One of my deep dark fantasies involves someone dumping me in one of Singapore’s many hawker centres, preferably Chomp Chomp or Lao Pa Sat, and then just leaving me there so that I can happily gorge myself to death on the delicious food that the city has to offer. Berate me all you want, berate that my fantasies are not risqué or sexual, but seriously, have you tried proper Singaporean food? It is a glorious combination of Chinese, South East Asian, Indian and Islamic food, fused with a passion for spices and aromatics. The hearty nature of the cuisine makes it the perfect late night food, ideally at the break of dawn with a stomach full of beer.I have spent many delightful nights during my exchange semester in Singapore indulging in tangy satay skewers, fiery char kwey teow, prawn mee, and my personal favourite, the indomitable Nasi Lemak, complete with a deep fried chicken drumstick. Sadly, finding quality South East Asian cuisine in Hong Kong is like searching for a needle in a haystack – only if the needle was brown and the haystack was the size of the Pacific Ocean.
But whilst wandering around in my old stomping grounds of Shum Shui Po (I am one of those Hong Kong Islanders who believe that Kowloon has some of the best food the city has to offer), I discovered Semua Semua, a small Malaysian mom and pops store, and found myself a seat as soon as I read that Nasi Lemak was the signature item on the menu. Semua Semua is a humble stall. There is no indoor seating, no individual tables and no air conditioning. Next to the seating area was a makeshift charcoal grill where satay sticks were grilled,Instead, you sit outside on bar stools around an open kitchen
Done well, the Nasi Lemak is a beautiful thing (the picture above needs no explanation). The main component is rice that has been lovingly cooked in coconut milk until fragrant and fluffy. It is served alongside an assortment of garnishes like eggs, fried chicken and curries. But the thing that makes the whole damn plate sing is the sambal that is served alongside the dish. This fish based chilli sauce that adds another dimension of spice, heat and umami into the dish. Every Singaporean and Malaysian family has their own Sambal recipe, but it should be funky, salty and intensely spicy. The entire thing is like a warm, comforting artery clogging hug.
Semua Semua’s Nasi Lemak came with a generous heaping of curry chicken, along with traditional garnishes like roasted peanuts, anchovies and a big spoonful of the restaurant’s own homemade sambal chilli sauce. While I was slightly disappointed to receive a hardboiled egg instead of a fried one, as I really enjoy having a silky, luscious component in the dish, beggars cannot be choosers as the entire thing only costs HK$25, which is tremendous value.
Let’s begin with the rice. Semua Semua’s rice contained the unusual addition of pandan leaves, which lent its distinctive green colour onto the rice and provided faint floral notes to the dish. However, this did very little for the overall dish, and the pungency of the sambal clashed with the subdued flavours of the pandan violently. The rice could also have done with a bit more coconut milk, as it lacked the comforting artery clogging richness that accompanied a good Nasi Lemak. The other components of the dish were good. The curry chicken was tender and sauce, and the curry sauce was warm and comforting. The peanuts and dried anchovies were also nice, as they added a much needed roasted, bitter touch to the rice. The sambal chilli was one of the best one I have tasted in Hong Kong. It was pungent, salty and went well, and the bright flavours meshed well with the rice. Sadly, the spice was no where to be found. Dripping sweat and runny noses are an integral part of the Nasi Lemak experience; and from a flavour point of view, South East Asian food without heat is like seeing a Margot Robbie movie and she remained fully clad throughout the entire film. Then again, I am probably just being overly critical, and Semua Semua served me the best plate of Nasi Lemak I have eaten in Hong Kong.
Other items on the menu consisted of various noodles and South East Asian snacks. The sambal chicken wings ($25) came slathered in more of the store’s signature sambal sauce, which was welcomed as nothing cannot be elevated with the condiment. The chicken however, was a bit of a disappointment. The batter was heavy and doughy rather than light and crisp, and the meat itself was bland to the point of tasteless.
You can’t really compare Semua Semua with the famous stalls of Singapore and Malaysia. But then again, prices are attractive and my love for any form of rice cooked with coconut will keep me coming here in the future.
Semua Semua: 143 Kweilin Street, Shum Shui Po