This Nasi Padang shop is a great example of how multi-racial and cultural integrated Singaporeans are. The food in Indonesian-Malay and Halal-certified, the owner is a Chinese and non-Muslim.
Coba Coba is a retro-looking cafe with vintage displays and rustic wooden furniture. It also had a comfortable ambience, with loads of open space for ventilation and fans in every corner possible. You know that it’s different from the rest the moment you see the zigzag LED light tubes on the ceiling.
Interestingly, the owner of Coba Coba (which means “try try” in Bahasa) Timothy Yun is actually Chinese. He opened Coba with his businessman father (who owns this space) in 2015 because they loved spicy food and what to do something together.
When he was studying in Sydney, Indonesian-Malay dishes were his go-to comfort food. He decided to serve Indonesian-Malay food partly because of nostalgia, but mainly it caters to everyone in Singapore so you have the entire population as a potential client.
Nasi ambeng where everyone shares the same plate is about togetherness and communal dining, and is a special dish served in this shop. However if you are dining alone, you can still opt for Nasi Padang that you can pick and choose from amongst 30 over dishes served in rotation. So of their signature dishes at Coba Coba are its tahu telur, lemak siput sedut, sotong sumbat and more.
Almost everything here is spicy, only the level of heat is different between the dishes. So if you cannot take any heat, this is definitely not the restaurant for you. But if you do, you will be delighted by the variety on offer here.
So what is nasi ambeng? It is a massive communal platter comprising several pre-fixed dishes arranged around a dome of white rice, usually prepared for gatherings and special occasions. Everyone tucks in from the same tray, not quite acceptable during these Covid-ridden days. It originated in Java and consisted of whatever they can gather in their kampungs, but Singaporean versions have been pimped up with fancier ingredients like seafood to suit local tastes.
These were least spicy of the lot, Telur Belado (deep fried boiled egg with sweet chilli) and Sambal Goreng (stir fried string beans and beancurd with chilli).
Sambal Sotong (cuttlefish in chilli) uses dried cuttlefish that has been painstakingly rehydrated and cooked in a heavy red rempah. One would nearly missed it because it hid itself below the Udang Balado Hijau (prawn with stinky beans in green chilli). There wasn’t enough petai (stinky bean) with the green chilli in my opinion. And there’s the nasi lemak essential Sambal Ikan Kacang (anchovies with peanuts in chilli).
Udang Padang (chilli prawns Padang style) replaced the Beef Rendang if you do not take beef for whatever reason. I would really prefer they deskill the prawns first because the shell simply stuck to the flesh and made it difficult to peel off.
Ayam Kalio, a perfectly tender chicken leg in a sweet, candlenut-heavy red curry. Loved this curry that I asked for more (without any additional charge) to drown my rice with it.
Absolutely crispy and mind-boggling Ikan Kering (deep-fried dried mackerel fillets), I always wonder how to eat this because of the mental block with the fish bones (I was choked on fish bones when I was little). And crunchy Urap, a salad of blanched beansprouts and raw string beans tossed in spiced grated coconut, completed the platter.
Nasi Putih (plain steamed rice) was what I needed with all those beautiful sauce. The Serunding (grated coconut with whitebait) was delicious but not necessary in this instance.
Begedel (deep fried potato cutlets), Sambal Terung (eggplant with sambal chilli) and a small saucer of Sambal Gila (crazy hot chilli sauce) rounded up the selection. There are usually 15 items on the platter but today the Paru (beef liver) was not available. It was a really fun and good eat. My Indonesian helper at home would cook nasi ampeng for our birthdays, and now I know where to get it when she is not making it.
Nasi padang in some other places can be quite unhygienic for a meal. The place was really well kept and made good environment to enjoy the nasi padang, if you know what I mean. Coba Coba team is very popular and has garner a following of regulars that would meet here for their lunch break. The staff was friendly and helped with every requests that I made. This is not considered a restaurant (technically a coffeeshop), so you have to return the plates and cutleries after the meal. Come early before the popular items are all gone. The queue starts around 11.30am.
Visited in Aug 2022