Nasi Lemak: Asian Cuisine at its Best

By Juliet Z. Cruz

At Tomas Morato Avenue right in the heart of bustling Quezon City, a Singaporean-inspired restaurant is quietly becoming the fave spot for diners these past months with its authentic Asian cuisine. Aptly called Nasi Lemak, a small cozy restaurant lies just across the big McDonald’s Tomas Morato outlet.

"Nasi Lemak" is also a popular breakfast fare in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore consisting of rice boiled in coconut milk, dilis/ ikan bilis (fish), chicken wings, cucumber and eggs. It is quite similar to the Pinoy binalot.

“Nasi Lemak” was suggested as the brand and name of the restaurant because it was the approved name of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Other titles were used but not accepted by DTI. On the other hand, the name brings more curiosity and becomes the most talk about food trip in Tomas Morato Avenue, Quezon City.

Nasi Lemak is a cozy little place which can seat between 60 to 100 people. "Business is now brisk for Nasi Lemak," according to owner Cora Lelina. “On certain days people would line up outside the restaurant, never conscious of waiting for a table.” There’s a queue at lunch and dinner on weekends, and during weekdays at peak hours, the restaurant gets almost full too. And it’s all due to word of mouth, as satisfied customers rave about the tasty dishes, mostly Singaporean, at reasonable prices.

Cora Lelina: Global Pinay at the helm

Cora Lelina at work
A former overseas Filipina, Cora Lelina, manages Nasi Lemak with their employees. Lelina is a Business Education Associate in Commerce graduate of Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP).

Cora worked in Singapore for 20 years as personal assistant to Asia Paper’s Finnish executive. In the course of her work in organizing meetings and functions, she traveled to many countries with her boss that exposed her to a lot of Asian cuisines, lifestyles and cultures.

Looking back, she was afraid to work abroad, however due to her friend’s encouragement and her perseverance to earn, she was fortunate to find a great career and employer. Since she was based in Singapore, Cora developed a taste for Asian food.

When her boss passed away, Cora determined to have a business of her own. This food business was later confirmed with the advice of Mr. H.K. Tan and his wife. Tan is not only her business consultant, but the food taster and quality controller as well.

Mr. Tan expounds, “All Cora wanted was to introduce all the good tasting food from Singapore to her loved ones and fellow Filipinos back home. She saved up her hard-earned money for the venture. This is her first business! She’s obviously courageous and passionate about bringing good food to her kababayans (fellow Filipinos).”

Today, she also treats her Nasi Lemak staff like her family members, offering them the restaurant's food for their meals. "How can my waiters recommend the food if they haven't tasted it," Lelina smiles as she offers the foodstuffs to us.

In the future, Lelina hopes to expand her food business and put up a branch in Makati or Malate.

Asian Food: Nasi Lemak’s specialty

Kueh Pai Ti
“Singapore cuisine is actually a mixture of Asian cuisine,” H.K. Tan said, a Singaporean foodie hanging out in this resto and proudly said he was a culinary consultant. This is due to multi-racial (Chinese, Malay, Indians, Eurasians, etc.) populace in Singapore.

“Quality is number one for Nasi Lemak.” Lelina claimed. The standard procedures are installed with Quality Control checks at the kitchen and before it is served to customers to ensure that food to be served are the ones ordered with the specifications set entirely followed.

“The staffs of Nasi Lemak are very particular about the quality of the food they serve. We import ingredients to be assured of consistent quality,” Tan says.

“We also don’t scrimp on the ingredients to be used in the dishes so as to give customers the real deal,” Tan adds.
H.K. Tan explains that top of the menu list is Nasi Lemak, followed by Kueh Pai Ti, a sort of fried mini lumpia with lettuce, turnip, carrots, and prawn on top to be popped in whole in the mouth.

“There’s Hainanese Chicken, a favorite in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong; the lightly spicy Malaysian Sambal Fish, which is crispy outside and tender inside; Japanese Tofu Sautéed with Prawns; Singapore Laksa, a noodle dish with spicy coconut gravy which you can have with either prawns or chicken; and Stir-Fried Kang Kong with Belachan,” shares Tan.

“The onde onde dessert is like the Philippine pichi pichi but with a filling consisting of palm tree nectar,” adds Tan.

“We didn’t expect this kind of success,” Tan says. It’s Cora’s first business venture. But they’re handling it well, putting a premium on customer service.

Tan takes the time to train the chefs and educate customers on the dishes and how best to eat them. They also offer delivery service. And there’s free wi-fi too. This early, they’re already looking at opening branches in other locations.

Tan has been coming to the Philippines for business for more than 15 years. He noted that there are many Spanish and Italian restaurants here already. As for Chinese restaurants, most of them use vetsin which isn’t really healthy. This is why he advised Cora to go for Singaporean food, and offer other Asian dishes as well, without MSG (mono sodium glutamate) of course.

The afternoon of our interview, Tan would hide off to the kitchen to taste the "Malaysian chicken curry" the chefs were cooking. He wanted it to taste just right and have the right color as well.

New products to try, yummy!
Reginald Kenneth Cruz, the future chef pose in front of Nasi Lemak after eating the sumptuous dinner! Real yummy!

Nasi Lemak resto keeps on developing new foodstuffs like tofu and noodle dishes a healthy offer we must try!!

Sizzling tofu, braised tofu and mee goreng respectively...

Testimonials of Some Food Aficionados

“My family and I love to travel and we love to try new food/ resto in every place we visit. In Nasi Lemak, it’s not that maanghang (the dishes are not that spicy as you think), it’s just right.” Luisa Pangilinan shares.

The core team of Arellano High School (Manila North) Class 1984 meets
in preparation of the upcoming Grand Reunion

“Okay ang tagliner nila, WALANG VETSIN!(Their tagliner is great, "no vetsin"),Tetchie Reyes, a hotel and restaurant graduate remarks with his Arellano High School batchmates in their group’s discussion.

“The dishes here are very tasty and very affordable,” Mr. Samson and other balikbayans from the US during a short interview.

Masarap siya! (It’s delicious!),” Joy Martinez yells.

Watch Negosyo at Iba Pa or Business TV Program
Find out more in their TV interview at “Negosyo at Iba Pa” or upcoming business TV program to be aired soon! We'll post the new schedule in this site. :)

[Left to right: Mr. HK Tan; Nikka Alejar, host; Cora Lelina, owner; DG Tony Ortiz, director general of Technology Resource Center]

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