Alimama, Maxwell: “Hearty Indonesian flavours arising from charcoal-fueled ashes”

·4-min read

It’s been a trying period for many hawkers in Singapore—many struggling to stay afloat amidst pandemic restrictions. Alimama, a rather under-the-radar stall at Maxwell Food Centre, was a victim of the times who almost fell to the same fate as many others.

As they were on the brink of shuttering, some good-hearted samaritans swooped in to save the day with just a simple gesture of making an Instagram page for them.

This serendipitous event helped Alimama explode onto social media, landing themselves on the feeds of many food influencers. Overnight, they went from teetering on the line of closure to struggling to meet demand.

Alimama Maxwell storefront
Alimama Maxwell storefront

Whilst the crowd has waned, Alimama is still maintaining a healthy stream of business. It’s worth noting that the owner is originally from Indonesia but has moved to Singapore for over four decades. Hence, not only does she possess the ability to churn out great authentic Indonesian nasi ayam panggang, she also knows how to please the local palate.

One of the most striking kitchen fittings in the stall is the charcoal grill, a scant sight at most hawker centres nowadays. And let me tell you, that charcoal blaze is a complete game-changer.

What I tried

Alimama grilling chicken
Alimama grilling chicken

Alimama’s standout item is indubitably the Nasi Ikan Bakari (S$8), featuring a grilled fish that requires tolling over the grill for a whopping 15 minutes.

Those 15 minutes resulted in an immaculate char similar to what you’d find on Japanese saba fish—simply delightful. When you tear into it, you’d be greeted with some of the most tender and succulent flesh you’d find on any fish.

Alimama grilled fish
Alimama grilled fish

Not only that, but Alimama’s homemade chilli elevated the whole dish with a moreish flavour boost. Besides that, it also added creeping heat which melded seamlessly into the intoxicatingly smoky caramelisation.

I daresay, this is an upgrade on our standard BBQ stingrays. And you know what goes well with stingray? Beer, which Ren Min, a few stalls down has an abundance of—quality craft beer, no less.

Nasi Ayam Pangang
Nasi Ayam Pangang

The Nasi Ayam Pangang (S$6) also came with a nicely grilled chicken, though perhaps not as stunning as the grilled fish.

Compared to the immaculate doneness of the fish, I found the bird a touch too dry. Whilst the skin boasted of a potent dose of smoky flavours, the insides just lacked some of the juiciness I was so hopeful for.

However, redemption came in the form of a sprightly kicap manis concoction and Alimama’s feisty homemade chilli. The chilli left my tongue lightly scorched, but a masochistic urge forced me to pile it on—it was simply *chef’s kiss*.

Alimama Green Chilli Chicken Rice
Alimama Green Chilli Chicken Rice

That said, Alimama’s expertise is not just limited to charcoal-grilled goodies. Because the Green Chilli Chicken Rice (S$6) was an absolute knockout as well.

Unlike the other proteins we’ve eaten, the chicken was deep-fried. The result was a superb outside crispy, inside tender kinda situation.

But the crucial component was the rabble of green chilli perched atop the chicken. It might not be a looker, but it imbued an enchanting mix of twang and light bitterness that added nuance to the hearty base flavours.

Alimama fishcake
Alimama fishcake

Proteins are not the only thing that benefit from Alimama’s charcoal grill either. The smoky boost improves even something as unassuming as a fishcake. This was a replacement item for the rice in the Nasi Ikan Bakar, since I was trying to stay away from so much carbs.

With a slight tinge of satay-esque marinade, this was a stupidly luscious fish cake that was made just so much more enjoyable with a whiff of smoke.

Whilst the highlight of Alimama was the authentic Indonesian comfort food like Nasi Ayam Pangang, they also serve up some common Singaporean hawker food here as well. Prior to pivoting into an Indonesian cuisine specialist, the owner actually had experience selling typical hawker food such as chicken rice and laksa.

Picking up prawn with chopsticks
Picking up prawn with chopsticks

So how did the Big Prawn Lala Noodle (S$5/S$8) fare as compared to the rest of their Indonesian repertoire? There was nothing quite wrong with this bowl of prawn mee—noodles were solid and the sauce had a good amount of flavour.

It reminded me of the prawn mee from my neighbourhood kopitiam that I grew up eating—comforting but nothing to shout about.

Final thoughts

Verdict? The grilled fish is a rare treat worth going down to Maxwell for. Not only are authentic Indonesian dishes a rare find in Singapore, but charcoal grills are also an endangered apparatus within our hawker scene.

We’re glad that Alimama weathered through the pandemic to be given a second life, bringing us hearty Indonesian flavours arising from charcoal-fueled ashes.

Expected damage: S$5 to S$8 per pax

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