How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (2023)

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (1)

Village Park Restaurant founders Datuk Seri Mohd Shamil Ngoh Abdullah and Datin Seri AIshah Chong (right) were once in the music and fashion industry — Pictures by Choo Choy May

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By Lee Khang Yi

Wednesday, 17 May 2023 1:33 PM MYT

PETALING JAYA, May 17 — For many in Petaling Jaya — and possibly even the rest of Malaysia — Village Park Restaurant is famous for its nasi lemak.

Long queues of people wait in line to demolish a plate of steamed coconut rice, deep fried chicken with spiced crumbs, sambal, fried peanuts and ikan bilis. Some even pop by with their luggage in tow en route from the airport.

Delivery orders via GrabFood flood the restaurant until it jams up their order machine.

Would you believe that the founders, namely Datuk Seri Mohd Shamil Ngoh Abdullah and Datin Seri AIshah Chong, were once in the music and fashion business?

Shamil who was born in Kuantan grew up in Singapore as his family relocated there. He met Aishah, who is originally from Terengganu, in Singapore where she worked in the fashion industry.

The 60-year-old owned his own independent music production company back in the 1990s that made headlines for their dance music compilations like Mega Dance. The dance CD sold more than 1 million copies in Thailand and 50,000 copies in Singapore, beating superstars Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston in sales.

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (2)

Back in the 1990s, Datuk Seri Mohd Shamil Ngoh Abdullah owned an independent music production company that produced dance music compilations

"That is why people think, why a 360-degrees change from music to selling nasi lemak," said Shamil.

It started when Aishah was sick of commuting between Malaysia and Singapore, after they had their daughter.

"She was tired of flying and wanted to set up a small kopitiam," said Shamil.

They settled for a shoplot in Damansara Utama that used to sell Teochew porridge. It was discovered by Aishah's sister who was a frequent diner there.

It was a perfect fit as the owners were looking to retire. Moreover, the location was ideal since it was very near their residence.

However, it would take them two years before they opened the restaurant in 2002 as they were busy and renovations moved at a snail's pace without constant supervision.

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (3)

The place is packed with diners especially during lunch time

In the beginning, Aishah recalled. "It was very hard as we were not from this industry.". Shamil also elaborated that they were also dependent on their workers who were unreliable, hence he was forced to slowly pick up the ropes by observing how things were done.

"When we started that time, it was very, very tough as I didn't know anything but I have the passion to cook."

They would be working non-stop managing the place and buying supplies at midnight in Chow Kit. It was an uphill battle for both of them, so much so that Aishah wanted to throw in the towel.

Shamil started cooking the dishes for the restaurant including the sambal sotong. He sought advice from many others on how to prepare the dish.

He remembers how he would get customers to try the food and if they said it was not nice, he would ask them to throw it away.

Spurred by the quest for an excellent plate of nasi lemak, he tinkered with the recipe for almost one and a half years.

A major characteristic of Village Park's nasi lemak is their fluffy rice. Each grain is separate and you don't get that wet, sticky texture.

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (4)

It's a mad rush to get plates of 'nasi lemak' to diners

Through keen observation, trial and error, Shamil came up with the fluffy texture by mixing basmati, Thai fragrant rice, old and new rice.

Shamil tells us that customers can even eat two servings of the rice, as it's light and fluffy. Children, who shun rice at home, will favour Village Park's version, tucking into a plate of their nasi lemak.

The secret is they wash the rice grains until it's devoid of starch.

Here the rice is steamed in a traditional wooden basket. Shamil drives the fragrance in the rice by adding pandan leaves at the side of the wooden bucket and steaming it to infuse the rice.

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (5)

Their 'nasi lemak' is an iconic dish that many flock here to enjoy

The coconut aroma is evident yet the fluffy grains aren't oily. Shamil mixes coconut milk and more of the richer santan to give it a deeper flavour. When the rice is steamed, they sprinkle coconut water on top.

This gives it the fragrance minus that overwhelming richness. More flavour is infused into the grains as they layer it with lemongrass, pandan leaves and ginger.

"Our nasi lemak rice is different and competitors want to learn how to do it but normally people don't want to use this method as it's a lot of work," explained Shamil.

Another must-have on every plate is their ayam goreng berempah. Shamil recalls that they were the first to use the whole chicken leg for nasi lemak. Later, many others followed suit.

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (6)

'Ayam goreng berempah' is a must for its juicy meat and the crunchy lemongrass and ginger shreds

Usually smaller sized chopped chicken would be fried. Shamil experimented by frying a whole chicken which he chopped to smaller pieces. He discovered that when it became cold, the chicken would be hard and unappetising.

