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The world on a banana leaf

Tasting notes from a Malaysian feast by Sangee’s Asian Fusion, Ho Jiak and Welcome Merchant


Twenty dishes?

I scanned the menu again – eyes wide, stomach open. Correct: I had twenty dishes to feast through at this Chindian Night fundraiser by Malaysian chefs Malar Sathasivam of Sangee's Asian Fusion and Junda Khoo of Ho Jiak, in collaboration with Welcome Merchant – a social enterprise supporting refugee and migrant entrepreneurs. This dinner is the result of Malar and Junda meeting in 2021, when Junda tried Malar's home catering and was so impressed that he pushed her to take it further (and she did: Malar now runs market stalls and dinner pop-ups as Sangee's Asian Fusion, bringing Malaysia's vibrant cuisine to Sydney). 

Two years later and Malar and Junda are preparing for service in Ho Jiak's Town Hall kitchen, backed by an army of staff and Malar's sweet daughters, Vaishnavi and Tarani (we snuck in bites of leftover popcorn butter chicken between service together). I arrive, shy and nervous because I quickly realise my mistake of wearing heeled boots while taking photos in a commercial kitchen (my fault for choosing fashion over practicality). Malar greets me with a warm hug, poses for every shot I take, and patiently explains each dish to me as she puts it together. She's surprisingly calm – in fact, I'm more stressed than her, mainly because I'm scared of slipping and looking stupid. 

Luckily, the scent of the kitchen was a perfect distraction from my questionable shoe choices. You can't ignore the alluring aromas of Malaysian cuisine, rich and fragrant from the herbs and spices plucked from trails of immigration and trade across southeast Asia. Malay, Chinese, Indian and Indonesian flavours dance in each dish, proving that Malaysia's food is just as diverse as its culture. 

As I watch Malar and Junda work, I realise that they're adding their own mix of techniques and flavours to what is already one of biggest fusion cuisines in the world. Malar, hailing from Penang – another cultural melting pot within Malaysia –  adds her own personal touch to the menu, while Junda elevates each dish with a touch of luxury (like a kari devilled egg with caviar –more on this later). 

And so the fusion feast begins. Highlights below ⋆ ˚☁️ ⁀➴

Pani puri​

A reflection of India's influence on Malaysian cuisine, pani puri is a street food snack made with crispy hollow balls of deep-fried, paper-thin dough, stuffed with spiced potatoes, onions and chickpeas. It's best devoured with a quick gulp of tangy broth called the ‘water’ – cold, zippy and refreshing, often flavoured with tamarind, mint and spices. Pani puri is the perfect snack to introduce chef Malar’s cooking: locals flock to her stall at Potts Point markets every Saturday to get a plate of her bestselling pani puri, me included (Saturday Routine: roll out of bed, grab my pretentious woven market bag, and get pani puri for breakfast before sauntering around the farmers’ stalls looking for the perfect leafy green vegetable to poke out of said pretentious market bag). I digress...back to Malar’s pani puri. It’s tiny, yet so packed with flavour that one quick bite doesn’t give you enough time to understand everything going on in your mouth; you feel it before you even taste it. So you go for another one, and another one, and another one, until your plate is empty and you find yourself lining up for more. 


Oysters with assam laksa granita and pineapple salsa


Originating from the Malaysian island of Penang (chef Malar’s specialty cuisine), assam laksa’s distinctive sweet and sour taste comes from the tamarind fruit – an ingredient that sets it apart from curry laksas made with coconut milk. But instead of serving a steaming bowl of noodles, Malar and Junda injected the flavours of assam laksa into a granita, icy and crystalline atop a creamy Merimbula oyster with pineapple salsa. I love Merimbula oysters – they have this rich, earthy creaminess to them that was beautifully punctuated by the tartness of Malar and Junda’s chosen flavours.


