BANGI, Nov 15 — The sauce is thick and unctuous, golden hued from the liberal use of turmeric and rich from the santan (coconut cream). It’s a fine coat for the sleek, red shells waiting to be cracked to reveal snowy-white flesh within.
If you have tried Negri Sembilan’s famous masak lemak dish — the celebrated Ketam Masak Lemak Cili Api — then this rendition, renamed as Ketam Masak Lomak Nogori in gentle homage, might well delight you.
This and other variations, such as Ketam Masak Iban and Ketam Kam Heong, are some of the crustacean delicacies on the menu at Ketam Viral (more on its catchy name later).
Located in Bandar Baru Bangi, Ketam Viral’s kitchen is headed by Chef Wan Rathnor. Formerly an engineer, Chef Rathnor has worked at various F&B (food and beverage) establishments, including a stint as Head of Operations at The Food Purveyor, a group that owns brands such as Village Grocer, Ben’s Independent Grocers and BSC Fine Foods in Bangsar.
Chef Rathnor explains that the restaurant began with the idea of how Malaysians love good food especially crab and seafood dishes.
He says, "So why not bring it forward in a truly Malaysian style — multicultural and serving all Malaysians alike? With this in mind, we built the foundation of Ketam Viral. To make it truly unique, the menu highlights 10 signature crab dishes from all corners of the country.”
From Borneo comes the Ketam Masak Iban where the deep fried crabs are cooked in the chef’s special soy ginger garlic gravy.
Contrast this with the Ketam Berlado, which is super spicy and served dry to better appreciate its sweet and savoury punch.
Malaccans might recognise the sweet and sour taste of the restaurant’s version of Ketam Portuguese; a profusion of lime leaves, galangal, chillies, herbs and spices help perfume the dish with an unmistakable aroma.
It’s not only Malaysian flavours that get the spotlight here. Chef Rathnor crosses borders with the Korean-influenced Ketam Juseyo. He shares, "In recent years, we have seen Korean pop culture explode and become a huge part of the Malaysian scene. Juseyo means ‘please’, so when translated, you’d be saying ‘Crab, please!’”
For most of the crab dishes at Ketam Viral, the variety used are Indonesian ketam nipah (giant mud crabs). There are three sizes: regular, medium and XXL.
For their Ketam Manickam (Chef Rathnor’s take on the popular Sri Lankan style crabs), 1 kilogram ketam bunga (sea crabs) are preferred.
Influences for these classics and contemporary revisions come from Chef Rathnor’s culinary journey throughout the years. He shares, "During my executive chef years, I was introduced to Chinese cuisine and the Chinese style of cooking; thus the idea of creating Ketam Buttermilk Lurpak, Chilli Crabs and Salted Egg Crabs.”
Such versatility has helped Chef Rathnor stand out from his peers. Currently he is the Vice President of the Kedah Chef Association and had been recognised with a Medal of Honour from the association in 2019 for contribution to state culinary programmes and brands.
Chef Rathnor continues to seek out inspiration wherever he goes. He recalls, "It wasn’t until my own journey to Borneo where I got an opportunity to try Ketam Masak Iban, that I got to bring this type of cuisine forward.”
Another example is Ketam Viral’s Siakap Laksa Siam (yes, not all the dishes on the restaurant’s menu are crab-related!). Chef Rathnor says, "This dish, which is loved by our customers, was inspired by my trip to Thailand but I made it with a twist, playing around with ingredients and complementing it with laksa noodles.”
Besides this barramundi dish, other non-crab favourites at Ketam Viral include Chef Rathnor’s Flower Tofu, packed with savoury prawns, and Nasi Lemak Alai wrapped individually in banana leaves and topped with Melaka style sambal.
Naturally the menu is largely dominated by seafood, with dishes such as the Otak-Otak Isketambola, where crab meat is used instead of the traditional fish paste, and Kari Belangkas or grilled horseshoe crab roe drenched in a thick curry.
Still, the crab specials are the main draw. In fact, this lends credence to the restaurant’s marketing strategy and why the name Ketam Viral.
Chef Rathnor explains, "It started when we visited a restaurant, where instead of using ‘‘Best’ or ‘Recommended’ to recommend food on their menu, they just put ‘Viral.’ There are many stalls named after ‘viral’ too, like your neighbourhood stall Pisang Goreng Viral, Nasi Lemak Viral, Roti Canai Viral, etc. Business is actually better if you notice the name!”
Business is certainly good enough judging by the readiness of the restaurant to welcome customers. Ketam Viral’s kitchen has multiple custom-built crab aquariums to house "live" mud crabs and 12 "wok stations” to meet the fast-paced needs of a 150-pax venue.
And their ambitions do not end there.
Chef Rathnor shares, "In the future, we want to bring this brand to Penang and Johor because we believe our brand is a good fit as the ambassador for Malaysian cuisine in the seafood category. So we’ll look at tourism centric states such as Penang and Johor for this purpose.”
For now though, Ketam Viral is not immune to market forces. The affable chef observes, "Challenges come in many forms in business, especially with the fluctuating cost of raw materials in the market today that affect every F&B player. Nevertheless we need to maintain... quality taste and service. To do this, the team plays an important role — from the kitchen brigade up to the service lines.”
It’s not all serious stratagems and inflexible processes though. Chef Rathnor wants to inculcate a happy working culture that will pay dividends forward to everyone, from the staff to the diners: "Everything needs to be at its best while we are still having fun in giving the best service to our beloved customers.”
Indeed, a chef’s perfectionism paired with a rare sense of ebullience might catch on more than a viral marketing campaign any day.
1-11, Sunway Gandaria, Jalan Pusat Bandar, Section 9, Bandar Baru Bangi, Selangor
Open daily from 11am to 11pm
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