Best Eats: The Ramly Phenomenon
In Manila you can get a Jollibee burger. In most of Asia you can get a Big Mac or a Whopper, and so what? But with Ramadan upon us in Malaysia, it’s a long wait until the sun goes down and the vision of a Ramly Burger cart almost makes one faint.
The Ramly Special is a uniquely Malaysian phenomenon,. an astounding burger that would cause the average dietitian to go into cardiac shock. The carts, which have become ubiquitous in Kuala Lumpur, deliver up a burger different from one anywhere else – and different from any other Ramly burger, for that matter. Whereas McDonalds sends its people to Hamburger University in Oak Brook, a western suburb of Chicago in the United States to make sure every Big Mac is exactly like every other Big Mac, the Ramly Burger is a bespoke burger.
Rather than stacking the ingredients within the bun as they do at McDonalds or Burger King, the Ramly guy pours a long series of condiments over the two beef patties, anything or everything from margarine to Worcestershire sauce to curry powder to soy sauce, tomato, cabbage, onions, ketchup, mayonnaise, oyster sauce, thousand island dressing, black pepper, mushroom sauce or all of them.
How do you keep them together? The cart includes a hot plate – not a grill—so that the patties cook alongside a thin omelet, sometimes onions and cabbages as wekk. By wrapping them all in the thin layer of scrambled egg that makes it into a kind of packet that the burger guy then puts inside the bun. The egg holds everything together while you dive in.
A Ramly special costs anywhere between RM3 to RM5 and that makes it a perfect meal for many city or Selangor dwellers. Just say “Ramly Burger satu -” one Ramly Burger, please.”
It’s also a greasy, messy, fun experience as you hang out at the burger cart with your friends standing and chomping away vin Kuala Lumpur’s soft tropical evening. If anything the Ramly Burger has survived the ages with even the young generation of today still enjoying them. For non-Muslims, an ice-cold beer is de rigueur. But the cart has lots of drinks Malaysians love as well.
The company got its start in 1979 when the owners, Ramly Bin Mokni and his wife, Shala Siah Binti Abdul Manap decided to produce a halal, clean and quality product. The rest is history, as they say. It has grown to be huge, also providing opportunities to many youngsters to access to their first job to earn a living with little capital, as McDonalds does in the United States There isn’t a housing development in the area that doesn’t have a Ramly Burger cart, a 7-Eleven store and a CIMB bank.
The company processing plant in SME Industrial Park in Kuala Lumpur has grown to offer a range of products including not just burgers but fish fillets, frankfurters, nuggets, seafood, minced meat and other products. The phenomenon has grown so far and so fast that Ramly and his wife have been given the honorific Datuk and Datin by Malaysia’s sultan.
From their single burger cart, first producing the Ramly Chicken Burger, which included chicken, soy sauce, spices and salt, Ramly and his wife have grown a business empire that seemingly covers almost every street corner in the country – and on across Southeast Asia, to Indonesia., Thailand and the Philippines – everywhere but Singapore.
While there are Ramly Burgers in Singapore, the one Malaysians know is banned.
The only Ramly part of it is the wrapper, the mayonnaise and frozen sea foods. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore refuses to allow Ramly beef and chicken patties in because one of the sources is India, which is not an approved Singaporean import item. The addictive special spice mix sauce that Malaysia loves is an “evolved” version.
Singaporeans who want the real Ramly experience, have to cross the Causeway into Johor to buy it. It’s certainly worth the petrol. Ramly Special satu!