Rise of the Ramly Burger

28 February 2018

Pioneered by a streetside burger vendor with a vision, the Ramly brand is now a quintessential part of Malaysian life. We chart the growth of the humble burger stall, and the legacy it has trailed.

There is no one food brand in Malaysia as iconic as Ramly – the brand that’s single-handedly responsible for our streetside burger culture.

For many Malaysians, there isn’t quite a night-time street food experience like stopping by a Ramly burger stall, requesting for a burger “double special tambah cheese”, sitting on a plastic stool whilst unravelling the warm wrapper, and taking big bites as sauce dribbles down their chins.

Each Ramly burger contains a slim patty of ground beef or chicken – sometimes butterflied for faster cooking – that’s been sizzled on a grill with butter or margarine and sandwiched between two soft buns. The quintessential “special” version sees an egg cracked onto the grill and spread until thin before encased around a cooked patty; this creates a seal around the meat to prevent from drippy juices. But more importantly, meat and egg is always better than just meat.

So great is our love for Ramly burgers, a point of contention for fans is the eternal question of “which stall is best?” The stall in TTDI and Brother John in Petaling Jaya, for instance, have become institutions of their own rights, with some loyal customers waiting up to 45 minutes for their orders. On the other hand, others prefer their stalls “grungier” and “grittier” – small neighbourhood stalls where the original essence of the Ramly burger culture is still evident.

However you may like your streetside burger setting, the consistent demand for Ramly burgers is proof that the humble snack is not going anywhere. With Malaysia’s trend-based market causing food trends to come and go, the Ramly brand has been steadfast about making an imprint in Malaysia’s history books.

But first, a primer on the brand: what we know as delicious burgers is more accurately a result of the products that are manufactured by Ramly Food Processing Sdn Bhd. The group produces burger patties, sausages, cured meats, smoked meats, and canned meats among other meat-based products and distributes their foods in large warehouses for stall owners.

This success story began in 1984 by Datuk Ramly Mokni when he saw a sliver of opportunity during a time when imported beef that was certified halal was difficult to come by. There was a gap in the market for commercial meat-based products among Muslims, and he dreamed to fill it.

But the journey to the top didn’t happen overnight. With a capital of RM2,000, he started by manually preparing his own burger patties – approximately 300 pieces daily – by hand.

On his rise to becoming a business mogul, Datuk Ramly faced many hurdles – a rejected loan application, a lack of funds to buy meat processing technology, and poor initial response from customers who weren’t familiar with burgers or those who deemed it too “Western”.

Following years of hard work and dedication, the Ramly group is now a RM1 billion empire and has sufficiently shaken up the Malaysian street food landscape. More importantly, the brand has helped to empower locals to set up their own burger stalls in neighbourhoods, thereon creating accessible entrepreneurship opportunities for just about anyone.

One such entrepreneur is Muhammad Zaidi Abdul Halim (Addy), the owner of Subang Jaya’s buzzing Ramly truck in SS15. The 39-year-old has been manning his operation for over two decades, and customers have witnessed his business grow from a stall to a well-staffed truck accompanied by a full-fledged restaurant space for patrons to linger.

The primary reason he tapped into the Ramly business was the promise of a decent wage. In his first six months of running the stall, he found that the low-cost business model was a boon, and vowed to grow profits despite some of his peers who looked down on him for selling burgers by the roadside in place of a corporate job.

Muhammad Zaidi Abdul Halim, better known as Addy, has been operating a Ramly burger stall for over two decades.

Dulu orang pandang rendah [people used to look down on me],” he says. “It’s only now with more food trucks that what I do is considered stylish.”

By operating a business with low overheads, maintaining and training a small number of staff, and selling about 200 burgers a day, Addy finds that he can rake up a lucrative salary of about RM500 a day.

“When I started out as a burger vendor, I had nothing. Cuma naik motor je. [I only rode a motorcycle]. But now I am grateful that I can have anything that other people can have too,” he says.

While burgers and its many basic and gourmet variants are now commonplace, Addy says the Ramly culture is not likely to wane among more fashionable competitors such as Burger Bakar and myBurgerLab. One way Addy plays to the tune of competitors is by introducing charcoal buns, a mushroom burger with homemade mushroom sauce, meat pitas, and hot dogs in flavours such as cheese and black pepper.

Over the years, Addy’s burger stall in SS15 has expanded the menu to include charcoal burger buns, meat pitas and more.

Despite these more “Western” additions, he finds that customers still gravitate towards the classic “special” and meat-only burgers. “The Ramly culture is synonymous to street food,” he says, “and it’s not going anywhere.”

In fact, so prevalent is the Ramly brand that New York is beginning to take notice. A team of four young Malaysians – under The Malaysian Project – who reside in New York attempted to pay homage to the Malaysian icon by recreating the burger at the Queens Night Market.

The New York Times highlighted the burger in a review of the market and described it as “a compact patty of beef or chicken, suffused with a profoundly warm curry blend, folded inside a yellow-white tie-dye of egg cracked right on the grill, then slid into a bun slaked with brown butter and chile mayo”.

New York may already be head over heels with our Ramly burger but Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar and Bangladesh are already enjoying Ramly exports as part of the brand’s regional reach.

And it doesn’t stop there. A new production plant to take shape this year will also enable the Middle East, Europe, Japan and Korea to be part of the expansion. Perhaps it won’t be too long until the beloved Ramly emblem eventually takes over the world, one juicy egg-wrapped patty at a time.

By Surekha Ragavan
Photos and video by Teoh Eng Hooi



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