Nostalgia’s my schtick. Memories of food occupy my dreams, day or night, teasing me with the emotions they offered when I enjoyed them last, in the company of good people and the appropriate light of day. So when someone tells me stories of their food nostalgia, I perk up and lean forward, relishing in every little detail. “You’ve been going here since how long ago?” “You mean he’s always been in this spot?” So on.
I’ve lived on the west side of KL my entire life, which means that my stories are firmly rooted mostly in PJ and its surrounds. But my social circle has been receiving a lot of east side friends recently, so I’ve been exploring what the eastern suburbs (especially Ampang and the like) have to offer. And with them, come their stories...
Nasi Ayam Isa has been in this quiet neighbourhood food court in Kampung Pandan since 1984, serving up some of the best Malay-style nasi ayam from either side of town. Many of my friends have grown up eating his nasi ayam – and yes, there is an Isa behind the counter still! It’s a fall-back lunch option, a weekend treat, a simple date, a family feast. Takeaway orders are common, but I recommend you have it at one their meja batu and enjoy it while sniffing the intense heady scent of chicken wafting in the air.
But let’s remove our rose-tinted glasses for a bit. Does it actually taste good? For those who have eaten Nasi Ayam Pak Mal, the setup is familiar. Chicken doused in red sauce, yellow-tinged rice, and a bowl of soup. Pakcik Isa (who hails from Malacca) tells me that the recipe was originally a nasi ayam Singapura dish taught to him by his friend, which he has modified over time to suit the tastes of his customers.
And boy oh boy, has it paid off. His chickens, which are boiled then fried twice, are simultaneously juicy-soft and crispy.
This pairs well with the flood of his chilli sauce, which is just spicy enough to make you sweat a little. I especially love the broth, which is a touch too salty if drunk on its own, but perfect when spooned over the al dente rice.
My favourite bits are the livers. You can get a plate of fried chicken livers on the side, or even to replace your chicken. Covered in the same sauce, the livers are – like the chicken – soft on the outside and crispy on the outside. You can also get gizzards, if that rocks your boat. Simple and good stuff.
It’s no wonder this stall holds such a strong place in the hearts of my friends. They proudly tell me that not a single thing has changed by way of taste in almost 30 years, and I believe them. Nasi Ayam Isa has reached that holy trinity of cheap, fast and good, and I’m pretty willing to bet that it’ll stay this way for a lot longer.
ps: Ramadhan is coming up, and his stall will be closed for the entire month until after Raya. Get your fix now! Or risk serious delusional cravings. You have been warned...
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