'Omurice' and all things nice: How Omulab built a brand based on a single dish

Omu Nasi Lemak with crispy turmeric chicken thigh, 'sambal' prawn, 'kyuri' cucumbers and spiced papadams. — Pictures courtesy of Omulab
Omu Nasi Lemak with crispy turmeric chicken thigh, 'sambal' prawn, 'kyuri' cucumbers and spiced papadams. — Pictures courtesy of Omulab

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PETALING JAYA, Dec 8 — Some of us prefer to visit a Japanese restaurant where the menu is extensive and varied: why not enjoy both udon and soba, both sushi and tempura?

Others balk at such a notion; a reputable Japanese establishment ought to focus on one thing and one thing only. If you’re going to make ramen, make only that.

Why not have it both ways?

Based in Petaling Jaya, Omulab’s entire reputation rests on a single signature dish — omurice. It’s basically a Japanese omelette served on top of rice (but it’s not that simple, as we will learn later) but the shop has created an entire menu, and a wide ranging one at that, revolving around it.

So how does one build a brand based on just one dish?

Omulab was founded in 2017 by Siew Re Chung, a former design engineer with Toyota after graduating from Tokyo University of Technology.

The 31-year-old self-professed entrepreneur (along with business partners Siew Pai Yuen and Kong Wai Seng) wanted to introduce authentic Japanese daily fare rather than fine cuisine to Malaysians.

Omulab founder Siew Re Chung (left).  Omu Yakiudon (right).
Omulab founder Siew Re Chung (left). Omu Yakiudon (right).

Siew says, “Most Malaysians think that the Japanese have sushi every day, which is not true. One of the most iconic comfort foods in Japan that I love is omurice. It’s similar to nasi Pattaya in Malaysia, though omurice has more of a French influence.”

According to the omelette fanatic, a proper omurice consists of a large piece of fuwa-fuwa French omelette. Imported Japanese eggs are used to make the omelette, which is then placed on top of “fusion rice” — think of it as Chinese fried rice meets Italian risotto — and finished with stewed gravy, which Siew considers to be the soul of the dish.

“We have since infused the recipe with some local twists because we believe Malaysian cooking is one of the best to bring out the potential of our omurice dishes. We have been getting a lot of recognition from Japanese and also the Japanese media for having one of the best omurice they have had including those omurice specialty restaurants in Japan!”

Omulab is a haven for all things 'omurice.'
Omulab is a haven for all things 'omurice.'

That stellar achievement didn’t happen overnight, of course. Omulab started as a straightforward Japanese café before transforming into an omurice specialty parlour.

The team slowly expanded their menu to include dishes such as Omu Nasi Lemak with crispy turmeric chicken thigh, sambal prawn, kyuri cucumbers and spiced papadams; Omu Black Pink, where Italian squid ink fried rice is paired with mentaiko cream and prawn croquettes; and even skillets of Triple Baked Cheese that would make char chaan teng fans wonder if they’ve returned to Hong Kong.

“Every omurice is made to order thus a long waiting time is required sometimes when it’s crowded,” Siew explains. “Yet many customers are willing to wait patiently for the dish we craft.”

Omu Signature Tamago Sando has both the omelette as well as 'sous vide' eggs.
Omu Signature Tamago Sando has both the omelette as well as 'sous vide' eggs.

All the omelettes are made with fresh astaxanthin eggs. These are featured in every dish, from Omu Yakiudon, where the omelette is placed atop a mound of fried noodles, to their Omu Signature Tamago Sando, featuring both the classic omelette as well as sous vide eggs.

Before launching Omulab, Siew and his partners spent two years perfecting their omurice recipe. This step-by-step approach included working at a Japanese restaurant for a few months simply to master basic omelette-making skills.

Siew recalls their humble apprenticeship: “We made omelettes from 300 eggs every day for almost a year before we were satisfied that we could move on to other aspects. While perfecting the omelette took us years, the rice is even harder because the easiest thing to cook is always the hardest.”

Every dish of 'omurice' is cooked to order.
Every dish of 'omurice' is cooked to order.

Beyond the basics, even Omulab’s signature sauces and gravies such as their classic demi-glace and kimchi stew are made daily and require not less than eight hours of cooking. Clearly, the food here is a labour of love.

Yet passion isn’t always enough as customers always flock to the latest food fad. One way Omulab keeps their central idea fresh is through collaborations with other brands including the barbecue artisan Omeor Grill as well as the occasional pop-up.

Get an extra dose of Omega-3 by pairing your 'omurice' with some salmon.
Get an extra dose of Omega-3 by pairing your 'omurice' with some salmon.

Ever since the movement control order (MCO) started, Omulab adjusted their sales operations swiftly to accommodate the restrictions. Siew says, “We moved from a 80/10 dine-in to delivery ratio to a 60/40 ratio. The cutting time of omelette is crucial thus we have sacrificed the egg cutting to pre-cut omelette for our delivery menu.”

Another pivot was introducing a sister brand mainly for delivery purposes, with a more budget-friendly menu called SAMBAL — The Fried Rice Company. Siew says, “The name SAMBAL was used mainly because it’s a more local approach and we serve our signature sambal paste in every dish.”

Omulab also now provides environmentally-friendly packaging to reduce the amount of waste caused by delivery orders, which has become the backbone of their business since MCO began. Takeaway containers are made of bamboo while the bags are biodegradable.

The omumaki is for lovers of both 'maki' rolls and omelettes.
The omumaki is for lovers of both 'maki' rolls and omelettes.

With encouraging feedback from regulars over the past three years since they started, Omulab is on course to launch “a different concept of an omelette related shop” in the first or second quarter of 2021, as well as hopes to one day bring the homegrown brand to Japan.

However they expand, Siew is mindful to adhere to Omulab’s motto that “the omurice you had today is always better than the one you had yesterday as we constantly improve the food and services of our shop.”

Omulab

7, Jalan 17/45, Seksyen 17, PJ

Open Tue-Sun 10:30am-9:30pm (Mon closed)

Tel: 03-7492 7506

facebook.com/Omulab/

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