IT`S nice to know that there are some prudent and diligent vegetarians out there who practise this gentle makan art in the name of health, vanity, compassion or religion.
They resort to mock meats (an oxymoron to me), drizzle lemon juice over green stuff (familiar cuisine to rabbits and tortoises), and have a carbohydrate overload on lentils.
Painful, but it need not be.
Just pay a visit to the rare few nasi padang stalls that offer nasi jeganan with urap (read on for description) and nangka lemak (jackfruit curry), and you`ll know the heavens above did design some vegetarian meals that meat chompers and spice lovers (like me) will love.
Hajjah Mona, bless her sweet soul, toiled over a hot wok some 30 years ago, just so she could support her children.
Her husband, who worked as a cinema usher, died in the `80s, and she`s had to play provider and mother.
She took to the streets, selling her food at various areas before settling in Geylang. In time, she became one of the nasi padang `icons` there.
The 65-year-old may have retired from manning the wok, but still cooks up a storm for her children at home.
Today, Hajjah Mona simply hangs around and ensures that the daily and freshly-made 35-odd dishes on offer are cooked to their utmost standard.
Their iconic rendang (spicy stewed beef), is what I call the original version.
The tougher meat from the leg is used, and it is stewed for hours in a complicated concoction of spices before it is reduced to a tender slice of beef that goes well with steamed rice.
Their assam sambal stingray is my favourite - meaty, juicy, fresh, spicy but not too tangy.
The most popular item, is the sambal goreng - a crunchy and spicy-sweet wok-tossed salad of long beans, tofu and tempeh (fermented soy bean cakes).
But what floats my boat here is the humble-looking urap.
It is an extremely crunchy salad of raw bean sprouts, winged beans (four-angled bean), blanched kangkong and urap rajah (a Malay/Peranakan green herb).
It is tossed with a delightful serondeng, which is grated coconut gently dry-wok-stirred with sambal, gula melaka and flavoured with cheko, a root used to inject fragrance into the peanut sauce in gado-gado.
They make it one plate at a time, so it`s always fresh and crunchy.
Hajjah Mona does this up to 20 times a day.
They offer a set called nasi jeganan, where the urap sits on the rice.
However, gado-gado style peanut sauce is smothered over it instead of serondeng.
Sprinkle some sambal goreng over it and meat-eaters won`t care that it`s a vegetarian dish.
The crunchy, protein-packed tempeh offers a sensational bite.
You just need to finish it off with a dollop of their sambal belachan dip, which I must declare has a hint of fermented shrimp.
Their other favourite set of mine is nasi ambeng, which has the wonderful urap and you can choose to pair it with fish begedil and beef rendang, or simply add sambal goreng again.
I always plant a nice juicy piece of assam sambal stingray on top.
These world-class dishes only set you back by $3 to $5, on average.
Source: www.newpaper.asia1.com (3 Juli 2007)