Hakka Kitchen with a twist

Voon’s variety of local Chinese dishes on the tray serve at A1 Cafe.

IN the midst of the busy morning rush at A One Two Food Court at BDC Commercial Centre here, the aroma of fried shallots, garlic and ginger, a hallmark of Asian culinary cuisine, is the very first distinctive smell that comes out of 45-year-old Vivian Voon’s stall kitchen.

Dayak Daily met her at her stall as she was busy preparing her savoury Hakka style dish with a Dayak twist, a flavour befitting local tastebuds.

“If you want to cook for someone its has to come from your heart. I am sure every experienced cook will say that but for me I just want the diners to smile, finish eating up my dishes and come back the next day. It truly makes my day.

“The reason is that I do not have a specific menu. I change it everyday so that my customers do not get bored of the same food,” she said.

Voon at her cooking station.

She may not be a trained culinary chef, but Voon credits growing up with six other siblings for her cooking know-how.

“Helping my mother and sisters cook gave me the culinary basics and a little insight of good Hakka home cooking. On top of that, I have many friends who are very good cooks, and some are even chefs,” she reminisced.

Cooking seems to run in the family. Her elder sister residing in Peninsular Malaysia serves Five Spice Duck dishes at Sri Petaling, Selangor.

“Her stall is always packed with duck meat lovers.She gave me the aspiration and zest in culinary too,” continued Voon, who is of Chinese and Bidayuh parentage from Serian.

From top left, clockwise: Assam Pedas Ikan Pari (Sting Ray), Sweet and Sour Chicken, Steam Salted Talipia fish and fine cut long beans with eggs.

From her conversation, she is no nonsense in the kitchen and in life and is not one to give up on exploring any form of business opportunities that arise.

Voon said that equipped with her life experiences and tips from her elder sisters and mother gave her more confidence to serve a variety of local food, most of all knowing how to prepare and coo Dayak wild vegetables from the local farmers.

“I also spent some time residing in Singapore and explored a bit of Europe. Seeing such a variety of food , and their flavours gave me the confidence in what food I wanted to serve.

“These experiences gave me more choice on what I wanted to put on my menu and flavour my dishes according to what diners are looking for – not just great flavour, but the texture and colour as well as the savoury taste.”

When asked what were her popular dishes among diners, it was hard for her to decide among her 16 dishes.

“I must admit that Five Spice Pork and Stew Pork is still the favourite among those patron my food so it a must-have on my menu. The twist is our “Terung Dayak” or the Dayak Brinjal dishes which are usually sold out. I suppose they go well with the patron’s tastebuds.”

Terong Dayak or Dayak brinjal cook with a twist in Hakka style.
Fried young cucumber leaves with young sweet corn and tomatoes – a fusion of local cuisines.

Voon said that some of her diners can be quite picky about their vegetables but the ever popular fried kailan with garlic or oyster sauce is still a bestseller. She also has a group of diners who are conscious of what they eat and only go for wild fern, coconut palm hearts, bamboo shoots and Sarawak famous midin.

“I suppose all these vegetables grow naturally in the wild without pesticides and also fish like sting ray are well received, especially in the assam pedas style of cooking.”

Voon’s stew pork dish is a favourite among customers.
Savoury Ginseng Herb Chicken Wings soup

Voon said she was very happy with what she was doing and making her own income without relying on others. She urged on all women from various backgrounds to be entrepreneur.

“These days, women should do better than before and help stir the economy. We must not only ‘stir’ the wok full of vegetables and meat but make sure what is in it can give us some comfort and get to where we want,” she advised.

“I am an out-going type of person, an extrovert and I like meeting people from all walks of life. So do come a try a bit of Hakka dishes with a twist.” — DayakDaily