Tucked in a cosy corner at Kedai Kopi Kopitiam in Clementi, Istimewa Nasi Padang has been around for more than three decades. Today, it is helmed by the second-generation owners, Hadi and Afiza.
Istimewa Nasi Padang serves up traditional and authentic Malay dishes, with recipes that were handed down by Hadi’s mom. Heartwarming, home-cooked Malay cuisine is what they do best and over the years, they have been well-loved by their customers.
Keeping traditions alive, from mother to son
Cooking up a storm of delicious Malay dishes were part and parcel of Hadi’s growing up years, as he often helped out in the kitchen.
However, when it came to taking over his mother’s business, he said that he “contemplated for the longest time.” Eager to try new things in his early years, Hadi pursued innumerable career paths in hopes of finding ‘the one’. Despite this, his passion for cooking had never forsaken nor left him.
“[I couldn’t] bear to see the tradition die down,” shares Hadi. With his knowledge of cooking, Hadi thought it was only right that he picked up the baton and followed in his mother’s footsteps.
“Nowadays, we do not know where our roots are. We do not know what is home-cooked food, because most of us buy food from outside,” shares Afiza.
Certain traditions have to be preserved. There’s no better way to preserve a culture and tradition other than food.
Hadi, second-generation owner of Istimewa Nasi Padang
Hadi and Afiza both recognise the importance of remembering one’s roots by preserving the legacy of their home-cooked nasi padang, and sharing them with everyone.
A sweet turn: striving together as a duo
As polytechnic friends-turned-lovers, Hadi’s journey took a sweet turn when he met Afiza.
“It is impossible to do this alone as it requires long hours and effort.” Working in the F&B scene is arduous. Other than running the show, Chef Hadi also manoeuvres the behind-the-scenes work as well. Although the journey may be exhausting, his wife’s continuous support and love for him drives him further. As they say, right behind a great husband, is an encouraging wife.
“I mean, I love him. If he loves doing something, I’ll also love doing whatever things he does,” says Afiza.
It is the ability to trust, be like-minded and light-hearted with each other that keeps them going.
His passion [for cooking] makes me see things in a different light and I will do it together with him.
Afiza, second-generation owner of Istimewa Nasi Padang
Signature family recipes at Istimewa Nasi Padang
With recipes passed down through generations, Istimewa Nasi Padang’s dishes are truly the epitome of ‘home-cooked to perfection’. There are hordes of dishes to choose from, each one better than the last. The best way to order? Striking a balance between flavours and textures. This is easily done by sticking to a general rule of thumb—one meat-based dish, one veggie-based dish, and one side.
First up is Istimewa Nasi Padang’s authentic Rendang ($5), arecipe handed down from Hadi’s mum which retains its authentic flavours up to today. At first glance, what looks like an innocuous dish of beef filled with brown gravy goes on to be a medley of flavours and textures—all of which you’ll experience with your first bite.
Its robust gravy is the star. To prepare this dish, Hadi pounds garlic, ginger, lemongrass and coriander into a flavoursome paste and braises all the ingredients in a generous amount of coconut milk. The Rendang is cooked over a long period of time and requires continuous stirring. The result is an astonishingly good Rendang, with thick gravy and chewy yet tender beef cubes.
Next up on the menu is Ayam Lemak Padi ($4). ‘Lemak’ refers to the richness of the coconut milk and ‘padi’, the bird’s eye chilli. Certainly, this dish is true to its name. The sauce strikes a perfect balance between a rich creaminess and the heat of the chilli, alongside the chicken which is extremely tender. Each mouthful is a joy to behold.
Nasi Ambeng (from $18 for 1 pax), pronounced “um-bng”, is a family-style sharing platter of rice and sides commonly served during special occasions like Ramadan and anniversaries. This platter features a myriad of Istimewa’s best dishes on a plate! This includes their tender Beef Rendang, Ayam Lemak Padi, and Begedil. Not forgetting the crunchy Ikan Kering and Ikan Bilis sambal, where the former has just the right amount of savoury flavours and the latter’s sambal is sweet and spicy. A pleasant final touch to the whole dish!
A helping hand from loved ones and loyal customers
“Passion alone will drive you to do certain things. But without support, your passion will die down”, Hadi emphasized. The couple is immensely appreciative of the support they have received, not only from their family but from their loyal customers as well.
“I’m very thankful that I have very honest feedback, whether it is painful or not painful to hear,” Afiza shares.
Above all, Istimewa Nasi Padang is the combined legacy of a mother and son. Fuelled by their passion for cooking, as well as their love for their community and their heritage. With their customers’ love, Hadi and Afiza are surely not alone in preserving heritage Malay cuisine for future generations to come.