Fat, juicy and well-dressed, handcrafted burgers have captured the hearts and imagination of Malaysian foodies
Ever since French celebrity chef Daniel Boulud created his db burger – sirloin stuffed with truffles and foie gras on a Parmesan bun – gourmet handcrafted burgers have been basking in the culinary limelight. The trend finally caught on in Malaysia, sparking a minor burger revolution in the Klang Valley.
Burger joints are usually lively places with patrons happily chowing down on the burgers. Buns are soft, fluffy and homemade, with charcoal being the sought-after flavour. The ingredients are limited only by the imagination, cost and personal preferences. Hash browns in your burger? Check. How about deep-fried chicken chop, stinky beans or a sunny-side-up? Check, check and double check.
Pioneering the gourmet burger craze is myBurgerLab (myburgerlab.com), founded by Chin Ren Yi, Teoh Wee Kiat and Cheah Chang Ming in 2012. While on a 12-month work and travel programme in the United States, Chin was inspired by the proliferation and success of boutique burger joints there. On his return, he roped in friends Teoh and Cheah on his food venture to offer lovingly made and crafted burgers using fresh ingredients.
In their year of research and quest for the best burger combos, the trio tested their concoctions at tasting sessions held in a friend's café. The sessions became a social media hit, with bloggers and reviewers enthusing about the creations. By the time myBurgerLab opened its doors in Seapark, a quiet suburban neighbourhood more accustomed to cheap local eats than gastronomic trends, there was already a long queue outside the door. The lines have not ceased at this dinner-only eatery, abuzz with mostly young people sharing elbow space on the communal tables.
MyBurgerLab has hit on a winning formula of well-crafted burgers with quality ingredients at reasonable prices. Beautiful Mess 5.0 is just that, a mess of gooey yolk oozing out of the sunny-side-up unto the beef patty, fried portobello mushrooms and cheddar. The A++ is a hefty concoction of beef topped with cheddar, caramelised onions, shiitake and enoki mushrooms and cheddar crisps, while Stinkbomb experiments with a tantalising stinky beans, or petai, chicken mix.
“I like to try different combination of flavours that aren't usually instinctive, even when I'm out eating in other restaurants – I take my inspiration from other food genres and see if I can apply the flavours in our burgers,” says Chin.
MyBurgerLab was the first to introduce homemade charcoal buns for its surprise-and-awe value, but providentially discovered, “that the charcoal powder creates a soft fluffy texture in our buns that was perfect for the burgers.”
It is little surprise that handcrafted burgers found such warm reception. Malaysians have always had an appetite for them, whether for fast food chain burgers or for the local Ramly burger, commonly sold in roadside kiosks.
Burger Bakar Kaw Kaw (burgerbakar.com) continues this proud tradition of the street kiosk. Bakar means grilled in the Malay language and kaw kaw is a local slang for something exceptional. It started operations in Wangsa Maju, a suburb within Kuala Lumpur, in 2011. It wasn’t long after that the bustling burger stall had fans queuing around the block, and became a viral hit with burger and novelty fans.
The brand, founded by two young entrepreneurs, Nini Haznita Muhammad and Mohd Faizul Baharudin, banks on big, fat homemade patties, generously seasoned with local spices and flame-grilled perfectly to draw in the crowds. It has since expanded to include four more kiosks and two restaurants, with imminent plans for nationwide expansion.
What sparked the media and online frenzy, however, is Bakar’s burger kahwin, a marriage of thick beef patty with deep fried chicken thigh, and its jaw-stretching tower burgers, vertiginous inventions of the customer’s own making. A colossal 20-patty burger with beef bacon and cheese would set a customer back USD46.
“Tower burger started when customers started requesting multiple patties in single orders in our first week of business,” says Nini Haznita. “It eventually ended up on our menu. We have had customers requesting for up to 25 patties, which should put it in the history books.”
It set the trend for outsized burgers. Over at The Burger Factory (facebook.com/theburgerfactorymalaysia), Sumo Feast, also known as the Champion, is a towering hunk of grilled chicken breast and deep-fried chicken chop topped with beef bacon, chicken ham, cheddar cheese, pepperoni, pineapples, caramelised onions, sautéed mushrooms, onion rings, and a sunny-side-up.
“We’ve always wanted a huge burger with all the ingredients that we could never resist, hence The Boss and Sumo Feast,” says Chan. “Everyone should be able to eat like The Boss. We inspired our group chef to create the ingredients level by level until it was perfect.”
With more burger joints joining the ranks, the handcrafted burger trend shows little sign of abating. At Burger Junkyard (facebook.com/BurgerJunkyard), three award-winning chefs banded together to create premium classic burgers with a twist. The patties are made from Australian grass fed grade-A beef mixed with New Zealand beef knuckles to impart a significantly flavourful bite, and topped with their signature melting steamed cheese.
In the trendy Bangsar neighbourhood, Leow Joe Yee and Steven Goh are self-professed foodies whose obsession with burgers led to the opening of KGB – Killer Gourmet Burgers (facebook.com/KGBBangsar).
“It is borderline paranoid the amount of attention we put into every detail of our burgers,” says Leow. “As foodies, we had to push the boundaries in every direction, from the squishiness of the custom-made buns to the variety of house-blended sauces, the beef patties and premium cheeses and toppings. The patties took us the longest to perfect as different cuts of beef have very different flavours and characteristics. Our current blend consists of three different cuts of steak-grade meat.”
She is upbeat about the burger mania. “The latest wave of burger joints is simply taking this dish to the next level, using fresher and better ingredients as Malaysians start to appreciate high quality food,” says Leow.