Award winning nasi kerabu recipe changes fortune of Kelantan family
Fauzi Nasi Kerabu was among those recognised in the Top 50 World Street Food Master Awards in 2017.
KUALA TERENGGANU: Ms Sufazreen Nazifa Mohd Fauzi is only 23, but the business administration graduate is already the chief executive of a thriving business.
She heads the business arm of her family’s nasi kerabu restaurant chain in Terengganu. Fauzi Nasi Kerabu has only two outlets in Kuala Terengganu. Both have become popular among locals as go-to places to sample one of the most famous dishes on the east coast of Malaysia.
The restaurant was among those recognised in the Top 50 World Street Food Master Awards in 2017. The dish attracts long queues every morning at both outlets, which typically sell out by 1pm.
Nasi kerabu is an herbed rice dish easily identified by its striking blue colour, which comes from cooking the rice with flower petals of the butterfly pea. The rice is typically served with chicken, fish, pickles and salads.
While it originated in Kelantan, nasi kerabu has gained popularity for its unique combination of being healthy and rich in taste. It has since spread to Terengganu, Perak and even southern Thailand.
Ms Sufazreen’s family also hails from Kelantan. Her parents and nine siblings moved south from Kelantan’s Pasir Mas district to Kuala Terengganu around 14 years ago in search of a better life.
FROM TRUCK DRIVER TO SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANT OWNER
In an interview with CNA, Ms Sufazreen recounted that the restaurant had humble beginnings.
When the family first moved to Terengganu, her father, Mohd Fauzi Mat Salleh, worked relentless shifts as a lorry driver, while her mother, Sumaiyah Mustapha, sold kuih (snacks) on the side.
The family lived in a small rental flat and struggled to make ends meet.
“We used to live in a small house, all 12 of us. When my siblings and I went to school, we would just bring our own meals from home as we could not afford canteen food. It was really difficult,” said Ms Sufazreen.
But her parents soldiered on – they collected whatever little money they earned to buy a small van. They would then sell nasi kerabu from the back of their van at pasar malams. The recipe was Mdm Sumaiyah’s family recipe that had been passed down for generations.
“Alhamdullilah, when we started selling at pasar malams, for seven nights a week, customers were happy with our food. More and more people came and (we) managed to earn some money to uplift our lives slightly,” said Ms Sufazreen.
“We used the income from pasar malams to buy our first family home for RM 500,000 (US$120,218), open a restaurant in Kuala Terengganu, and the blessings just followed,” she added.
“We had enough money for each of the siblings and their families to buy their own homes, and some of us got cars for ourselves. Me and some of my siblings also managed to further our education, and that was key,” added Ms Sufazreen.
She enjoys applying what she has learnt from university to the family business, as her parents relinquished operations last year. Mr Mohd Fauzi is 51 and Mdm Sumaiyah is 46.
“Mak (Mom) and Ayah (dad) are getting older, so we the younger generation have to come forward. We can’t let their hard work go to waste,” Ms Sufazreen said.
The young entrepreneur, who only recently took the lead in running Fauzi Nasi Kerabu, is determined to maintain the quality of her family’s nasi kerabu. During the restaurant’s first decade, Mdm Sumaiyah would lead all the cooking preparation to ensure standards were not compromised.
Now that she is retired, Ms Sufazreen has stepped up to the plate.
“For our speciality dish, nasi kerabu, we obtain all our ingredients fresh (on) the same morning we serve our customers,” she said.
“Our dish is also relatively healthy. There’s a lot of fibre from the vegetables we use. We use grilled chicken, beef and lamb, and don’t use any oil for our protein,” added Ms Sufazreen.
Although authentic nasi kerabu is typically served without gravy, the restaurant offers a red sweet-sour sauce that is poured over the rice.
The gravy is the restaurant’s ace in the hole in attracting local customers, as well as tourists from Kuala Lumpur, Johor and even Singapore, said Ms Sufazreen.
A regular customer, who wanted to be known only as Ms Wan, told CNA that the sauce is the reason she comes back at least once a fortnight.
“I’ve asked (the owners) what they use to make the gravy, but it’s a family secret. Nasi kerabu can sometimes be savoury and crunchy, and the gravy complements it perfectly,” she said.
Another customer, Mr Mohd Sufian Mohd Farid, said the restaurant has “perfected” the recipe.
However, Fauzi Nasi Kerabu has also developed “instagrammable” drinks to go with the meal, like its Teh Peng Jebok, an iced milk tea with froth that overflows from the glass.
Ms Sufazreen acknowledged that it is important to come up with new ideas so that younger customers will keep returning. Despite that, she added that it was important for the business to maintain the tradition of one of Malaysia’s most iconic street food.
“There are many other competitors in this region, but we have to make sure our taste stands out. The gravy and freshness of ingredients play an important role,” she said. “There can be no compromise.”