Fast Food

21 June 2017

These Ramadan vendors made it so big, you’ll find their names scattered across bazaars in the Klang Valley.

Come Ramadan, Klang Valley is abuzz with bazaars, some that stretch up to more than a kilometre hawking meat on spit, fried foods, rice dishes, colourful kuih, and refreshing iced drinks. It’s the time of the year where some of Malaysia’s best regional street foods are displayed in all its glory.

When struck with success and fame, some Ramadan stalls climb up the ranks to reach ‘cult’ status, inciting snaking queues in the scorching afternoon heat. Here are two Ramadan-exclusive names that made it so big in the scene, they’ve become somewhat synonymous with the bazaar experience.

Raja Murtabak

There’s no arguing that murtabak is a quintessential snack in most Ramadan bazaars, and Raja Murtabak – the unparalleled leader of them all – has wholly capitalised on the craze. Speaking animatedly in Malay, owner Raja Zakaria bin Raja Hamid says that murtabak is a seasonal snack. “Musim Ramadan je betul-betul orang gila [during Ramadan people go crazy for murtabak],” he says.

Raja Murtabak owner Raja Zakaria bin Raja Hamid

You’ll be hard-pressed to visit a bazaar in the Klang Valley that doesn’t host a Raja Murtabak stall, commonly pictured with hordes of customers choosing between regular, special, and jumbo-sized “Raja” murtabaks. To meet demand, the brand’s TTDI outlet takes up multiple lots with no less than ten staff to man separate grill stations.

And to keep up with hybrid food trends, ‘modern’ iterations have cropped up such as mac and cheese murtabak and spaghetti murtabak, both of which are slowly gaining grounds on Instagram.

Made with a base of meat, onions, and spices encased by crisp dough akin to that of roti canai, the snack in its original form is simply a blank canvas for Raja Zakaria. “There’s a lot of things you can do with murtabak,” he says.

This journey to the pinnacle of murtabak success started with humble origins in 1990 with a single stall in Ampang. Years of hard work and a determination for quality control were ensued by a central kitchen, and eventually, a frozen murtabak enterprise.

Fast-forward to 2017, Raja Zakaria is a proud entrepreneur at the helm of over 20 Ramadan bazaar stalls across the city. But it’s not without the help of family, he says. Eight out of his 12 siblings have jumped on-board and are delegated to run respective stalls while his three sons pitch in wherever possible.

If business continues to boom for the brand, Raja Zakaria will set his sights overseas, his model being the France-based bakery Delifrance that made it big in Singapore and Malaysia. “I don’t want to go to Singapore, maybe to Sydney,” he laughs. Laugh he may, but the reality of penetrating the Australian market isn’t far-fetched for this go-getter.

Tepung Pelita Istimewa Paya Jaras
If you’ve ever walked the grounds of a Ramadan bazaar, you’ve probably come across Paya Jaras’s sweet-salty pudding-like kuih displayed neatly on yellow trays whose surfaces are emblazoned with their memorable slogan – rasa sebulan, rindu setahun (taste it for a month, miss it for a year).

Established in 1999, Tepung Pelita Istimewa Paya Jaras has come to be known as the Klang Valley’s best suppliers of the traditional Malay kuih. But like most origin stories, this one began humbly. After noticing a gap in the market, Nazri Taris, who co-founded the enterprise with his wife Watie Abdul Rahman, started selling tepung pelita at pasar malams, restaurants, and hotels.

“I think there’s potential because it’s traditional; people rarely make this kuih,” Nazri explains in Malay. While Nyonya kuih and pisang goreng took top spots in the complex realm of Malaysian teatime snacks, tepung pelita wasn’t yet commercialised at the time. It was mostly known as a household snack, especially in Perak by the name of kuih limas.

These days, due to scaling demand, Nazri and Watie only operate during Ramadan months. The seasonal exclusivity surrounding the brand is one of the reasons fans wait for their fix, sometimes close to 30 minutes. Nazri adds that sales during Ramadan month are so incredible; they’re able to cover a year’s worth of revenue.

On top of that, the tedious process of making tepung pelita makes it unfeasible for the business to run all year round. Nazri laments, “From the leaf to the banana leaf pods, it’s very tedious.” The process of making a day’s batch of kuih can take up to 12 hours, he adds.

Each tepung pelita is painstakingly put together in a central factory in the small town of Paya Jaras in the outskirts of Selangor. Because of the kuih’s double layers and distinct wobble, ingredients such as rice flour, coconut milk, and pandan juice must be carefully measured, mixed and set in their banana leaf cases before being packaged.

Each year, the couple find themselves doubling down during the Ramadan month to check for counterfeit products that ride on the Paya Jaras brand, or agents that mark up prices (currently set at RM3.50 for five pieces), and in rarer cases, unauthorised resellers.

Nazri explains that he has a one bazaar-one seller policy, which means that no two Paya Jaras stalls can be set up in a single bazaar. This helps the couple regulate quality and monitor sales across the Klang Valley. This also means that scores of hopeful agents and resellers are turned down each year.

While Nazri prefers not to harp on the ‘negative’ aspects of running a thriving enterprise, he’d rather put his down and keep working. Meanwhile, we’ll be lowering our spoons into rectangles of sweet, trembling kuih, only to wait around for next year’s Ramadan period to do it all over again.

Get your Raja Murtabak fix at Ramadan bazaars in TTDI, Kampung Baru and Bangsar. Tepung Pelita Istimewa Paya Jaras is available at various bazaars around the Klang Valley including Wangsa Maju, TTDI, Subang Bestari and Bangsar.

By Surekha Ragavan
Video by Teoh Eng Hooi



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