Nasi Campur in Kuala Lumpur

30 August 2018

Nasi campur places often serve the best of homecooked Malay food. We speak to two restaurants serving dishes from Johor and Negeri Sembilan.

The average nasi campur (Malay mixed rice) restaurant is often a limitless food fantasy. Some restaurants or warungs serve up to 80 dishes from different states around the country, giving customers a dizzying array of dishes to choose from. Yet, the magic of nasi campur is its ability to feel like a homecooked meal. We speak to two restaurant operators who, inspired by their mother’s cooking, opened up their own respective restaurants to share their taste of home with the world.

Nestled in the lively township of Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI), D’Cengkih is the place to go for traditional Johorean food. It serves an eclectic variety of savoury dishes from the southernmost state alongside an array of Malaysian kuih.

The operators, a couple from Johor, handle the restaurant’s daily business needs.

“He’s the minister of finance,” Halifah Ja’afar says, pointing to her husband, Haron Ibrahim. “And I’m the minister of the kitchen!”  

Their first foray into the food and beverage business, the couple opened D’Cengkih in 2009, after Halifah’s mother suggested they start a food business in Kuala Lumpur. With no F&B experience except for a family legacy of cooks (Halifah’s mother has over 46 years of experience in F&B, while her grandmother used to be a cook for the Johor royal family), Halifah and Haron decided to take the plunge.

The premise of D’Cengkih is simple: to serve good, authentic Johor dishes to the public.

“It’s what you would find in our house if we were eating,” says Haron. "We use whatever ingredients we use if we were cooking for ourselves. We want people to know what Malay food is – it’s not goreng-goreng [just fried food]. It’s a shame that there’s a lot of Malay food, but nobody is promoting it.” 

Nine years later, the restaurant is growing and thriving. The couple’s children have even joined them: their eldest son recently left his banking job and joined as a chef, while their daughter is in charged of creating the selection of kuih and desserts. 

D’Cengkih is most famous for its asam pedas, which was even featured on the Asian Food Channel. Besides that, some of the other favourites include sotong masak hitam, which gets its namesake black sauce from squid ink, and sambal gila – an especially spicy sambal.

Customers can also order nasi ambang (the cone-shaped portion of rice comes with seven side dishes) or Kelantanese nasi dagang. For dessert, try the kuih lopis (pandan-infused glutinous rice patties served with gula Melaka syrup) and lempeng pisang (Malay-style banana pancakes).

“I think these [banana] pancakes have more banana than batter,” Halifah jokes. 

With the success of D’Cengkih, the family has even thought about expanding their business. “[We] want to expand overseas – Australia, London. But in the meantime, [we’re] just still thinking. Maybe in the near future,” says Halifah. 

The restaurant may have picked up several awards, but Halifah and Haron say they are proudest of the way their food can impact people on a personal level.

“We’ve had quite a number of customers that cried while they were eating,” says Haron. “They say, it reminds [me] of how my grandmother cooked”. It makes us happy that they can relate to this food.”

“We realise because it’s ikhlas, it’s cooked from sincerity. Customers always thank us, saying ‘I know you cook from your heart, from your soul.’” 

Restoran Raso Omak Den
In the neighbourhood of Melawati is Raso Omak Den, which serves nasi campur with side dishes primarily from Negeri Sembilan. Like D’Cengkih, Raso Omak Den was also inspired by the founder’s mother.

Raso omak den means the ‘taste of my mother’,” says Othman Daud, who started the restaurant in 2006.

“I started to learn to cook from my mother when I was seven or eight. I was a very picky eater. My mother used to say, I had the body of a slave and the taste of a king,” Othman laughs. His friendliness is what keeps his customers coming back. Some of them, Othman says, have been coming since the restaurant first opened.

Over 40 dishes are cooked for the restaurant’s daily spread of food, including Negeri Sembilan’s famed daging salai lemak cili api (smoked beef in coconut and turmeric curry) and ikan keli salai (smoked catfish). Othman also serves tempoyak, siput sedut, duck eggs, bamboo shoots, and various vegetable dishes. 

Like the founders of D’Cengkih, Othman didn’t have any prior experience in the food industry. He has a marketing background and worked for large corporations such as Pernama Perwira Niaga, BP and Edaran Otomobil Nasional. In 2006, he left the corporate world to open his own restaurant.

“I started from scratch. I cooked by myself. Early in the morning I went to the market, and then I came back and cooked. For six months, I got three hours of sleep a day,” Othman recalls. The first three years were difficult, but after that, the business started picking up. Othman’s wife now heads the kitchens, and they’ve even opened a second outlet in neighbouring Danau Kota.

According to Othman, both outlets receive up to 2,000 customers a day on the weekends, and 1,500 on weekdays.

“We use 95 kilos of coconut milk a day,” Othman says, laughing.

While he has received a lot of offers to expand the business and open up other branches, Othman says he’s reluctant to sacrifice quality for quantity. “The problem is the cooking. We have to take care of the quality.” 

D’Cengkih 6, Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, 60000 Kuala Lumpur. Open Tue-Sun, 7am-7am.
Restoran Rasa Omak Den 67, Jalan Taman Ibu Kota, Taman Ibukota, 53300 Kuala Lumpur. Open Sat-Thu, 8am-4pm; 318, Lorong Selangor, Pusat Bandar Melawati, Taman Melawati, 53100 Kuala Lumpur. Open Sat-Thu, 9am-6pm.

By Lily Jamaluddin
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi


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