A Taste Of Home: Basira Yeusuff On Her Favourite Eats In Malaysia
Plenty has changed since we last caught up with Basira Yeusuff. Two years ago, when Covid-19 had yet to wreck havoc upon the world, the Malaysian chef was on the cusp of opening Agak Agak Seoul. Fast forward to 2021: not only is Yeusuff fully settled in Seoul, but she's also found a roommate in Perilla the cat, and has helped give Malaysian cuisine a good rep in Korean media.
What do you miss most about being away from Malaysia?
The availability of ingredients. I'm a big fan of fresh ulam-like herbs and fruits that are geographically bound. I also love deep-fried fruit, but good bananas are difficult to come by and cempedak (the cousin of jackfruit) is almost unheard of here. I say 'almost' because you can sometimes find the frozen stuff, but it tastes dodgy. One of my favourite ingredients to cook with is bunga kantan, but can I find it here? Nope.
What is the first dish you usually eat upon returning to Malaysia and where do you go for it?
Roti Planta fresh off the griddle, accompanied by fish curry and sambal. A side of fried chicken if I'm feeling especially frisky. Followed by a Roti Tisu.
What are some of your favourite eats back home?
It's been nearly two years since I've been back proper, so I'll just rattle off some things that come to mind: The popiah basah and air mata kuching combo from Mou Tak Ding. Pasembur and cendol (without the red beans!) from my neighbourhood truck guys next to Petronas on Jalan Bangsar.
If you have guests visiting from abroad, where do you give them a real taste of Malaysia?
For lunch, ikan bakar (grilled fish) and its colourful accompaniments on Jalan Bellamy. For dinner, banana leaf rice with all the fixings (teh susu lembu panas!) at Sri Paandi in Section 11, and a durian buffet in Taman Tun Dr Ismail as our night cap.
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Where do you like to catch up with old friends for food or drinks?
It's a toss up between a good dim sum 'orgy' at a Chinese restaurant in a hotel, yong tau fu in Ampang, or a new brunch spot that I've most probably never heard of.
Do you have a favourite bar or café in Malaysia?
I'm a 'Bangsarian' so for coffee or a hang, I head to any of the many cafés that the neighbourhood has to offer: VCR, Pulp at APW or Transparent Coffee. Tray Café in Plaza Damas also guarantees a good time.
See also: To Malaysia With Love: 3 Women Working In F&B Overseas Write Home
Do you ever stock up on Malaysian food products before returning to Korea?
Yes, but it's a list of mostly frowned upon things, so I'll skip this question if you don't mind. *Cough* Bunga kantan *Cough* And Hiro, those chocolate-covered cake things—they're the best.
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home in Seoul?
I'm not one to toot my own horn but, toot toot! Agak Agak is currently one of the only places in Seoul to offer Malaysian food to the good folks of Korea! Most of my part-timers are engineering students from all over Malaysia, so I'm super lucky when they—willingly or at times forced—make family meals and I get to taste Malaysian food that they themselves miss.
Tell us more about appearing in Korean food channel Choiza Road.
Hosted by Choiza, one of the OGs of Korean hip-hop and a well-known, big time foodie, Choiza Road takes viewers on 'road trips' to restaurants that the music artist enjoys. In one episode, Choiza and his famous chef friend, Changwook Chung, swing by Agak Agak for some food and a chat. This was in June 2020, before peak corona, hence the lack of masks. It's interesting to note that in four whole seasons, Agak Agak was the first and only foreign food restaurant to be highlighted; perhaps this comes down to Choiza and the executive producer being big fans of Malaysian laksa. In the episode, they mention how Agak Agak might be among the top three of all the restaurants they had visited so far.
Watch the show to see how they poke fun at me for mixing Korean and English words in one sentence—little do they know, that's how we actually speak in Malaysia. Best of all, I got to hang out with the Korean hip-hop legend and teach him some Bahasa Melayu. Surreal!
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