This post was written by Chad Merchant
NAVIGATING YOUR WAY AMID THE VAST ARRAY OF STREET FOOD IN MALAYSIA CAN PROVE TO BE AN EXHILARATING (AND FATTENING) ACTIVITY. JOIN EDITOR CHAD MERCHANT AS HE REMINISCES ABOUT HIS FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH ONE OF KL’S MOST FAMOUS STREET TREATS, THE RAMLY BURGER.
I originally moved to Malaysia in 2008, and began discovering little gems of life in KL here and there as I got progressively more established here, many related to food. Somehow, though, one very popular local food managed to fly completely under my radar for well over a year. And when I say popular, that’s a bit of an understatement. This street food is so popular, in fact, that the primary ingredient is routinely smuggled into Singapore from Malaysia to surreptitiously serve the hungry people there. It’s called the Ramly burger, and my research suggests that it’s been around since about 1979, created here in KL by a man named Ramly Moknin. Someone gave me a year-old copy of a local magazine and there was an article in there about these burgers, and all I could think is, “How disgusting… I’ve GOT to get one of these!” They’re widely available here, and very popular, but somehow I missed them. All Malaysian beef products are banned in Singapore, so vendors apparently smuggle the frozen beef patties across the causeway and sell them secretly there, risking their food-stall license to do so.
And what makes a mere burger worth risking one’s livelihood? Well, I can tell you that, by pretty much any measure, this thing is a culinary abomination. Seriously, it makes McDonald’s look like health food. So, as you can imagine, it tastes fantastic. Anything this bad for you surely would. Though the Ramly burger is available with beef or chicken patties, I opted for beef, and have stuck with that ever since. Here’s the story of my very first experience buying and eating Malaysia’s most famous street burger.
The Ramly burger starts out with essentially the cheapest, saddest little frozen beef patties that (not a lot of) money can buy. You can get a 10-pack from the freezer at Tesco for about RM5 or so, and the question of whether or not any cows were actually involved in the creation of this product might even be debatable. (Note the unintentionally humorous “90% pure meat” sign – not necessarily beef, mind you, just some sort of meat.) Anyway, Ramly burger carts are, for reasons unknown, many times found next to 7-11 convenience stores. Everyone apparently knew about this except me, so when I asked a friend of mine about this mysterious burger, he said, “Oh sure, there’s a stall near my place that has the best Ramly burgers in town.” (Indeed, the cart, Burger Om, had a little certificate pinned to it from a local newspaper declaring the fat-and-calorie bomb burgers there to be the best in Klang Valley for 2009.) So I was eager to try this thing and then hate myself in the morning for it.
First, the vendor cooked a patty on a hot griddle. Mine was cooked in a puddle of dirty grease. Yum. As the burger cooked, the Ramly guru hacked and chopped at it (presumably to tenderize it or make it cook faster) with what was basically – let’s face it – a paint scraper. The bun was then split and slathered with margarine and placed face-down on a relatively dry part of the griddle. Next, he cracked an egg, muddled the yolk around and spread it out very thinly on the hot surface (about 25 cm across…wow), placed the burger patty of doom into the center of the fried egg, then folded up the sides of the egg around the meat, like a little parcel. Some cooks will butterfly the beef patty, slicing it horizontally. This guy didn’t, though. He simply seasoned the patty with something called Maggi seasoning, added liberal squirts of mayonnaise and sweet chili sauce, and a dash of thick Worcestershire sauce. His wife was on veggie patrol next to him, so she added a few bits of slivered onions to the burger. The toasted bun was set open to receive the egg-wrapped burger, onto which she added a handful of shredded cabbage. Then the cook added more mayo, more chili sauce, a bit of mustard, and another dash of Maggi seasoning, mashed the top bun onto it and wrapped it up. There may have been a slice of cheese added at some point, but who would have ever seen it under all that muck and despair? So to recap, we have some beef-like product, fried in a lake of fat, a fried egg, a bun grilled with margarine, the equivalent of a heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise, the same amount of sweet chili sauce, a generous helping of Maggi, which is essentially liquid brown salt, and a few scraps of cabbage and onion… you know, just to make it a balanced, nutritious meal. I felt my arteries hardening and my cholesterol rising just watching it be made.
As for the taste…? YUM. Look at this picture. Disgusting, isn’t it? What a mess. This was a four-napkin burger and I still felt like I needed a shower afterwards. But ohhhh, what flavor. From a calorie and saturated fat perspective, I’m pretty sure this thing would outpace a Big Mac, but wow, it sure tasted good. I’m determined never to get addicted though. Perhaps once a month (or less) as a treat. Truly a guilty, messy, uniquely Malaysian pleasure.
Find Burger Om in Ampang along Jalan Kerja Ayer Lama. Heading away from KL as you turn onto this street, you’ll see a Petronas on your right. Keep going, and Om Burger will be a few hundred metres ahead on your left, right next to – predictably – a 7-11. Another contender for best Ramly burger in town is a busy burger cart in front of Restoran Kopitiam Bintang in Damansara Utama (Uptown) in PJ, just opposite the big food court. You’ll see a Starbucks just nearby, and… of course, a 7-11. Expect to wait quite a few minutes for your burgers at either of these places during the many busy times!
Source: Senses of Malaysia July-Augt 2012
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