When it comes to western food in hawker centres, we know what to expect. Steak orders without any option on its doneness, frozen lambs that have more fat than actual meat, and how about fried-to-the-max chicken cutlets? Lest we forget the canned baked beans and coleslaw that no one touches. What if we could do better? Salai M’an attempts to answer that question.
Salai M’an was opened in early 2022 by Sulaiman, who is a former Potato Head chef. It sells a plethora of burgers, jerk chicken, smoked meats and even hot dogs. Sulaiman was motivated to start Salai M’an as he wanted to bring affordable restaurant quality food to the masses, as he understands that not everyone, including himself, can afford to eat at restaurants.
What I tried at Salai M’an
I obviously had to go for the more unique items on the menu such as the Pull & Tear Burger (S$8.90), Salai Jerk Chix (S$9.90) and Chilli Beef (S$4.50). It had several other burger items such as the Classic Chezzy (S$7), Salai B. Bacon (S$7.90), Rendang Kampong (S$8) and Black Beauty (S$8.90).
There were also platters such as the 4 Pax Heart Attack (S$50.90) and 2 Pax Salai Combo (S$33.90) should you come with company. If you’re wondering why the prices do not match with any recent pictures of the menu, it’s because there’s an additional S$1 charge for all items.
Though this is an understandable decision, it certainly pushes the meaning of affordable to a near-internet hoax level.
My first taste of Salai M’an was its Chilli Beef. I was disappointed with this rendition of chilli as it wasn’t in a stew or soup form, as how it normally is. Instead, it was sidelined to a topping on french fries, and was sauced up with cheese sauce and what looked to be spicy mayo. The dish also had cubes of tomatoes that I, unfortunately, can’t appreciate (yes, I am that guy).
True enough, it tasted like how it looked— which to be fair, was quite nice. The fries were hot and crispy and I actually enjoyed the sauces that were used, as they tasted cheesy with a bit of heat at the end.
This would have been a very good rendition of cheese fries, which would sit well above some restaurants’ standards, but I ordered Chilli Beef and the chilli fell way below expectations. It was essentially just bland-tasting minced beef and some beans.
The tomatoes only distracted me from fully enjoying the fries with a constantly unwanted tart flavour.
Next into the belly was the Pull & Tear Burger. It came with smoked shredded brisket that was slathered with homemade BBQ sauce, and topped with coleslaw in-between two really charred brioche buns. I had my fair share of really good burger experiences in hawker centres, so my expectation was really high.
My first bite saw the burger disintegrating into bits due to the overwhelming amount of sauce, and even the bun didn’t survive it. That was the tragedy of the burger. I could only taste the BBQ sauce as well as the coleslaw, which came with its own sauce. Combined, it tasted like a mish-mash of teppanyaki sauce and sweet mayo.
There was also a clash of textures, as my enjoyment of the soft brisket was always interrupted by the sharp crunch of coleslaw. As if my irk with coleslaw wasn’t enough before this!
This was really a ‘not angry, just disappointed’ kind of scenario. When I separated the bits of brisket, it tasted really good and the smoky flavour came through strongly. It’s just a shame that the taste was lost to a very unremarkable sauce and a really unneeded texture variation.
With low optimism, it was time for the Salai Jerk Chix. It had 220g of fresh chicken leg marinated in Salai M’an’s own in-house jerk marinade, and it also came with two sides of choice. I went for the Mac & Cheez and the Butter Rice. Some of the other sides include Buttered Veg, Grilled Korn and Coleslaw.
Just by cutting into the chicken, I was already impressed by how easy it was, especially considering it was grilled. The skin was even sliding off, with the jerk sauce acting as lube. Finally, something that tasted as good as it looked! The chicken was juicy and the sauce had a nice tang to it that reminded me of peri-peri sauce.
The most impressive part of the chicken was the seasoning on it. In most places, chicken only gets its flavours from two options: the batter of the fried chicken or the smearing of sauce. Salai M’an managed to infuse the flavour from its jerk marinade into its chicken, and it carried over even after being grilled and covered with sauce. This was really an impressive feat.
As for the sides, well, they got the job done as sides normally do. Nothing of note and nothing too terrible about them. All I cared for was combining them with the awesome chicken and sauce, which took them to the next level.
Being relatively new to the business, I really hope Salai M’an would tweak some of its recipes as they were just a shot away from being excellent.
Price-wise, it definitely isn’t the cheapest western food around, especially for a hawker. But then again, the quality you’re getting justifies the price. Plus, who says you can’t indulge in good-quality western hawker food every once in a while?
And with that, Salai M’an answered my question.
Expected damage: S$4.50 – S$9.90 per pax
Other articles you might like:
The post Salai M’an: Ex-Potato Head chef serves affordable brisket burger and jerk chicken appeared first on SETHLUI.com.