Former Covid-19 patient cooks any food other Covid patients crave for

  • Family
  • Friday, 09 Apr 2021

Navamalar with one of the meals that she provides - nasi minyak with sambal chicken and cucumber salad, with jelly dessert. Photo: The Star/Glenn Guan

Former Covid-19 patient Navamalar Naggappan, 39, understands the frustrations that those hospitalised or home-quarantined for Covid-19 go through because she went through it all before. In October last year, Navamalar tested positive for Covid-19 and had to be hospitalised.

Now, determined to ease the journey for other patients, she has started catering customisable meals for them during their hospital stay or while they are quarantined at home.

“It all started when my whole family – my mum, my elder sister, my son and I – were admitted to the Sungai Buloh Hospital for Covid-19 in October last year. My mum, who had stage three symptoms (with pneumonia), was unable to eat. She craved idli and curry fish, and refused to eat anything else.

“When a person has Covid-19, it’s normal to lose their sense of smell and taste, and find it difficult to eat, so they often crave sour or spicy food, ” explains Navamalar.

“Frustrated at seeing her get weaker by the day, I called up some home-cook food delivery services but was rather disappointed by their response.

“Firstly, they didn’t want to deliver food to us because they were afraid to come to the hospital. Secondly, they only wanted to cater in bulk – like 50 idli at one time – and not per meal, ” says Navamalar.

“It was very frustrating because even though we wanted to pay for the food and delivery, nobody was willing to do it, ” she says.

Initially, they had friends bring the idli for a couple of days, but the family didn’t want to burden their friends for the long-term.

“So after we were discharged in November, I decided to do this. I didn't want other patients to face the same difficulties I went through as a patient, ” says Navamalar.

At that time, the cases were increasing and the hospitals were full and patients with mild symptoms were asked to self-quarantine as the hospitals couldn’t cope with so many cases.

“Friends who had affected family members often called us asking for help and information because they knew we had gone through it and were willing to help, ” she says.

Navamalar (right) cooking in her home-based kitchen, and assisted by her son, Thurgeswaran. Photo: The Star/Glenn GuanNavamalar (right) cooking in her home-based kitchen, and assisted by her son, Thurgeswaran. Photo: The Star/Glenn Guan

Anything patients crave for

Navamalar decided to turn her frustration into some positive action.

In January, she launched D’Warren Kitzhen, a home-cooked food delivery service which provides customisable meals to Covid-19 patients at a "reasonable price".

“The menu is customisable, as in anything that the patients want or have cravings for. We can’t determine the menu for them because having been a patient before, I realise that different people have different cravings, ” she says.

She adds that most of the patients ask for spicy food such as ikan bilis sambal with rice, sardines, and dhal curry, and her most popular dish is chicken rendang.

Nasi minyak with sambal chicken and cucumber salad, with jelly dessert made by Navamalar. Photo: The Star/Glenn GuanNasi minyak with sambal chicken and cucumber salad, with jelly dessert made by Navamalar. Photo: The Star/Glenn Guan

“Patients can also order on a per meal basis, and 24/7, at any time of the day or night, ” she adds.

Most of the patients find out about her catering services through her Facebook page, she reveals.

All the meals are prepared at her home-based kitchen and personally delivered.

“For patients, I’ll deliver it myself because I feel it’s my responsibility, ” she says.

According to Navamalar, it’s not easy to deliver food to Covid-19 patients because there is SOP to follow.

“First, I’ve to go to the main building, then to the security area where they have “huge bags” marked with the wards. The food packs have to be placed according to the wards. At a certain time, the security guard will send the bags to the ward. Then the nurses at the counter of the ward will bring them to the patients, ” she explains.

“After a certain time, I’ll call the security area and ask if they’ve sent the food to the ward. Then, I’ll call the patient to check if the food has reached them. If not, I’ll call the ward (nurses' counter), ” she says.

“The usual food delivery riders won’t be able to do that because they are on a time constraint, ” she adds.

She also delivers medicine or groceries to those who are quarantined.

Navamalar (left) and her son Thurgeswaran. Photo: The Star/Glenn GuanNavamalar (left) and her son Thurgeswaran. Photo: The Star/Glenn GuanThe food delivery service is named after Navamalar’s 14-year-old son, Thurgeswaran, who is currently in Form Two and helps her after school.

“He is my ‘assistant’, ” she beams proudly.

“I’m glad my son wants to help me after school and during weekends. I feel the experience and exposure is good for him. It’s an opportunity to learn about responsibility and running a small business, ” she says.

“He’s now an expert at making the cucumber salad to go with the nasi briyani/minyak, and he can even get the groceries as well as contact the delivery riders for non-patient orders, ” she beams proudly again.

All about passion

In addition to providing catering services, Navamalar is a full-time practising lawyer, and has been doing so for 14 years. She is also taking her Masters in Law.

She studies, works, does catering and looks after her family. How does she manage to do so many things?

It’s all about “passion and time-management”, says Navamalar.

“My legal firm is home-based and during the pandemic, we’re working from home – court is online, so I can multi-task, ” she explains.

“I usually work on weekdays during office hours, and then my Masters classes are in the evenings after work, ” she says.

"And I do other private orders (for non patients) and catering on weekends.

"Yes, it’s normal to feel tired if doing many things, but when you have a passion for something, you won’t feel tired doing it... and cooking is my passion, ” she concludes.

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