Brunch at Sam Tan's Kitchen

Brunch is hands down my favorite meal of the day, so when I heard about Sam Tan’s Kitchen Malaysian pop-up brunch, it was a no-brainer that I would attend.

The woman behind Sam Tan’s Kitchen is Samantha Tan, who is an actress by day and a chef by night. Originally from Malaysia but based now in Los Angeles, Samantha is self-taught, specializing in her cherished Malaysian cuisine with which she grew up. I also want to mention that Samantha was recently profiled on Feastly’s #GirlsWithKnives blog, an honor for sure.

The brunch, Samantha’s third pop-up meal and organized by Feastly, an online platform that connects chefs with adventurous diners in private homes, was held in a charming light-filled loft in the DTLA Arts District. Never having been to the Arts District before, it was fun to explore what has become one of LA’s hottest neighborhoods. As these pop-up meals have limited seating, the mood was cozy and intimate despite the spacious loft setting.

Our first course was the kaya toast, which consists of Samantha’s signature slow-cooked coconut jam. Coconut jam is notoriously difficult to make, requiring hours of continuous stirring. Kaya Toast is very popular back in Malaysia, and something children eat a lot of growing up. Incidentally, Kaya Street Kitchen, located in the Fairfax District in Central LA, also has a very good Kaya Toast. 

The second course was bihun goreng, which is fried rice vermicelli, a dish that also happens to be one of my mother’s favorites. Samantha’s bihun also included julienned vegetables, bean sprouts, green onions and was deliciously spicy just like back home.

I loved how Samantha went the extra mile by serving the noodles on plastic Chinese plates, which is how food is typically served in Malaysia. I thought the plates with the traditional Chinese patterns were such a nice touch.

Our third course was the roti jala, which means, “net bread.” Served with curry, the teatime snack is quite pretty because it looks like an old-fashioned lace doily. I was impressed because these delicate lace pancakes are no small feat to pull off. Samantha’s curry was creamy and not too spicy, most likely toned down to suit American tastes.

Next up was what I was looking the most forward to—the nasi lemak bungkus, a fragrant coconut rice with roasted peanuts, fried anchovies and Samantha’s signature sambal chili all wrapped up in a banana leaf. Each banana leaf was then individually wrapped in newspaper, just like they do it in Malaysia.

Samantha tried to find Malaysian newspapers, to no avail; so Chinese and American newspapers were used instead. I’m happy to report that Samantha’s delectable version of Malaysia’s national dish did not disappoint, and the newspaper wrappers only added to the wonderful authenticity of the dish.

And finally, for dessert, we had pandan cake, a sponge cake flavored with the essence of pandan leaves. Light, fluffy, and green, pandan cake is a common Southeast Asian dessert. To be honest, I was hoping for kuih, which is an assortment of sticky, cake-like dumplings, but unfortunately, the ingredients are not easy to source here in the US. 

After our meal, James Kong, a Malaysian ex-pat who has lived in the US for about 30 years, presented Samantha with a mini-Oscar for “Best Chef.” It was very sweet of James to do this and it was clear that Samantha was touched by his gesture.

The idea of giving Samantha an Oscar made perfect sense in a way because she is both an actress and a chef. She is very deserving of that award.