KUALA LUMPUR: "Nasi Lemak Pondan" - which translates to "Transgender's Nasi Lemak" - has become well known across Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in just over a month since it opened. The stall's name and owner have raised eyebrows, but Jojie Kamaruddin's take on Malaysia's national dish has earned her just as much attention too.
“I love her sambal,” one customer told me, referring to the rich sweet but spicy condiment that comes with the rice dish.
Nasi lemak (it literally translates to “fatty rice”) is simply rice cooked with coconut milk, served with fried anchovies (ikan bilis), fried peanuts, slices of cucumber and hard-boiled egg. You can get this dish everywhere in Malaysia.
Jojie decied to sell nasi lemak in March this year to supplement her income, using her mother's tried-and-tested recipes. At Nasi Lemak Pondan, you can get the classic iteration for around RM2, and for a few more ringgit you can also get fried chicken, chicken with tomato sambal and a variety of other curries. If you’re feeling adventurous, try her signature sambal sotong (squid curry) and clam curry.
Always looking immaculate (she is also a fashion designer and wedding planner), Jojie treats her customers like old friends, greeting everyone with a smile.
“We don’t have that today, darling,” she tells a customer who swung by on his motorbike asking for kuih - local cakes she sells at her stall too.
Her warmth is usually reciprocated. But not everyone is kind. Jojie received a lot of attention online for reclaiming the term "pondan" often used derogatorily in Malaysia and for unashamedly embracing her identity to sell her food.
“I’m not using the name Nasi Lemak Pondan as a marketing ploy,” she tells me. “A lot of people already call me pondan, so even if I call my stall Nasi Lemak Jojie, they will still ask for the pondan selling nasi lemak on the side of the road.”
Besides, other stalls are already using unique names such as Nasi Lemak Anak Dara (Virgin Nasi Lemak, named so after the stall’s young, single owner), Nasi Lemak Bujang (Bachelor Nasi Lemak, because why not) and Nasi Lemak Spiderman (where the stall owner dresses up like Spiderman) to stand out from the crowd.
“I also want to open up people’s eyes and show them that transgender people don’t just do sex work,” she says. “We have dreams of working like normal people, because we are normal.”
Jojie’s customers come from all walks of life, ranging from middle-aged homemakers to young men and they’re generally unfazed by the “pondan” stamp (and I mean this literally too - she has a stamp for her nasi lemak packets). “They’re really good to me,” she says. “They give good feedback and come back again.”
Nasi Lemak Pondan is open daily, between 12pm to 7pm in Cheras. Contact Jojie at +6016 272 2272 or +6011 2613 6219 for her exact location.
HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT
While Jojie stands out for the unusual name for her nasi lemak stall, Jennifer Yap is reinventing the traditional dish into something else.
It all started with Yap’s mother Tatiana. Yap had the idea to turn her mom’s much-loved nasi lemak into a cake for her son’s birthday last year. The idea took off and soon evolved into a business – Tiana Kitchen. Today, Tiana Kitchen takes a maximum order of 15 cakes a day across the Klang Valley.
A basic cake that serves about seven people starts at RM58 and the price goes up if you want different toppings such as prawn, squid, abalone and more.
“People say it's expensive at RM58 but when you see the effort put in and the premium ingredients used, you’ll understand why,” says Yap. “Also, it takes two hours just to make the sambal.” Yap adds that the cakes has no artificial colouring or preservatives.
So what does a nasi lemak cake taste like? Exactly like nasi lemak. Although the rice is cooked with extra water so that it can be moulded into a cake, once you dig into a slice, it disintegrates and the experience is just like eating it in its traditional form.
Tiana Kitchen’s sambal, however, is different. Inspired by Mrs Yap’s Surabayan roots, it is salty but not as sweet with just the right hint of spice to suit every taste bud.
Tiana's Kitchen is a home-based caterer which serves Indo-Malay food. More details can be found on their Facebook page.