Have you ever tasted a ginger flower? It looks like a mini banana blossom and is sweet, slightly sour and has refreshing floral notes. Chef Muhammad Asaari Bin Johari uses it in Kerabu Mangga, a popular Malaysian salad made with raw mango, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, bird’s eye chilli, peanuts, shallots, lemon juice and a chilli honey dressing. He is a culinary artist from Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur visiting Mr.Ong at Park Hyatt Chennai for the Malaysian food festival. The salad is vivid and refreshing with sour notes from the raw mango, sweetness from the honey and a bold kick from the bird’s eye chilli.
“Each country has ingredients that are unique to that region. Usually there are alternatives but I want to take the authentic flavour of Malaysia throughout the world. I can’t make Kerabu Mangga without ginger flower so I brought some ingredients with me to India,” says Chef Asaari.
A special A la carte menu has been designed to serve the guests visiting to taste Chef Asaari’s creations. “In the mango salad, we usually add belachan, shrimp paste and dried anchovies that add a good crunch. But when I discussed with Chef Balaji, the executive chef of this hotel, I understood the need for completely vegetarian dishes and substituted it with roasted peanuts,” he adds.
Discussions began a month before the pop up between the two chefs to finalise the dishes that reached the menu.
With over 15 years of experience, Chef Asaari has spent his career studying and practising the cuisine of Malaysia and understanding the influences it has from the rest of Asia.
“Through this menu, one can take a trip around Malaysia. We have tried to get one dish from each State,” he informs.
There are curries galore in this menu. The Kambing Masak Merah is a mutton and tomato gravy. The mutton is tender and the rich tomato gravy, simmered and reduced, is sweet, tangy and mildly spiced with a hint of lemon grass. The Nanas Masak Lemak Daun Kunyit is a pineapple gravy from the Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan. It is a creamy, spicy gravy with turmeric leaf, coconut milk, bird’s eye chilli and lemongrass. They pair well with a bowl of steaming jasmine rice.
“This pop up has given me the opportunity to experiment and learn as well. For example the prawn fritters on the menu was a good dish but was plain — looked like prawn pakoras. I wanted it to make it visually appealing so I cleaned, fried and added a prawn head to the dish,” says Chef Asaari.
He adds that this has been a mutually beneficial trip to Park Hyatt Chennai. “I have always made sambal with prawns and for this festival, I came up with a recipe for vegetarian Sambal which ended up being easier to make and tastes good as well.”
We also try the Kuih Ketayap which is a green crepe filled with a grated coconut, palm sugar mixture. The crepe batter is made with a pandan extract. This dessert is vibrant, warm, mildly sweet and pairs well with a scoop of ice cream.
The food festival by Chef Asaari will be on till July 24 at Mr.Ong, Park Hyatt Chennai between 7pm and 11pm. A meal for two costs ₹2500 exclusive of taxes.