Let’s face the truth — we import too much. The worshipping of imported ingredients and foodstuff has become extremely prevalent in today’s market, so much so that we have forgotten what’s growing in our own backyards. The resurgence of Modern Malaysian Cuisine has a lot to prove in terms of the promising potential of our local cuisine and produce that’s yet to be fully harnessed.
And when we are talking about premium food like caviar and cheeses, it is easy for us to divert our attention to the best from the west. Little did we know, small batch food artisans in Malaysia have already been ‘brewing’ something in their kitchens and coming out with something even better than the ones purveyed from gastronomic countries like France, Italy and Australia.
Take T.lur Caviar for instance, which started out as a sturgeon farm in Perak that supplies fishes to Chinese restaurants before realising the potential of harvesting and producing tropical sturgeon caviar. Even food experts and local chefs vouch that the ones produced in Malaysia rival imported caviar from Russia and the Persian region.
In conjunction with National Day, let us take a look at some of the most promising local food artisans who are championing locavorism in Malaysia and hopefully, putting the country in the world map one day.
Did you know that figs can be grown in Malaysia? Mutiara Figs is the result of an inspirational story of a hobby that turned into a business. Owners Mohd. Hilmi Yusoff and wife Farisah Hasni Ramli, who are both architects, believes in educating people on the benefits of consuming figs in their daily diet. Mutiara Figs plans to also create an interpretive centre for learning and education on fig plant and its benefits. On top of the fresh figs, there are also other locally produced byproducts including fig sambal with anchovies, fig relish, fig jam, and even fig tea — all available for purchase on its website. Mutiara Figs is also served at Curate in Four Seasons KL and Flock at W KL.
Hidden in Tanjung Malim is a little-known farm where a select breed of sturgeons are raised in our tropical weather since 2008. There are six species reared here and only in 2016 that the owners realised the potential of harvesting caviar from these fishes which were initially meant for Chinese restaurants. It was in December 2018 that Malaysia’s first-ever tropical caviar was marketed under the name T’lur Caviar. This premium delicacy is produced in-house, from harvesting to its preparation where the fish roes are cleaned and cooked with Himalayan salt. There are currently two varieties available — Amur (farmed from the Amur sturgeon, known for a crisp and lighter taste) and Siberia (harvested from a hybrid species and has a stronger flavour profile). T’lur Caviar can now be enjoyed in restaurants like Entier and Atas, but you can also purchase them online.
Malaysians should already be familiar with Milky Whey Cheese, locally made artisanal cheese available in many restaurants all over Klang Valley. Owner Annisa Iwan first introduced Milky Whey Cheese as a small side business from her home but it grew into a respectable business as top local chefs began working closer with her to create artisanal cheese unique to each restaurant. She continues to produce small-batch cheeses using locally sourced Jersey cow’s milk and halal-certified ingredients. She also incorporates local elements like Sarawak black pepper and chilli padi in her recipes, with a wide range of cheese types including brie and blue cheese in her repertoire. While Milky Whey Cheese can be enjoyed in various locations in KL, there are also private cheesemaking classes and pairing sessions hosted by the founder herself.
Langit Collective started as a social enterprise founded by four youths whose objective was to bring economic opportunities to the rural communities in Sarawak through agriculture. They began purveying heirloom rice produced by Lun Bawang farmers in Lawas to chefs and consumers in Peninsula Malaysia. Today, we are able to enjoy various types of rice including the typical white variant (beras Salleh and beras adan), Job’s Tears, as well as black rice like beras rumi and beras keladi — available in select grocers like Atlas Gourmet Market. Local chefs including Atas’ Tyson Gee and Dewakan’s Darren Teoh are also commonly seen incorporating the heirloom rice in their seasonal dishes.
Ning, farmer, chocolate maker and founder of Chocolate Concierge celebrates the full potential of single origin Malaysian cacao. The chocolates are crafted by local chocolate makers, ensuring that every component taste the best especially when they are fresh. Chocolate Concierge currently produces an assortment of chocolate byproducts including filled morsels with interesting local flavours like sweet laksa, onde onde and teh tarik, as well as sugar-free bonbons (made using 70% or 100% dark chocolate) and hand-crafted single origin bars. Chocolate Concierge supplies to many restaurants and cafes in Malaysia but if you’re interested to try these local artisanal chocolates on its own, they are available on the website.
Here’s where you can enjoy hand-crafted gin using local flavours. Eiling Lim, best known as the country’s first independent whisky bottler, has set her eyes on gins with a collection that celebrates Malaysian flavours of pandan, nangka and galangal. The design of the bottles, inspired by the characteristics of these local herbs and fruits, are created by Tintoy Chuo, co-founder of Fusion Wayang Kulit. The gins carry unique names — Pandan Predator, Nasty Nangka and Gawky Galangal — and they are currently available in many speakeasy and hotel bars including Seven Lobby Bar and Lounge at The RuMa, Pahit and more. If you fancy a saccharine taste on the palate, try the nangka gin that promises a different experience — and its currently distributed by Wholly Spirits.