A SABAH-BORN youth has turned a problem into a profit-making opportunity, having faced difficulty finding halal food in Seoul, South Korea.
Since migrating to Seoul last year, Duzy Noramzamnas Abdul Aziz, 29, had come across many Malaysians who complained that they had difficulty finding halal food.
Inspired to find a solution, he now sells nasi lemak in the metropolis and is reaping profits, apart from helping people find halal food in the capital city.
Duzy said he, too, encountered problems finding halal food during his first visit to Seoul last year and that made him determined to return with a plan.
In September this year, the youth from Penampang started a nasi lemak delivery business, preparing about 40 packages of nasi lemak a day.
“The feedback was encouraging,” said Duzy.
“In South Korea, there are not many choices of halal street food. I was inspired by the idea that most Malaysians eat nasi lemak for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even supper,” he told the New Sunday Times.
“Since it is a popular traditional Malaysian dish, I decided to start a delivery service. I started marketing nasi lemak online, where customers place orders a day
before via the WhatsApp or KakaoTalk mobile applications.”
Upon receiving his customers’ delivery addresses, Duzy would pack his nasi lemak in microwavable lunch boxes and deliver them via the Seoul Metropolitan Subway.
Initially, Duzy’s target market were Malaysians workers, students and tourists in Seoul.
His business picked up and soon South Koreans and tourists from other countries were enjoying his nasi lemak served with special sambal gravy, anchovies, cucumbers, eggs and extra side dishes, depending on customers’ preference.
Just two months into the venture, Duzy expanded his business and collaborated with his South Korean business partner, Han Ji-Sung, who owns Pop @ Itaewon Guesthouse in Itaewon.
He set up his Nasi Lemak Berlauk Panas stall on the rooftop of the guesthouse, which overlooks the capital’s buildings and skyscrapers.
Duzy’s basic nasi lemak meal costs ₩5,000 won (about RM19).
“For extra sambal, egg, rice or other add-ons, like squid, mussels and chicken, it costs an extra 500 won to 4,000 won,” said Duzy.
“Since the stall’s opening, people could walk in and eat nasi lemak on the spot. Most of my customers are Malaysians and foreigners from the Netherlands, Japan, Indonesia, China and France.
“South Koreans likened nasi lemak to bibimbap, which is rice served with chili paste and vegetables.
“South Koreans eat bibimbap almost all the time, similar to Malaysians eating nasi lemak.”
As for the ingredients for nasi lemak, Duzy said he got them from a wet market and foreign stalls in the area.
“Ingredients like dried anchovies, dried chillies, fresh mussels and squid can be found at Noryangjin Market.
“Malaysian ingredients such as belacan, tamarind paste, coconut milk and pandan leaves can be bought in “foreigners’ street”, Itaewon (which is considered Seoul’s “foreigners’ district”).
“These ingredients are essential to make nasi lemak that tastes like the one prepared at home.”
Itaewon is popular among tourists and United States military personnel.
Duzy noted that many restaurants in Itaewon served cuisines that were not widely available in the country, such as those from India, Pakistan, Turkey, Southeast Asia, Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain and Mexico.
“The demand for halal food is high. The halal food industry is growing rapidly in South Korea.”
He said the opportunities to venture into the industry were encouraging.
“However, living and running a business in a foreign country, especially South Korea, is challenging. South Koreans and Japanese people are the most hardworking people in the world. I have to work extra hard to compete with them. It’s stressful sometimes, but it is well worth it.”
Before migrating to South Korea, Duzy spent months travelling around the country and Japan exploring their cultures and places.
In November last year, he flew to South Korea for the first time with his friends and spent two months exploring the country.
“I fell in love with the Korean culture. I then toured Japan for 40 days.
“Since the cost of living there is too high, I returned to Seoul to continue learning the culture and language because the place made me feel at home.”
Armed with his vast experience and knowledge of the country, Duzy now arranges tours and guides Malaysian tourists visiting South Korea.
He encourages Malaysians to visit Seoul Central Mosque in Itaewon, which was built with funds from Muslim countries.
Its construction started in 1974 and the mosque was opened in 1976. The 5,000 sq m area of the mosque’s land was a gift from the South Korean government.
“Halal Street is close to Exit 3, and this is where you will find halal restaurants, bakeries and grocery shops. These shops are lined along the streets, leading uphill to Seoul Central Mosque.”