Kari devilled eggs

I’m observing a big resurgence in devilled eggs, which I welcome with open arms. Sangee and Junda’s version combined Maggi curry powder and Indomie aioli (yes, the brand behind our favourite instant mi goreng) to flavour the creamy yolk. There’s nothing I love more than nostalgic food with obnoxious little luxuries: I can’t walk past a Baker’s Delight without getting a finger bun lathered with cream and hundreds and thousands, nor can I get through Christmas without a prawn cocktail with thousand island dressing – so, naturally, I lost it at a Chindian style devilled egg served on a banana leaf with amber pearls of fish roe.

Toothfish tikka


I seldom eat cooked fish. Not because I don’t like it, but because raw is just easier – minimum effort, maximum effect. Those who know me and my cooking best always poke fun at my crudos, ceviches, sashimis…but how can I resist a sliver of raw fish dressed in lime and soy? (The answer: I don’t). So, being the infrequent cooked fish eater that I am, I was blown away by Sangee and Junda’s toothfish tikka: Glacier 51 toothfish so perfectly marinated and grilled that when I dug my fingers into the chunks, the tender white flesh split into soft, scalloping flakes – all of which were perfectly scooped up in the creamy, nutty sauce of malai tikka, with fresh coriander and fenugreek.


The banana leaf feast

Here it was, the most anticipated part of the night – and I didn’t know where to start. We were spoilt with fragrant curries like ayam rendang and kari kambing, calamari soaked in sambal and stewed tomatoes, and tiger prawns cooked in curry butter, peeled open for a present of juicy meat. Then there was the cold, sour rassam, sipped with a puckered suck of the lips, between mouthfuls of thickly gravied stews and spiced cabbage and eggplant – scooped up with biryani, sopped up with fried bitter melon. Everything was sweet, salty, spicy and savoury – the delicious, distinctive mix of Malaysian flavours, layered with complexity and history. 


We have something similar in the Philippines called a boodle fight, with rice, grilled seafood, vegetables, meat, and fruit artfully arranged on a huge banana leaf draped across a long table. We eat with our hands; it's spirited and communal and joyous, a testimony to how fun it is to share food with others. It's a simple yet important part of Asian cultures: I grew up eating every meal with my family around a big Lazy Susan adorned with food. I never ate alone. Mealtimes were loud and extravagant, even if the plates were humble. While so many of Malar and Junda's dishes were new to me, their cooking conjured up the same love, community and camaraderie that I so deeply treasure about our shared cultures. ♡

On the menu


Assam laksa oysters

Merimbula oysters with pineapple salsa and assam laksa granita


Pani puri

Potati, chickpeas, tamarind

Kari devilled eggs

Maggi Kari & Indomie aioli, caviar

Toothfish tikka

Grilled marinated Glacier 51 toothfish

Roti sardin

Milk buns, sardine, pickled cucumber


Butter popcorn chicken

Crispy chicken, murgh makhani, yoghurt


Curry butter lobster with roti

Whole Eastern lobster, grilled and served with curry butter sauce

Sup tulang

Lamb shank, kurma, soup

Udang goreng

Tiger prawns, curry butter, curry leaves

Sambal sotong

Calamari, sambal, stewed tomatoes


Ayam rendang

Chicken thigh, aromatic herbs, coconut milk

Kari kambing

Mutton, spices, aromatic herbs, coconut milk

Sayur kuning

Stir fried spiced cabbage

Peria goreng

Fried bitter melon

Brinjal thokku

Eggplant chutney



Sweet and sour soup

Pappadum, biryani

Crispy chip-like flatbread, mixed rice with spices and meat

Limau mezcal ice block

Citrus ice block

Mango kulfi pannacotta

Frozen mango dessert similar to ice cream - turned into a pannacotta

For more feasts for good, follow Welcome Merchant

Taste Malar and Junda's cooking at Sangee's Asian Fusion and Ho Jiak.

All profits from Chindian Night were donated to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

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