Today, we made the trek out to Flatbush, Brooklyn, for the 10th anniversary celebration of the Sambal Lady, also known as Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen. To optimize for families and young children, Auria and her beer partner Josh decided on two dining sessions, one at 4pm and one at 7pm. So we choose the 4pm slot to ensure Pookster got home at a semi reasonable time to sleep.
We’ve been attending Auria and Josh’s joint Malaysian food/beer events for the last three years: the first year in 2021, I was about seven months pregnant with Pookster. Last year in 2022, we came out on a very rainy September evening for “Laksapalooza” and parked Kaia in her car seat under an umbrella on Auria’s deck once she fell asleep; this year, Kaia is walking, and we brought her in a stroller. The meals are always held in Flatbush right in Auria’s massive backyard. It’s always a bit of a novelty for us to be in anyone’s backyard here in New York City, as you rarely think of New York City as a place where you’d not only see detached, multi-story homes (this one has FOUR levels if you include the basement!!), but also large backyards with decks! And feeling quite suburban, Auria’s green thumb certainly shines in her backyard: she grows massive pots of Italian and Thai basil, makrut lime, endless other herbs, and elephant ears, amongst other seasonal vegetables.
I’ve always loved cooking for small dinner parties we’ve hosted over the last 11 years of being together. But I have rarely, if ever, prepared meals for more than 10-12 people. So when I think about preparing a massive dinner party for a group of 50+ the way Auria does at these events, all I can think about is total chaos. How do you cook at scale while also ensuring high quality? Is there going to be enough food? Can we ensure that each dish will be served at the correct doneness and temperature? But Auria’s been doing this for the last 10 years, so this is one of her big joys and specialties. She outsources a lot of help, including rented furniture, front-door security, setup, and cleanup. She asks supportive friends for extra help in the kitchen and also hires additional kitchen help. And with having her beer friend Josh involved, she doesn’t have to worry about drinks or booze since he and his people will cover that. Auria also has industrial sized pots and pans to cook her massive portions of food. Tonight, the menu included spinach and chickpea fritters served with mango coulis, her signature and much loved beef rendang, white rice, Malaysian cucumber salad, and a stir-fry of fried tofu puffs and vegetables. And as a seasonal touch for dessert, she also brought back 200 white lotus seed paste and red bean moon cakes baked by a local Chinese bakery in her hometown of Seramban, Malaysia, which she visited just a few weeks ago (since yesterday was Mid-Autumn Moon Festival).
Much to my dismay since Kaia has been on a heightened level of toddler selectivity this week, Pookster ate nothing at the event other than a large chunk of red bean mooncake. That actually did make me happy, though, since that was Kaia’s very first mooncake as well as her first time having red bean. It made me feel happy that her first mooncake was made in Asia (mmmm, Chinese food in Malaysia) and made at a bakery that has Auria’s stamp of approval. I didn’t get to talk much to Auria directly since she was running around everywhere all at once to ensure everyone was happy and things were going well, but she did tell me she’s an originalist when it comes to mooncakes given her upbringing: white lotus seed paste and red bean are her favorite fillings for mooncakes, and they are also some of the OG Cantonese flavors for mooncake. These were made a little different with the addition of small watermelon seeds, which I’d never had before. What a nice and unique crunch!
In the last few years, I have seen other brands of kaya jam that are imported from various countries in Southeast Asia, but when I think about potentially trying them, the thought disappears after a second or so when I look at preservatives noted under the ingredients list, or when I think about how the flavor would compare with Auria’s pandan kaya jam. Why bother fixing what’s not broken? We named Pookster after Auria’s pandan kaya jam, after all, so it will always be close to our hearts. Auria had previously asked if I had tried another “modern” kaya jam that I’d gotten a lot of social media ads for, but I told her this same sentiment: Meh, why bother trying it when I know this one is so good? Auria even mentioned this during the short speech she gave at the event, to which Pookster started clapping and yelling “yayay!’ like crazy. It’s like Pookster inherently knows.