher Tan (does this name sound familiar?). In their recipe, there are slightly fewer types of herbs but the key ones - daun kesom, lime leaf are there. Plus some green chilies for extra kick! The other is in Sylvia Tan's cookbook, "Mad About Food" where she confesses to using a food processor to cut up and blend the herbs. She too has a slightly different herb mixture and her focus is different - she emphasises the lime leaf whilst others emphasise the laksa leaf.
So the idea, I suppose, is to experiment a little when making your own nasi ulam. Maybe I too will give it a try.