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Nasi Lemak Kukus is much more than its namesake, offering uncommon items such as a special Ramly burger, Vietnamese drip coffee and even happiness
By Lester J Wan
“I brought my Malaysian friends to eat nasi lemak in Singapore and they said this wasn’t true nasi lemak. To redeem the culinary pride of Singapore, I started this restaurant with the traditional method using steamed rice,” laughs Lester Ching, 38, owner of Nasi Lemak Kukus.
One can tell the joy the dish brings to him, as he relates how he grew up loving it.
“Nasi lemak is comfort food, deeply entrenched in our culture. It is a simple, ubiquitous food that touches our hearts,” says Lester.
Inspired by these experiences, he decided to venture into the food business, and to set up Nasi Lemak Kukus in December 2010. He also works as a commercial pilot with Singapore Airlines.
Just what is so special about Nasi Lemak Kukus’ version? Lester says the rice and the sambal chilli are the key ingredients in true nasi lemak.
“The rice is steamed, cooking for twice as long as with normal, boiled rice. The coconut milk thus has the chance to permeate, through the grains, instead of simply coating the surface,” he says. Steaming the rice also leads to a unique, chewy texture that cannot be mimicked otherwise.
“Our sambal chilli is a secret recipe that brings together a host of spices into a culinary symphony,” he adds. Unlike other places, Nasi Lemak Kukus has two varieties of sambal to cater to different tolerances – sweet and spicy.
True to taste, the nasi lemak rice is soft yet chewy, and its fragrance truly whets the appetite. The chicken wing, the measure of many modern nasi lemak connoisseurs, is also tender and tasty.
Nasi Lemak Kukus’ Power Burger is also “a vast improvement on the Ramly burger”. The patties are handmade, with a special rendang seasoning that gives it an Asian punch. The Soup Buntut, or ox tail soup, is available on weekends, served in a clay pot. The meat is tender and practically falls off the bone, as it is pressure cooked with “secret spices” for several hours.
Customers also return for the homemade drinks. The lime or lemongrass drinks are especially popular, while the Vietnamese drip coffee served with its own percolator is a must-try. No canned drinks or syrups are served, except for bandung.
Although fairly new, having just hit the two-year mark, Lester says 80 per cent of business comes from regular customers. Nasi Lemak Kukus caters to the dinner and supper crowd, but there are plans to start a breakfast and lunch service.
On Fridays and Saturdays, the early dinner hours are packed with families, while the supper hours are mostly filled with undergrads and yuppies. Surprisingly, regular customers don’t stay in the vicinity but consist of “a varied clientele who share a love for home-cooked food”.
Yet another unique aspect of Nasi Lemak Kukus is that employees get a cut of the profits.
“A customer once told me I don’t sell nasi lemak; I sell happiness. I’ve been gearing the business to this ideal of making people happy, by first making my staff happy,” he says.
“The first thing I look out for when I come to the shop is the mood of my staff. A happy mood equates to food cooked with heart, and smiles for the customer,” he adds.
Happiness is Nasi Lemak Kukus’ modus operandi and quality control. Lester invites all to savour life and be happy, starting from his humble eatery.
Nasi Lemak Kukus is open daily, from 6pm to 3am, except on Mondays, when it is closed.
Nasi Lemak Kukus
908 Upper Thomson Road