Mak Tok is Malay for Grandmother
And it was a kind hearted lady, known as Mak Tok to her grandchildren, who helped me on my quest to make the perfect chilli paste, and because I’m forever in her debt, I’ve named my pastes in her honour. That was in 2014 when I was living and studying here in the UK, missing home and above all missing the traditional Malaysian cooking I grew up with. I’ll tell you more about Mak Tok in a second, but I guess though that the story really started way back, when I was 3 and my older sister let me ‘help’ her whilst she cooked. I can still recall it like it was yesterday, me standing on a stool and her holding my hand, as she showed me how to make the perfect chow mien. And that was it, I was hooked, and I’ve loved cooking ever since.
Student life was pots of noodles
Fast forward to 2014 when I came to Sheffield to study my Masters in Music Psychology. With such an early introduction to cooking, and coming from a large family, where every day we’d gather round the table for a meal of mouth watering, aromatic, freshly cooked Malaysian food, it was perhaps no wonder that after my family, the thing I missed most, was home-cooking. So to ease my homesickness, and also because I just love cooking and eating, I spent many happy hours in the kitchen, chopping, peeling, frying and boiling, watched by my Pot Noodle eating fellow students (who, although few of them cooked, were always happy to sample what I’d made). There was one thing missing though from my cooking, something that adds so much flavour and is such an integral part of many Malaysian dishes, and that was a really top notch, authentic chilli sauce, and so my quest began.
Mak Tok to the rescue
The first thing I did was pinch my mum’s recipe. Well I figured her chilli sauce was the best I’d ever tasted, and there’s no point in reinventing the wheel is there? I can remember so many times when we’d wake to the most tantalising aromas wafting up from the kitchen as mum crafted her signature chilli paste, and, never one to waste an opportunity I’d race downstairs and volunteer to help her taste it, to make sure it was up to scratch. I’d had several attempts at following her recipe, but there was something that wasn’t quite right, and through a process of elimination I decided it was the anchovies that were letting the side down. Now around this time I was in touch with Mak Tok, a lovely, kind older lady who I’d met when I’d taught her grandson music and when she heard me bemoaning the lack of quality anchovies for my chilli paste, she sent me some superb quality ones, right to my door here in Sheffield. I immediately made some chilli paste and invited a group of friends to come and try it. The chilli paste was an instant hit with everyone, and so thanks to Mak Tok (and my mum) I’d perfected my first chilli paste. It was then my brother who encouraged me to turn my sauce-making into a business, and so Mak Tok’s chilli pastes were born.
Ssh! Mum’s the word
I’m serious when I say I haven’t told my mum about my chilli paste business, even though it’s gone from strength to strength. You see she hoped I’d become a doctor, or a lawyer or an accountant, and because it’s still relatively early days, and because I’m scared of letting her down, I’ve kept it under my hat. One day though, when Mak Tok is a household name, and I know she will be proud of me I’ll tell her. Until then, it can just be our little secret.