If there’s one thing to know about me, it’s that I’m a sweet tooth, so I’ve made it my life’s mission to try as many desserts as I can find. Or at least, for now it’s about compiling a long list for a dessert trail someday soon.
And also my latest find—Fari & Ali’s Kitchen, a Persian bakery in Bukit Damansara that was started in tribute to the co-founders’ Persian heritage.
It’s best known for selling noon khamei, also known as Persian cream puffs.
What are Persian cream puffs?
If you’re unfamiliar with noon khamei, Samira, the co-founder of Fari & Ali’s Kitchen, described it as being incredibly light and fresh. “The puff pastry is light, crisp, and soft all at once.”
She explained that noon khamei is made using fresh cream with a minimal amount of sugar.
This makes it more appetising to feast on without feeling sick of eating. Or as Samira put it, “They don’t feel muak.”
Looking them up online, I found that many websites sharing these recipes mentioned the use of rosewater. Just googling the term “noon khamei” alone would bring you to sites stating that it’s Persian rosewater cream puffs.
But after checking with Samira, she shared that traditionally it’s not rosewater flavoured.
I’m no food connoisseur and won’t pretend to be fluent in Persian cuisine, so perhaps there are several iterations of this dessert even in Iran itself.
A business born from a mother’s craving
Similar to some of the other businesses I’ve stumbled upon, the pandemic was a catalyst for Samira’s venture into entrepreneurship.
Back in June 2020, during the peak of the first MCO, she was working from home and had some time to spare. So when Samira’s Iranian mum was craving noon khamei, Samira got to work to bring her a taste of home.
As with most French pastries, cream puffs (or called choux pastry) have a reputation for being either really easy or notoriously challenging to make. For Samira, it was the latter and took her about 12 attempts before she got it right.
“My mum said it tasted pretty authentic to her,” Samira recalled. “She thoroughly enjoyed them and suggested I should sell them.” And so she did, but not without finding it absurd first.
A major change of career paths
Although Samira was flattered by her mum’s confidence, she had her reservations. At the time, Samira was working a demanding job at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Economics and Policy consulting.
“But then I had weekends free and what else was I going to do during lockdowns?” she quipped.
Hence, a part-time baking business was born. For a year and a half, Samira juggled her professional career on weekdays, and spent her weekends baking. It was a good arrangement at the time, but she soon realised she had to choose.
“Truly, it was unsustainable to keep them both going. Burnout was very much a possibility,” she confided. When she got married in September 2021, she figured it was time to decide—to continue as a consultant or give the baking business her full attention.
It was a gamble, of course. Yet, despite all the uncertainty, she chose to pursue Fari & Ali’s Kitchen full time.
Moving the brand onwards and upwards
By February 2022, the home-based baking business had moved its operations into a small commercial unit within a condominium.
Here, Samira and her now-small team of four honed their skills and expanded their offerings to include various types of cakes too, like the classic carrot cake and lemon drizzle cake.
During this time, her cousin, Athirah, also joined Fari & Ali’s Kitchen as a partner. This gave Samira more confidence to expand the brand, as Athirah has more entrepreneurial experience.
Not long afterwards, the two decided to grow the brand even further by turning it into a full-fledged cafe.
And where better to set up shop than in their childhood neighbourhood of Bukit Damansara?
In loving tribute to doting grandparents
“When I got the cream puff recipe right, it reminded my mum and I both of the noon khamei we used to have in Tehran. It evoked a fond memory for me of having this dessert with my late grandparents, Maman Fari and Baba Ali,” Samira shared.
“So many memories started flooding in and I thought what better way to pay tribute to two very important people in my life and remember them.” Which is why she named the venture after them.
But as the business grew, she began to realise the opportunity to expose more people to the treasures of Persian cuisine.
With that in mind, aside from cream puffs and cakes, Fari & Ali’s Kitchen serves savoury items like Persian breakfast. The flatbreads are baked in house and the cheese is sourced from Iran.
Early this year, they will also be introducing a deli counter. Samira teased us that customers will find some classic Persian appetisers and salads.
Creating a second home for themselves
“The whole concept of grandma’s home, sitting in your grandparents’ kitchen has been a bit of a guiding light in this business,” Samira shared.
“Even today, we aim to make our place feel cosy, welcoming and reminiscent of a home.” As such, you can find the cafe’s doors and tiles sporting the colour of Iranian blue.
Fun fact: Iranian (or Persian) blue is a representation of the colour of the mineral lapis lazuli which comes from Iran and Afghanistan.Source: Asian Art Newspaper
Besides that, the cafe is decked out with earthy-toned carpets, wooden furniture, and some photos of Samira and Athirah’s childhood on its walls. Together, they create a welcoming and personal touch to the space.
Speaking candidly, Samira shared that they’re excited to see what’s in store for them in the future. “Everything is a learning curve especially when neither of us has experience in F&B, but so far all the experiences have shown us that we made the right decision.”
As someone who has tried a few Persian dishes from an Iranian friend, I’m excited to see what other Persian delights these cousins decide to add into their menu. And hopefully, I’ll get to try their noon khamei much sooner than expected.
- Learn more about Fari & Ali’s Kitchen here.
- Read articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Fari & Ali’s Kitchen