Bara Food, Tanjong Pagar: “The soto manages to entrance even the strongest-willed.”

As much as I’d like to avoid having my judgement clouded by a flurry of expectations, my visit to Bara Food comes plagued by the pressure of my editor’s raves about the place. Having heard him wax lyrical about the food here, I can only approach Bara with a conflicted mix of apprehension and excitement.

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Located within Icon Village Altez, it sits shoulder-to-shoulder with the institute that is Two Men Bagel House, empowered in all its freshly baked goodness and throngs of loyal followers. Resist the urge for a bagel I shall, as I journey forth to a destination set upon Bara Food’s Indonesian flavours. Unlike its cavernous neighbour, Bara occupies an impressively tiny space, packing no more than twenty at its maximum capacity. I reckon here, big things come in very petite packages.

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Wading through the menu is fun enough, navigating through a splatter of sambal sauces and an arsenal of grilled and fried meat that leaves one utterly spoilt for choice. I try my very best to opt for a composition of dishes that wouldn’t overpower with spiciness, especially after a warning from my editor of the restaurant’s unabashed generosity with chilli.

What I tried

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Call me brave, because the Sambal Udang Kentang (S$9) is a bowl of fiery red that comes decked out in all its saucy, chillipadi-speckled glory. Prawns and potatoes are coated in one of Bara Food’s many sambal iterations. Each chilli seed stares me down like a school bully demanding lunch money, though this is one exchange I readily look forward to.

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The heat builds up almost rhythmically with each mouthful, contributing to the rush of flavours here that makes the pain all worthwhile. In a timely save, I find much-needed respite in a refreshing jar of Ice Mint Lemongrass (S$4) lest I melt into a puddle of sweat.

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One simply does not see fried chicken on the menu and leaves it unordered. It’s a rule I’ve come to live by, though not one my body thanks me for sticking to so religiously. In this case, my duty was called upon by Bara’s Ayam Goreng Serundeng (S$7.50). I scored the coveted chicken thigh on my trip here, and only hope you are as lucky.

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A delicately crisp skin and moist flesh make Bara Food’s rendition of this cultural staple succeed in more ways than one. It’s only further elevated by a blend of aromatics that rests above its golden-brown exterior, labelled coyly as ‘serunding’. Perhaps for ambiguity’s sake, it is a strategy I accept, for this secretive mix of herbs and spices puts even the Colonel to shame.

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If my professed love for fried chicken from before wasn’t enough, I’d have you know that a serving of fried chicken plays second fiddle in my heart to but a singular entity—two servings of fried chicken. Naturally, I sprang for the Ayam Goreng Cabe Ijo (S$13.50), a glorious amalgamation of green chilli paste atop a hunk of you guessed it, fried chicken.

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There’s a bitterness that creeps up on the tongue from the chillies, which is cleanly balanced out by the meat’s savouriness. If I felt threatened by the Sambal Udang before, this dish doubles down in an onslaught of spice that numbs the tongue and pierces the throat. As they say: feel the pleasure, not the pain. Yes, it’s all a very “Mr Grey will see you now” kind of vibe.

Jumping back and forth between both plates makes me the belle of the ball, if the ball was attended by morsels of deep-fried chicken, that is. A little ‘serunding’ here, a touch of green chilli there. It all makes me wonder: can there really be too much of a good thing?

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Fulfilling the role of the supporting actor that quietly steals the show, Bara Food’s pride and joy comes wrapped beneath a roll of banana leaves, fastened by a toothpick on each end. Nasi Bakar (S$2.50) may shy away in its modest presentation but demonstrates flavour with no holds barred. Each grain is warm, plump, and exudes a smoky aroma with a touch of lemongrass. Grilled rice is a first for me, but ordering it most definitely won’t be my last.

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In what almost seems like clockwork, I seek relief from spice yet again, this time in a comforting bowl of Soto Betawi (S$9.50). The yellowish hue speaks to turmeric’s heavy notes, which play accompaniment to tender cubes of beef swimming alongside tomatoes and spring onions.

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It’s the crème de la crème of soups, as if made by a nenek slaving away at the kitchen, wise beyond her age, yet singular in her goal to make great soto to feed the hoi polloi such as undeserving me. Flavourful doesn’t begin to do this bowl justice, and I implore you to come to Bara Food for a taste because it manages to entrance even the strongest-willed.

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A full stomach doesn’t deter me from ordering the Sate Lilit (S$14.50). Admittedly, the plate of skewered meat I envisioned was much different from the one I was served.

A prawn and chicken meat blend take centre stage here. If you think Bara stops there, a stalk of lemongrass replaces the conventional bamboo skewer which by now just seems so 2020. It’s no surprise that the sate comes intensely aromatic and beautifully smoky with a handsome char that would make the typical beef sate blush.

Final thoughts

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In an industry where good cooking reigns king, Bara Food more than speaks for itself through its dishes. It’s food that warms the soul and intrigues the mind. I can’t imagine dining here to ever be boring, simply because the food is anything but ordinary. Needless to say, it met and well surpassed all expectations, and it’s a meal that I am eagerly planning a return to, hungry for more.

Expected Damage: S$10 – S$15 per pax

Price: $

Our Rating: 5 / 5

Bara Food

16 Enggor Street, Icon Village Altez, #01-10, Singapore 079717

Our Rating 5/5

Bara Food

16 Enggor Street, Icon Village Altez, #01-10, Singapore 079717

Telephone: +65 8182 6876
Operating Hours: 11am - 8pm (Tue to Sat), 11am - 4pm (Mon & Sun)
Telephone: +65 8182 6876

Operating Hours: 11am - 8pm (Tue to Sat), 11am - 4pm (Mon & Sun)
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