If there’s one thing that can always unite Malaysians, it has to be food.
It’s so ingrained in our culture where most of our celebrations, festivities, or even daily leisure activities with loved ones revolve around food. We’re fortunate to house a melting pot of culture in our country so there’s always a variety of cuisine to try out.
It’s not really much of a surprise that Malaysian food is gaining popularity overseas, what with the unique blend of Malay, Chinese, and Indian flavours.
But this fame was not an easy journey. We really have to thank the chefs, no matter if they’ve left the country in pursuit of other things, who helped to introduce the menu of our country to the palette of the world.
Here are 7 chefs we believe have made us proud with their international accomplishments that involve our Malaysian cuisine.
1) Azalina Eusope
A fifth-generation street food vendor, Azalina Eusope went from her humble days of selling desserts in her hometown Penang with a street cart to owning a 15,000 sq ft restaurant in Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco’s Bay Area selling local food like nasi lemak, hokkien mee and others.
When she had first left for the United States more than a decade ago, she used cooking as a remedy for her homesick feeling. This then inspired her to start introducing Malaysian and “mamak” dishes to Americans.
She started out with a simple stall set up at a farmer’s market in San Francisco selling food like laksa and a “chicken curry bomb”, among others but her big break only came when well-known food writer Andrew Knowlton featured her as one of the best street vendors in the area.
Now she has her own line of sauces that are sold at Whole Foods Market (an American supermarket chain) and has even had the privilege to cater for an event attended by US President Barack Obama.
2) Kyo Pang
Nestled in Chinatown’s Canal Street in New York City, there’s a tiny coffee shop owned by Kyo Pang called Kopitiam. Just like the meaning behind its name, this is one of the few stores in the area where you can get authentic Malaysian coffee.
Pang also comes all the way from Penang and is a third-generation nyonya. Her grandfather used to run a kopitiam too, which her father then changed into a proper chinese restaurant.
She opened Kopitiam in hopes of introducing the actual taste of our culture to the people there. Her menu is full of traditional nonya cuisine, as well as other trademark dishes like nasi lemak, pulut inti, and kaya butter toast.
These delectable dishes have gone on to receive rave reviews, and the outlet even got a mention on The New York Times Critics’ Pick.
3) Ping Coombes
Fans of the MasterChef series are bound to recognise this name.
Hailing all the way from Ipoh, Ping Coombes was crowned the winner of MasterChef UK in 2014 and that was one of the catalysts in boosting the popularity of Malaysian cuisine on a global scale.
Back when she moved to the UK in 2000, she began to learn how to cook Malaysian food because the craving for her home country’s food too strong to ignore. Now she holds the title of “Malaysia Kitchen Ambassador” who promotes our local cuisine around the UK and abroad.
After her win, she launched her first cookbook called “Malaysia: Recipes From A Family Kitchen” where all the recipes were inspired by her childhood, her mom’s cooking, and the late-night stalls and street markets in Ipoh.
She has gone to give talks about Malaysian food at the World Economic Forum in Davos, appeared at Malaysia Nights in Trafalgar Square and prominent food festivals including Taste of London.
4) Adam Liaw
Crowned as the winner of the second season for MasterChef Australia, Adam Liaw credits his paternal grandmother for influencing his cooking who was Malaysian.
She was the one who had taught him to cook local dishes like satay, char kuey teow, mee goreng, ayam pongteh, and more. So even though most of his life was spent in Australia, Adam claims he’s very familiar with our food—to a point where he calls the Hainanese Chicken Rice his “family dish”.
He has travelled around the world for his TV show called “Destination Flavour” and has written over five cookbooks with recipes about our local cuisine.
5) Simpson Wong
Coming from Perak, Simpson picked up his cooking skills when he helping his mother prepare meals for his father’s timber company during his younger days.
Moving to the Big Apple at the age of 22, his strong love for food pushed him to self-learn culinary arts during his free time. His popularity skyrocketed when a restaurant he opened called Jefferson was featured in the famous American romantic comedy television series, Sex in the City.
The restaurant did close down due to his health issues but he jumped back in the game and now owns his latest venture in New York City called Chomp Chomp where Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine is served.
Many A-list celebrities have patronised his restaurants, including Meryl Streep who gave it a big thumbs up.
6) Norman Musa
Norman’s story is similar to Ping’s where his love for cooking Malaysian food came when he moved to the UK for studies. After quitting his career as a quantity surveyor, he went on to start a restaurant called Ning which served Malaysian and Thai cuisine.
His cooking skills were honed when his late mother taught him how to make curries and rendang while he was in University. Even till today, her recipes are featured in Ning where Norman acts as head chef.
He also ventured into teaching when he opened cooking classes and taught the Brits how to make rendang, gulai, murtabak and much more.
In 2012, Musa was awarded Young Asian & Oriental Chef of the Year at the Asian Curry Awards, and his restaurant in Manchester received ‘Best Malaysian Restaurant’ award at the same event.
7) Christina Arokiasamy
A fifth-generation descendant from a family whose bread and butter was in the spice industry, Christina doesn’t remember a day where she was not exposed to the world of spices growing up.
It came to a point where she was known as “the girl with yellow hands” during her school days since she used to help her mother prepare spices for grinding at their mill.
She had left Kuala Lumpur to pursue a different life in the U.S. and it was there that she began showing her American friends the fine dishes of Southeast Asia. These small classes then eventually grew to her doing cooking demonstrations across the country.
Now she has become one of the most recognised chefs in America with her own cookbook titled “The Spice Merchant’s Daughter”. She also considers her biggest achievement as when she was elected as Malaysia’s official Food Ambassador to the United States in 2014.
A lot of work and passion was spent in introducing our local food to people living around the world, so I’d say we’re quite blessed in the sense that if we ever wanted to eat something delicious, we’re definitely spoiled for choice.
In fact, you don’t even need to leave your home to get good Malaysian food. You have services like foodpanda who can deliver your favourite local meals right to your doorstep with just a few clicks.
If you’re now craving some good nasi lemak like me or any other great local dishes, you can check out the options you have on their website here.
This article was written in collaboration with foodpanda Malaysia. foodpanda is dedicated to bringing food lovers around the world their favorite meals from curated local restaurants.
Since its creation, the on-demand food delivery service has grown to more than 14,000 partner restaurants in more than 30 cities across 9 Asian countries globally. Active in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan, Taiwan, Philippines, Bangladesh and Brunei. It belongs to Delivery Hero, worldwide leader of the food delivery industry.
Feature Image Credit: Compiled from bruitcotecuisine.canalblog, and wblakegray.