Jackie M Tang has won acclaim in Sydney, Australia for her authentic Malaysian street food. TimeOut refers to her as the high priestess of Malaysian cuisine and given how passionate she is about producing the authentic taste, this is no exaggeration.
Travelers who have had a taste of Malaysian street food are often left with a lasting impression of the intriguing mix of culture that is served up in plates of street food. Some who are more adventurous would scour the internet for recipes to try cooking the dishes. But, like most experiments they do not always turn out the way it should.
Jackie, with her newly launched online coaching and mentoring course in cooking Malaysian and Singaporean street food, has put that game-of-chance cooking to rest. This 9-week personalised online course can turn hobby asian cooking into a profession.
The former restaurateur, TV presenter and pioneer of live cooking videos who migrated from Malaysia as a teenager has more than 20 years experience as a professional cook and is one of the most influential Australian chefs on social media.
She now lives with her son Noah in Sydney and is still passionate about teaching and cooking asian food. Jackie talks about the reasons that continue to fuel her passion.
1. Did the online course come about because of the demand for asian cooking? The people who have signed up or expressed interest, were there any asians?
My students are about a 50/50 split of Asians and Australians. My idea to coach people on how to cook came about because of a number of reasons.
- Firstly, ever since I tried to learn how to cook street food (ie. hawker food), I’ve recognised that there is a big knowledge gap on how to do these dishes properly. Even though my own parents used to be hawkers back in the day, there was no attempt to preserve the knowledge and recipes for future generations partly because hawkers don’t generally hope their kids will grow up to be hawkers; they hope they become doctors and engineers etc.
As a result, this invaluable knowledge – the recipes & the skills – would dying with the older generation. I want to do my part in preserving the legacy of hawker food in Malaysia and Singapore, hence why I’ve pivoted my Wok Around Asia brand towards Asian food coaching (with a focus on Malaysian & Singaporean street aka hawker food).
- Secondly, back in my day (because I’m pre-internet) trying to teach myself how to cook based on cookbooks was really, really hard. But it’s actually worse now with the hundreds of millions of food blogs and YouTube videos out there. Anybody can blog and many who take beautiful food photos and get good Google rankings are mostly all style and no substance. I know, because I’ve tried many of their recipes.
Awhile back, I received an email from an Australian woman who was so frustrated at her failed attempts at following all these recipes that it completely wrecked her self-esteem – she figured that the scores of recipes she tried couldn’t all be wrong, so it must be her that was the problem. That had a flow-on effect on her relationships, so by the time she made contact, she was in despair as to whether she could ever be helped.
She ended up spending a day to learn directly from me and it transformed her life. At the end of the session, she went back to her hotel room and cried her eyes out, then she wrote me a heart-rending message.
She said, among other things – “I feel like I can walk into any kitchen now and know exactly what to do” and “It’s like being invited to a tennis game and knowing how to play”.
These are the people I want to help, along with those who aspire to produce Malaysian and Singaporean food that will pass what I call “the sell test” – food that’s good enough to sell.
This is my bar for my students, and I know it’s achievable because I’m living proof as someone who’s used these same recipes and techniques for my own food enterprise here in Australia for nearly 30 years.
- Thirdly, I’m one of those Malaysians who get more than slightly annoyed when some Western celebrity chef who doesn’t know the first thing about our cuisine tries to fake their expertise in it. Note that I’m targeting celebrity and TV chefs, and not your average housewife or hobby cook, whose efforts I always applaud and encourage.
2. Would you say that Malaysian and Sinpapore food lovers are now more discerning? Meaning you can’t just wing it by serving them something that looks like a Malaysian dish.
My customers have always been a balance of overseas Malaysians and Aussies and I’ve always found Malaysians to be judgemental to a fault. Malaysia’s food is incredibly diverse, which many Malaysians don’t fully appreciate. Many of them move overseas carrying with them a really strident view of what laksa or char kway teow should taste like based on their own local experience. In fact there are so many variations to these dishes depending on which little nook and corner of Malaysia you come from. So I’m constantly engaging with and pushing back on these armchair critics.
I have met many overseas Asian students who studied professional cookery at culinary colleges in Australia. They obviously know enough about Southeast Asian food to be able to tell what’s being taught at these colleges is highly compromised.
A few years back, an Australian instructor told me that her curry laksa class was poorly received by south east asian students. She told me her curry laksa soup was store-bought tom yam paste with coconut milk. And that, I believe, is the reason why!
3. Have you tutored someone in cooking Malaysian or Singaporean food to start a business selling it?
I’m just now launching my coaching programme, but I’ve put out free content for many years.
I’ve seen pictures of my otak-otak at a Malaysian restaurant here in Sydney (I know it’s based on my recipe because I tweaked how it’s made so it’s unique and not actually found in Malaysia).
I also know a popular Melbourne caterer specialising in popiah, who learned how to make popiah skin from my YouTube channel.
I very rarely eat at Malaysian restaurants unless I’m in Malaysia, since I cook the same food myself. Awhile back, I visited one and the owner told me their mee goreng and roti canai were based on my YouTube videos.
I think it’s fantastic that they were able to learn from my YouTube videos, and their learning curve would be shorter since they’re professional cooks.
However, if you want to learn from me directly through my Asian Street Food Mastery programme, you would be able to do so much more thoroughly (it’s hard to fit everything you need to know into a 3-minute YouTube video) and you would have me guiding you personally each step of the way.
Jackie M has won acclaim in Sydney Australia for her authentic Malaysia street food. TimeOut refers to her as the high priestess of Malaysian cuisine and given how passionate she is about producing the authentic taste, this is no exaggeration.