Chinese-Malay business nails success with 'Nasi Paku'

Last update: 21/08/2019


KOTA BHARU, Aug 21 – The 1.5in metal nail which is used to secure the Sumatran rice and dishes packed in paper and sold at Kedai Makan Nasi Sumatera Hj Ismail shared by Foo Chiak Leong, 48 and Muhammad Yusuf Ismail, 30, is akin to the trust that binds the second-generation proprietors.

Foo recounts that it all started with a coffee shop started by his father, Foo Chee Chen, in 1979 in Jalan Gajah Mati, and which he took over after he passed away.

The second child from a brood of four said his dad merely sold drinks, but “in 2006, after my dad’s passing a year before, I partnered up with Muhammad Yusuf’s dad, Ismail Zakaria, 70, who had stopped working at a restaurant and started a food business”.

“While I carried on dad’s beverage operation, Ismail sold Sumatran rice and dishes,” he told Bernama at a shop he is renting in Jalan Tok Hakim now after moving from the old premises a year ago.

On his motivation to go into business with a person of another race, Foo replied that halal food is able to attract more customers.

Besides that, “for the 13 years we’ve shared a restaurant, I, Ismail and his children have never quarrelled because we have mutual respect for each other”.

With age catching up, Muhammad Yusuf – who has five workers -- took over the business from his dad a few years ago.

He said Malays and Indians are drawn to his food, but the majority of his customers are from the Tionghua community.

The dishes are served up old-style in plates and “among the popular ones are ayam kampung goreng (fried free-range chicken), the curry-like gulai ayam kampung, gulai ikan tenggiri (Spanish mackerel) and gulai kuning otak lembu (cow brain), daging kerutuk (stewed beef) and a traditional Sumatran recipe daging kering (fried beef)”.

Muhammad Yusuf disclosed that the use of metal nails harks back to when a person named Osman Larin from Sumatera, Indonesia opened a restaurant in Kelantan in the 70s.

“Dad used to work for him and from the very beginning he used nails to secure the food packets.

“Although Osman has passed away, his workers -- dad included -- who have started their own restaurants have kept the tradition of using nails because it is neater compared to using a rubber band,” he said, adding that at least 2kg of nails has to be bought every two months and they are the reason his food venture has earned the description of “nasi paku”.

On the payment arrangement at the restaurant, Muhammad Yusuf said: “It’s not been a problem because Foo writes down the drink orders while we are in operation from 9am, and before we shut at 3.30pm, he tells me how much I need to pay him.”

Muhammad Yusuf explained that this is due to the layout of the restaurant with drinks served from the back and food from the front, so customers pay for their meals at the rice counter.