Growing up, food personality and television host Ili Sulaiman had a familiar Sunday ritual that grew to be a source of comfort as well as family bonding.
“Every Sunday whenever we get together with my mum’s side of the family, we would always have steamboat, because it’s so easy to put together,” says Ili, who has hosted shows like Family Feast With Ili.
But the pandemic put a halt to this familiar Sunday routine and Ili found herself at a loss, as she had also just gotten married at that point and realised it was “no fun having steamboat with just two people”.
She got to talking with one of her husband’s friends, who was interested in setting up a food business and had a host of contacts in China. The two realised that a halal steamboat delivery service was something pandemic-wary Malaysians were likely looking for, which meant they could fill an existing gap in the market.
“When we were doing our market research, we found that there were a lot of halal steamboat restaurants but very few halal steamboat delivery options.
“And I thought if I miss my family and having steamboat, many other families must miss it too because these steamboat restaurants are typically always packed. So I thought, ‘Let’s just try lah’. I am not scared of taking chances, that’s the entrepreneur part of me that I can’t shake off,” she says, laughing.
Ili used the first movement control order period last year to test out her recipes for soup bases, marinades and sauces. But launching the business later in the year proved to be an uphill battle rife with challenges.
“Oh, there were so many challenges! Because of the MCO, everything was done through WhatsApp, when normally we would go and physically check what suppliers can offer. And in terms of hiring and training staff, everything had to be done remotely. And this was pre-vaccine, so we were spending so much money testing everyone for Covid-19.
“And then all our imported products were stuck and we had to wait for the borders to reopen. We had every problem you could think of when opening a business! But it was a great opportunity to enter the market, so we didn’t let the challenges burden us too much. We just took each day as it came,” says Ili.
Ili launched her fledgling halal steamboat delivery service called Ili Pot in October last year and says response has been tremendous, growing organically from her own fan base to a wider demographic of Malaysians who have utilised Ili Pot for all sorts of family celebrations at home, whether that’s a family reunion, birthday gathering, anniversary party or even out-of-home picnics or camping trips.
This is likely because Ili Pot offers a comprehensive range of curated steamboat and grill options to satiate even the most finicky eaters. From seafood to carnivorous meals, poultry staples and everything in between, there’s a set designed for you and your family, with affordable price points to match.
As a starting point, you could opt for the Set Madu Tiga Steamboat (RM99.90) which is meant to feed three people (or two very hungry individuals). The set is replete with chicken slices, corn, broccoli, enoki mushroom, Thai fish cakes, bursting prawn balls, fried beancurd sheets, shabu-shabu mee and Ili’s signature “gila hot” sauce.
Ili’s intention with all her sets is to provide everything that is required to put together a steamboat or grill party with minimal fuss.
“I wanted it to be like everything is thought out, so you can just sit down and enjoy a meal with your family, the way I do with my own. So we tried to think of everything,” she says.
And that’s exactly what you’ll discover when you unpack the food from the gorgeous, colourful bag that it comes in. Inside, you will find everything you could possibly need to set up a steamboat from the pot to the burner to lighters, chopsticks, tongs, disposable table clothes and even garbage bins to chuck the detritus of the meal into!
There are also plenty of soup base options on offer (eight in total). I had the tom yum soup base with the steamboat and found the spicy undertones pleasant but not overwhelming. The chicken slices meanwhile are incredibly tender once cooked and some of the other highlights include the bursting prawn balls, which offer the promised bursts of aquatic flavours.
Mop up all the food with Ili’s signature gila hot sauce, which is as fiery as advertised but oh-so satisfying! Portions are also incredibly generous, so there’s more than enough food here to feed far more than three people.
If you’re looking to amp up the party atmosphere, opt for the pimped out Set Laut Enam (RM199.90), which as its name implies, pays homage to seafood and can comfortably feed six people.
The set comes with two soup base options as well as a rich bounty of aquatic treasures like New Zealand king salmon belly, New Zealand green mussels, 12 king prawns, half-shell scallops, crab sticks and various other accoutrements in the form of bursting prawn balls, lobster balls, seafood tofu, broccoli, corn and enoki mushrooms.
Of the soup bases, the pho-dap, which is inspired by the flavours of the classic Vietnamese meat broth – is an understated winner, whose clear waters may seem unremarkable but prove to be packed with flavour. The clear Thai lemongrass soup is also good, although not as memorable as the pho-dap. The seafood in this set is incredibly fresh and plentiful (the prawns are particularly sweet and plump) and enables everyone at the table to indulge in their favourite aquatic creatures equitably.
If you’re after a grill set to spice up that next family get-together, the Abang Sado Grill (RM149.90; launching in December) is a carnivorous meal designed for families of four. The grill is made up of New Zealand lamb and marbled ribeye beef slices, marinated in Ili’s new black pepper marinade (a family recipe).
The grill ensemble comes with a fuss-free grill and fuel burner that allows you to cook the meat quickly without having to plug in anything. And the results are oh-so sublime. The meat slices are melt-in-the-mouth tender and further accentuated by the piquant kick of pepper provided by the marinade. This is a meal where you can taste the provenance of the meat in every mouthful and as a consequence, will find euphoric joy in each bite.
Moving forward, given the enthusiastic response to Ili Pot, Ili says there are already plans in motion to expand their footprint to other states in Malaysia.
“In terms of expansion plans, we have plan A, B, C, D of what we want, so it really depends on the opportunities that present itself. For now, our goal is to expand to other states like Johor and Melaka, because people really want us there. And who knows? Maybe in a few years’ time, we will have an opportunity for a brick-and-mortar Ili Pot.
“Anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” says Ili with conviction.
Order online from Ili Pot at www.ilipot.com.my.
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