Ever wondered how thousands of nasi lemak packs can be made in a night to fulfil all the mamak tables and petrol station baskets? Well we spent a night with BK4 to see what it takes to feed the hungry masses...
Here, it's not the table but the people who revolve...
It’s about 11pm and just as people are settling in for the night, BK4 cranks up their engines. Tonight we are going behind the scenes in Bandar Kinrara to witness what it takes to produce 5,000 packets of nasi lemak ready for next morning’s delivery to various restaurants, eateries and mamak stalls. This little nasi lemak factory is a shoplot- the front part is the packing department while at the back is where the magic happens.
Kak Hajar and Abang Bam, the power couple behind nasi lemak BK4
A plump lady is stirring up the sambal in massive pots with a small boat paddle.
It takes serious muscles to stir up all that sambal.
The sambal has been bubbling since 3pm turning from a brilliant crimson to a burnished deep red. In the air is the unmistakable scent of gragao. That’s the main ingredient in the sambal, tiny krill that gives it a little bit of brininess.
Look at the deep colour of the sambal
Have a closer look... at this stage it has been simmering for more than 6 hours...
It’s also cooked long and slow so everything breaks down and thickens. This also acts as a natural preservative so that the sambal lasts longer and is not so watery so it doesn’t stain the rice too much.
Everywhere you look there is activity, stacks of crispy omelettes are sliced, cucumbers are poised and there are containers full of nuts and crisp ikan bilis fried earlier. All that’s left for this time of night is to cook the rice and pack.
Purists might disagree but BK4's omelette is practical and also a good substitute for the usual boiled sliver.
“Here, the table doesn’t move, it’s the people,” Kak Hajar smiles. She’s got on a bandana and the neon green shirt of BK4, a slight talkative woman with an infectious grin, she’s the antidote to Abang Bam’s reserve and quiet watchfulness. Together, this husband and wife team is BK4 a business that was born out of a happy accident.
Operation: Bungkus- this starts at about 4am
“We made nasi lemak for our kids to take to school to save some money,” says Abang Bam. “Then suddenly they came back with orders from their friends. Then the day after that were orders from the class next door, and then teachers.” It was at this point they realised that there might be a potential business here. They set up an umbrella by the side of the road and started off with 30 packs of nasi lemak.
“People thought we were selling crabs!” Laughs Kak Hajar. This was because they kept their nasi lemak in Styrofoam containers to keep it warm. Their first customer was a man who wanted to separate the sambal. “I remember him until today,” says Kak Hajar. “Our sambal is not spicy but it’s already in the nasi lemak. We make it so that everyone can enjoy it.” Slowly they opened a few more umbrellas and started taking orders from nearby mamak’s. Today that 30 pack of nasi lemak is now more than 5,000. It helps that both Abang Bam and Kak Hajar are engineers hence the process of their nasi lemak production is detailed and practical.
BK4's nasi lemak has the perfect portion, enough sambal with all the complete condiments
Open a pack of BK4 nasi lemak and it’s a perfect portion of rice, enough to stave hunger without feeling bloated. The sambal is not too runny and there’s enough of it. It’s a pet peeve of mine that some nasi lemak bungkus is so stingy with their sambal. The omelette is just a little crisp and both ikan bilis and onions are crispy. And of course what always make me happy is that there is cucumber. This is laid on a square of banana leaf. This has two functions, one is to keep water from the cucumber from seeping into the rice and spoiling it faster and secondly is so that you will still get a hint of banana leaf aroma in the rice. Although I like my sambal with onions in it and spicier, the brininess makes up for it, a perfect partner for the rice that falls in grains.
Abang Bam starts cooking rice at about 2am
Rice here is cooked in two steps. First, raw rice is poured into a huge pot with pandan leaves, santan, salt, a bit of sugar, oil and vinegar. This is cooked until the water dries off. And then it’s pushed to the side to give access to steam.
Now the rice will go into a steamer
Steaming takes about 20 minutes and this dries the rice, infuse each grain with santan and flavour and also makes it last longer. "You can have our morning nasi lemak at night and it’ll still be good." Indeed BK4 has perfected the art of making nasi lemak bungkus that can sit for hours on table tops with constant handling without sacrificing flavour.
All packed, ready for the morning delivery
The price for one packet of their nasi lemak? Just RM1. Now how can you resist?
For more insights into BK4 business and a look into their process watch them on Episode One of 1 Jam Makan on Hypp Sensasi, HyppTV Channel 116.