He decided to use the whole leg with its drumstick and thigh. "When you do that, it has to be fresh, then you get a softness and juicy meat inside," he explained.

Shamil insists only fresh free range chickens are used otherwise the taste and texture of the fried chicken will be compromised. Many also love the deep fried crumbs with its lemongrass and ginger aroma.

With their sambal, Shamil insists on using a mix of fresh chillies and dried chillies, rather than chilli paste.

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (7)

Village Park's 'sambal' in a bottle was launched on May 15 in Jaya Grocer at Starling Mall with Village Park's founders Datin Seri AIshah Chong, Datuk Seri Mohd Shamil Ngoh Abdullah and Jaya Grocer Chief Executive Officer Adelene Foo

Following feedback from customers, they have tweaked the sambal, elevating it by slowly cooking it longer to become thicker, and adding more lemongrass to the mix for a more fragrant spoonful.

The spiciness of the sambal varies depending on the season for the chillies.

Fans of the sambal can now buy them in ready-to-eat bottles for RM17.90. It is marketed as a Private Label range at Jaya Grocer, both in store and online through GrabMart and is a collaboration with Grab Signature Brands.

The sambal can be eaten with rice, noodles. Shamil recommends eating it with roti canai too.

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (8)

Find the Village Park 'sambal' at all Jaya Grocer outlets and eat it with rice, noodles and even 'roti canai'

For ardent fans of Village Park, the draw of their nasi lemak is how the taste has been consistent throughout the years. It's all thanks to Shamil, who admits he is incredibly fussy.

"Cooking has been my passion from day one until now. I wake up at 4am and by 4.15am, I am here."

Even when he was hospitalised, he sneaked out to check on the restaurant.

Till today, he insists on cooking certain items, like the sotong, beef rendang and the nasi lemak ingredients himself.

This includes the kaya. He added, "I won't allow people to cook it as it needs a very, very small flame, and continuous stirring from 5am to 1.30pm in the afternoon until it's ready."

The mee rebus, cooked Johor style, is their second best seller and incredibly important to him. "I spend a lot of effort cooking it. It has a lot of dried shrimps, anchovies to make the broth."

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (9)

After their popular 'nasi lemak', the 'mee rebus' is the most sought item here — Picture by Lee Khang Yi

True enough, the thick, smooth gravy is packed with flavour that you will be licking your spoon so as not to miss a single drop.

Shamil also insists that the quality of ingredients is not compromised, paying top dollar for the different elements from the piece of banana leaf under the rice to the cucumbers which use crunchy timun susu.

"In fact, there's no secret in cooking. It's passion and the ingredients must be right."

Shamil also does not intend to open other outlets as it will be hard to monitor and maintain the quality. "I am always in the kitchen and my wife is outside at the front of the house. I can extend the place but I cannot expand."

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (10)

Don't forget to also order their 'lontong' which is delicious too

He also emphasised that once you put in a central kitchen, quality is affected if the branch's workers don't handle the food properly, the standards will drop.

Even automation doesn't produce the right results. For example, he shared, grunt work like hand peeling onions cannot be done by a machine, as it uses water to peel the skin. This will compromise the taste of the onions with the addition of liquid.

Even the spice paste is done from scratch for their dishes. The couple also insists that the food is prepared daily to ensure it is fresh. "You cannot recycle food, you will suffer" he explained.

When GrabFood approached them to join their food delivery platform, Shamil hesitated as they were already incredibly busy and couldn't cope. After many talks, Shamil was persuaded by Aishah to try it out in 2018, provided GrabFood assisted in handling the management of the orders.

How PJ's Village Park Restaurant became famous for its 'nasi lemak' (11)

There's a dedicated counter just for the GrabFood delivery orders that keep flooding in

It became a runaway success as everyone wanted to enjoy the nasi lemak at home. During the Covid-19 lockdown, it became a huge boon for the restaurant's business too.

Shamil is also sensitive to his customers' needs. For instance, he is aware that KLlites' taste buds veer towards less oil and less sweet items. Thus his nasi dagang uses a Terengganu style fish curry that is less sweet compared to the Kelantanese version.

And how did they come to name their restaurant Village Park? As the kopitiam was an old kampung style, they wanted to call it Kampung Village but despite many attempts, they couldn't register it, probably because it was already taken. Eventually they selected "Village Park" and stuck to it.

Village Park Restaurant, 5, Jalan SS21/37, Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya. Open daily: 6.30am to 5.30pm. Tel: 012- 2738438. Facebook: Instagram: @villageparkofficial

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