Fifty years in the business and keeps on going strong, Pak Misjaya was more than welcome to share The Foodie Magazine about how his nasi ulam captivates the hearts of many with originality and honesty.
Nearly fifty years ago, as an adolescent teenager and like many Indonesians who were tempted to make a fortune in the capital city, Pak Misjaya jumped in on a train heading to Jakarta with only the clothes he’s wearing that time and not a single dime in his hands.
“We knew we had to survive since day one and by the time I jumped off around Angke, I had to find work immediately”, says Pak Misjaya starting the story of his life.
“That time people would ask, ‘Are you an honest person?’, and I would say yes of course. It was a point of no return for me and even before sending me out, my father said to me that I have to be an honest person no matter what. That has been my original intention even before heading to Jakarta”, he continues.
His early days in Jakarta was spent on helping out a carpentry business with no payment at all. “That time what matters most is that I can eat to live the day. I could not ask for more”, says Pak Misjaya reminiscing.
Not long, the fateful encounter arrives. The young Pak Misjaya during his walk around the Glodok area met an elderly Chinese who lifts his merchandise around, selling nasi ulam. Interested at what he’s doing and having the intention to help the man, he immediately offered his help.
“At first he declined my offer but seeing that I really wanted to help, he decided to make me his apprentice”, he says.
Empek Lam Seng, the nasi ulam business owner, was a spartan teacher and also a father figure for him during his early years in Jakarta. Although he was initially only paid with meals and with all that hardship he had gone through to help him, Pak Misjaya’s eyes were brimming with spirit and his tone gave away such spirit whenever he tells us the story about Lam Seng. It was destiny, the day when Pak Misjaya encounters him and he relishes that day even until this very moment.
“One time he wanted me to grind the seasonings finely and did not stop me even it was already three hours. After I reported back to him, he said he was just testing me and laughed at me. Sialan!”, exclaims Pak Misjaya remembering that moment.
Even until this day, he still keeps the practice of grinding the seasonings manually by hand. “A practice that makes the flavor of my nasi ulam different than the rest”, he adds.
One day due to his old age, Lam Seng made a decision to inherit the business to Pak Misjaya. He financed Pak Misjaya with two baskets for his merchandise. At that time, hawkers pushcart was still uncommon and also expensive. With the baskets, hawkers had to lift their heavy merchandises around the neighborhood to sell it. Other than that, Pak Misjaya was also provided some capital to start and a place to live.
“Just a week after that, he passed away and I was utterly crushed and saddened. How could such generous old man who taught me so much left us all so abruptly? I was forever indebted to his kindness”, tells Pak Misjaya. Even after all these years, you can still sense his grief.
Not long after that, Indonesia was in the verge of communist revolution. It was the years of living dangerously, but for Pak Misjaya, he was ready for the risks. His father had told him to exercise caution and not playing sides as he believed something big will happen soon.
“You cannot leave your baskets unattended or otherwise there will be someone who planted a weapon there. There’s no telling what will happen when you get caught by the security forces”, remembers Pak Misjaya. Long story short, he came out in one piece after those turbulent times.
Years later Pak Misjaya became closer to the community and became the most wanted person for his delicious nasi ulam by everyone in the neighborhood.
“We all live harmoniously here. I had been allowed to sell my nasi ulam in front of this temple here for many years. Some customers have also been very supportive and because of them I can save up some money to buy a good pushcart.”
However, his success came not without a challenge. For years the competition has been fierce, but with a single pushcart and a fifty-year-old of heritage recipe in his hands, Pak Misjaya has been entrusted to cater the needs for big companies while also invited to participate in local and international food exhibitions.
While the original recipe came from Betawi tradition, it turns out that his version was rather unique. The complete offering of Pak Misjaya’s nasi ulam consists of rice topped with stewed tofu, tempeh, potato, and hard-boiled egg; a slice of omelette; potato fritter; chopped salty cuttlefish; traditional beef jerky; and two kinds of crackers.
“Everything came from my old man’s recipe and especially, the use of beef jerky is that one clear-cut than the usual nasi ulam. On top of that, without proper seasoning and correct techniques in frying it, you won’t get a good beef jerky”, adds Pak Misjaya.
I was left astonished. Even though with such extensive offerings like that, I can’t stop digging the nasi ulam. The silky sweet stew broth was the key to the harmony and the rest of the toppings shine with their distinct characters. The beef jerky was well seasoned, sweet, and juicy. His nasi ulam is unlike what I ever tasted anywhere else. Out of this world!
From Pak Misjaya we learned that despite the duress came from challenges or the uneasy times that we had to go through, it is paramount to be always committed with hardworking ethics and honesty. The effort to preserve the recipe and customers are also no less important. Fifty years is no mere number, it is an achievement where only some are up for it.
Pak Misjaya is one of them.
NASI ULAM PAK MISJAYA
Suitable for vegetarians
Jalan Kemenangan III (in front of Toasebio temple), Jakarta – Indonesia
Daily, 4pm – 10pm
Spend: IDR 25,000 – IDR 50,000 / portion
Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE Jul 2015 edition
Download it for free here via SCOOP!
Photography by Dennie Ramon