Last Updated: November 27, 2020
For all the times I’ve found myself looking for comfort food in Bugis, an overwhelming desire to scurry to a specific restaurant was far and few, despite there being many options in the area. It was always a question of which Mediterannean or Asian-Western fusion restaurant would it be that day, and more often than not, the options would be abandoned for simpler food elsewhere—that is, until I came across Kulon.
I was first introduced to Kulon by a friend after a long day out, and my virgin experience felt like a homecoming. I entered Kulon drenched from the rain, where the warm greeting by its cheerful owner, Mdm Wati, was enough to settle me right in. The mise en scene is a tiny, cosy enclave along a row of bustling bars and cafes—a glass wall separating its indoor seating area from the incessant outdoor chatter.
Students of Singapore Polytechnic would be familiar with this bakmi place, which was once called Indo Java and occupied Foodcourt 3 from 2018 to 2019. They moved their business to Bali Lane in late October 2020 and became the newest stall to sell authentic, Javanese noodles in the area. This came as welcoming news to me—a quiet place selling authentic, quality food sans the packed crowds and overly-sophisticated menus? My inner introvert says, yes.
Owned by the mother-and-son duo of Haris A. and Mdm Wati, Kulon specialises in bakmi—yellow wheat noodles soaked in sweet soy sauce and commonly eaten with blanched bak choy, char siu meat, and meatballs. It’s a straightforward dish and it’s hard to mess up, yet, making a good bowl is no easy task—and Kulon has certainly got it perfected to a tee.
The Bakmi Char Siu (S$11.80) is a recipe passed down from Haris’ late grandmother, who hails from Central Java, and comes with all the home-cooked love that you’d expect from a family recipe. The sliced chicken char siu is tender, juicy and well-sauced with its roasted skin adding a subtle touch of crisp.
When paired with a healthy dose of kecap manis and doused with broth soup from the counter, the yellow noodles—which has a slightly heavier body than the Indomie variety—makes for a solid, tasty base to the dish.
The rice option for the night came in the form of the Nasi Ayam Geprek with Sambal Ijo (S$9.20), and it had me swooning from my first bite—the texture of the chicken cutlets balanced nicely between crispy and juicy from the sambal that was just the right amount of heat. What I also loved about this dish was the fact that it was so simple to eat—the chicken cutlets conveniently sliced for spoon-sized mouthfuls with the sambal poured over, as compared to other chicken-based Indonesian dishes like the nasi ayam penyet.
For variety, we ordered the Kulon Burger (without fries) (S$8.20), and on first sight, questioned our decision straight away once we opened the bun to reveal a menacing-looking layer of sambal chilli on a chicken patty. However, despite Javanese cuisines’ reputation for fiery sambals that make you rush for a carton of milk, the chilli was surprisingly not spicy at all and added a slightly salty tang to the fried chicken, making it a great condiment to this uniquely Javanese burger.
Two pieces of fried wonton skins, Kulit Pangsit Goreng (S$2), came as a side—a further nod to the historical Chinese influences on Javanese cuisine. These lacked any distinct flavour, however, and is best eaten along with soup or in between mouthfuls of bakmi. On its own, it’s great as a crunchy after snack.
Of course, no meal at an Indonesian restaurant would be complete without pairing them with bottles of Teh Botol Sosro (S$5), the sweetened Jasmine tea that is wildly popular in countries across South East Asia. These come in the Original version, too, which is hard to come by in local stores as compared to the Less Sugar version.
As Mdm Wati chatted with us in a mix of Malay and Bahasa Indonesia, I got a sense of being transported back to my travels in Jakarta and could almost hear the bajaj engines rattling outside. I noted the metal counter which held a simmering pot of broth soup alongside other condiments like sweet soy sauce and chilli sauce, just like those found in street-side stalls in Indonesia.
If you’re new to bakmi, think wanton noodles, but with a Javanese twist. The similarities are many, particularly with toppings like minced or char siu meat, but the noodles in bakmi are heavier and come with a sweeter sauce.
Restaurants like Kulon add a strong sense of authenticity, identity and food made with heart to the varied and diverse cuisines found around Bugis. There is little doubt to the claim that Bugis houses some of the best halal restaurants in Singapore, and Kulon certainly adds to that. The next time you’re around Bugis and want to treat yourself to a steaming bowl of bakmi, you can’t and won’t go wrong with this underrated gem that is Kulon.
Expected Damage: S$15 – S$20 per pax
30 Bali Lane, Singapore 189866
30 Bali Lane, Singapore 189866