Chicago pop-up features different Malaysia-inspired dishes bi-monthly

CHICAGO (WLS) -- While it's relatively easy to find Chinese, Thai or Indian restaurants in Chicago, the food of Malaysia is more elusive. But one young couple is cooking some cherished recipes from the Southeast Asian country, but like a lot of start-ups these days, they're doing it in a ghost kitchen, with pickup or delivery.

They focus on just one savory dish and a traditional sweet every other week.

By the time Mike Alesi got furloughed from his restaurant job, his new wife Jennifer had just moved to Chicago from Malaysia and she was homesick.

"I really miss Malaysian food, and Mike does a really good job. When he was in Malaysia my mom was teaching him all this stuff like, 'this is how you do it,' and then we brought him to all the places we locals would eat instead of the tourists," said Jennifer Pou Alesi.

Their mutual love of that food led to a bi-monthly pop-up called Kedai Tapao, and the early response was encouraging.

"This is really fun, and all the positive feedback just motivated us to be like, let's do this," she said.

Malaysia has three dominant races, which are reflected in the food.

"It's a mixture of Chinese, Malay and Indian food," said Pou Alesi.

As they prep for next week, Mike works on the savory dish.

"The dish is called Kam Heong chicken; to translate, it means 'golden aroma' chicken, but this is a Cantonese-Chinese dish," said Pou Alesi.

First, there's lightly fried chicken, on the bone of course for more flavor.

Curry powder, shallots, garlic and Thai chilies are combined with dried shrimp and curry leaves. The resulting paste is cooked briefly in a wok over high heat. The fried chicken is added, and the combination results in a slightly spicy bird, earthy yet pungent and totally delicious. It's served with aromatic rice, which is a very different rice than the one in the sweet this week.

"The sweet for this week is called Kuih Salat. So we have a pandan custard on top, so it's like a really nice green but light and fragrant flavor to it," she said.

Sticky, glutinous rice - some white, some colored with the aid of Butterfly pea flower extract - is enriched with coconut milk, steamed together, then eventually covered in the sweet, floral pandan custard, which is steamed until it sets. The Kuih Salat is cut into tiny wedges for a sweet ending to a fiery Malaysian lunch or dinner.

"A mixture of texture," she said.

They've been averaging about 70 orders per week, and here's how you do it: you go to their Instagram @kedai_tapao, which has a link to their ordering page. You place orders beginning Tuesday at noon, and then you'll have pickup or delivery on Sunday the Nov 15.

Hungry Hound Steve Dolinsky says be sure to get the custard.

"I love anything pandan-related," he said.

He also said be sure to order on Tuesday afternoon, because once they sell out for the week, that's it. The couple does hope to open a restaurant at some point.

Kedai Tapao


Instagram: @kedai_tapao
New Menu every two weeks
Orders available at 12 pm on Tuesdays (so Nov. 10 this week)
Pickup/delivery on Sunday, Nov. 15
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