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Saturday July 12, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday July 12, 2014 MYT 9:22:10 AM
by sharmila nair
The confectioner retains the sweetness of its traditional Middle Eastern delicacies but without the sugar.
ONE of the distinctive qualities of Middle Eastern pastries is its very sticky and sugary consistency. So, what would these delicate pastries taste like if one of its main ingredients, sugar, is eliminated from the equation?
Well, Baaji’s has proved that they can still be absolutely tasty. The confectioner has introduced a selection of sugarless treats as a healthier alternative for its clients who love their baklavas, cookies and Turkish delights, but want them less sweet.
“Three years ago when we opened Baaji’s, we wanted to start at a high-end premium level and offer our clients the best treats Middle East had to offer,” says Baaji’s general manager Amir Gheisi during an interview at their maiden store in 1 Mont Kiara Mall in Kuala Lumpur.
“But after getting to know Malaysians’ taste buds, we tried to reduce the sweetness of our products. In the end, we just completely removed sugar from the recipes.” The only time sugar is present in the pastry or sweets is when Swiss chocolate (which usually contains sugar, not honey) is added to the mix.
If you are wondering how these pastries retain their sweetness even without sugar, the chef behind Baaji’s uses naturally sweet ingredients such as apricots, dates, figs and honey to give it its taste.
“Most of our sweets are made up purely of nuts – pistachio, almond, hazelnut, walnut – and it is all healthy,” says Amir.
Baaji’s (baaji is a Turkish term of endearment used to refer to elder sisters) is a relatively new company, but nevertheless, has already made its mark as a leader in the Malaysian confectionery business with its premium products.
It all started in 1991 when Lemar International Sdn Bhd exported natural rubber and imported dried fruits and nuts from United States, Middle East and African countries. Ten years ago, its sister company Eastern Delight was established to produce high-quality Middle Eastern treats to supply to hotels, gift shops and hamper companies.
“We have an Egyptian chef with 35 years of experience who has worked with us for the last 10 years, coming up with excellent recipes and making these treats. He has worked in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and other Gulf countries so his knowledge of Middle Eastern treats is incomparable,” adds Lemar International Sdn Bhd executive director Dr Lilly Shariat.
The delicious treats, packaged in beautiful ceramic gift boxes, eventually gained a following, leading customers to demand drop-in outlet where they could purchase the sweets in smaller amounts.
That was the beginning of Baaji’s, which soon opened another outlet in Bangsar Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur and is scheduled to reveal its third store at the IOI City Mall in Putrajaya later this year.
It is no surprise why the customers keep coming back for a taste of Baaji’s, whose star products include Moroccan Desire, Date Delight and Honey Baklava (“The original baklava has sugar syrup and goat ghee, but the chef adjusted it to give it a more Malaysian taste,” says Lilly),
With fresh ingredients flown in from various parts of the world, the people behind the confectionery put the quality of its product before anything else. “We get the dates from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Palestine and South Africa, and once they’re here, we individually select them again for Baaji’s. The customers can recognise the product – it is fresh. We always bring the best ingredients here to Malaysia, and our chef makes the treats daily,” said Amir.
The chef works from their production house located in Bandar Puteri Puchong in Selangor, which is also used to store the dried fruits and nuts in the six cold rooms in the facility.
“The Malaysian weather is very humid, so we have to keep them in different temperatures every day,” explains Lilly.
The business gets busier especially during festive seasons and reaches its peak during Hari Raya, with 70% of their sales made for gift giving.
“Our customers, usually corporate clients, often purchase the hampers to give out as gifts during Hari Raya. They like how we package the treats. We have lots of corporates and hotels that need very nice and luxury packaging during the special seasons.
“We have designers in Dubai and Malaysia, who come up with the unique idea for all the boxes and hampers,” says Amir.
One look at the packaging and you know that Amir is not overselling his product. This year’s Hari Raya hamper features a ceramic box which can be used to store jewellery and a bottle that can be converted to hold perfume.
“We have set the benchmark in this industry. What we do this year, you can see the other companies recreating it for their packaging next year. It’s a challenge for us, but at the same time it is a big opportunity for us. We keep changing our designs and coming up with new ideas so the customers are really happy to see something new every year. They don’t want to see the same packaging season after season,” adds Amir.
While some may assume that the Middle Easteners will be unhappy with the Asian fusion, that is far from the truth. Amir notes that the international clients are happy with the slight changes made to the traditional treats available here.
“We are the bridge between the Middle East and Asia. They, too, like it less sweet now. Besides, it’s healthier,” he says.
Baaji’s is located at 1 Mont Kiara Mall and Bangsar Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Visit www.baajis.com for more details.
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Taste, food, Baaji, Middle Eastern sweets
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