JOHOR BARU: Many Malaysians and Singaporeans are getting their first taste of the fish gravy-rich laksa Johor thousands of kilometres away Down Under, thanks to the young owner of a Johorean restaurant there.
Engku Putri Irna Mysara Ungku Mokhsin’s Sijori Malay Eatery has been serving up traditional Malay dishes found in the southern triangle of Singapore, Johor and Indonesia’s Riau Islands in the northern suburb of Bundoora, just a 20-minute drive from Melbourne’s Central Business District.
Among the favourites on the menu are laksa Johor, kacang pool and lontong lodeh.
“My restaurant is a stone’s throw from La Trobe University and RMIT University, where the growing Singaporean and Malaysian community in the northern suburb makes up the majority of our customers,” the 28-year-old told The Star in an interview via e-mail.
“I find it amusing when Malaysian or Singaporean customers tell me that they have never had laksa Johor until they’ve tasted my food in Australia,” she said, adding that Sijori opened its doors on June 11.
Sijori, she said, is named after the economic pact established by Singapore, Johor and Riau (SI-JO-RI) in 1989.
Engku Putri Irna, who has been a permanent resident in Melbourne for seven years after completing her Bachelor of Business at La Trobe University, said her family heritage is also linked to Riau Islands.
Having grown up in a family that loved to cook, she wants to share her family’s recipes in Australia.
“Malaysian Chinese and Indian cuisines, especially those from Penang and Ipoh, are readily available in Melbourne but there are not many southern and Malay dishes served there.
“So I set up Sijori, seeing that southern Malay dishes are not getting the attention they deserve,” she said.
She added that her restaurant venture was also inspired by her mother’s fondness for inviting guests over for homecooked Malay food.
“While I was growing up in Dubai, my mum would tirelessly prepare an array of Malay food for our guests to feast on,” she recalled.
Admitting that it’s challenging to manage a restaurant, Engku Putri Irna said she is buoyed by feedback from satisfied customers.
“Then I know I am doing right,” said the restaurant owner who has previously filmed a cooking show on her YouTube channel KenduriTV.
She also noted that Malaysian food is packed with flavours, which is why “you get Malaysians winning MasterChef because our food is so delicious”.
The recent winner of the popular Australian television programme is a fellow Johor-born, Diana Chan, and before her, Malaysian-born contestants Poh Ling Yeow and Adam Liaw have put Malaysian cuisine under the spotlight in the country.