Malaysian wins at New York food show, gets break with major franchise

Auria Abraham won the 2018 ‘sofi’ bronze and silver prizes at the New York Fancy Food Show. (Facebook pic)

NEW YORK: A young Malaysia-born woman who is a chef and producer of artisanal food products has succeeded in breaking into the mainstream Foodtown supermarket franchise in the US which launched her products last weekend.

Foodtown outlets in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will for the first time sell her products, along with other mainstream speciality stores such as Dean & Deluca, Greene Grape and Kalustyan.

While Malaysian foods, condiments and sauces are visible on the shelves of some local ethnic markets, mainly Chinese-owned, Malaysian products in the mainstream US supermarkets have been a rarity so far – until Sunday when Auria Abraham stamped her mark.

Abraham, who was born and raised in Seremban and arrived in the US in the early 1990s, grew up in the midst of flavours and foods of her hometown, drawing inspiration from Malaysia’s diverse culinary and multi-ethnic makeup.

Before Foodtown’s induction of her products, marketed under the brand “Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen” she had won the 2018 “sofi” bronze and silver prizes at the prestigious New York Fancy Food Show (NYFFS) 2018 held from June 30 to July 2.

Her company, also named Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen, presented two entries for the “sofi” competition. The lime leaf sambal won the bronze prize in the cooking sauce (marinade) category while the pandan kaya (coconut jam) garnered the silver prize in the jam preserves category.

The products, two out of 150 winners, were judged by a national panel of speciality food experts based on taste, including flavour, appearance, texture and aroma, quality of the ingredients and innovation.

In an interview with Bernama at the New York Fancy Food Show (NYFFS) 2018, Abraham said that Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen is the only Malaysian food brand manufactured in the US today.

“We are trying to bring Malaysian foods that I remember from my childhood to the US market. Since our products are relatively unknown to most Americans, this honour is a much-appreciated confirmation that our products are well-liked and have great potential here.

“Our lime leaf sambal is a green chilli paste flavoured with makrut lime leaves that can be used as a cooking sauce, marinade or straight out of the jar as a condiment. Our pandan kaya is a popular Malaysian breakfast spread that can be used on toast, pancakes, waffles, etc,” Abraham said, adding that her green sambal appears similar to green curry to US consumers who have tasted the latter, for example, in Thai restaurants.

She said that she was going to expand her operations; she already has a distributor for each geographical region in the US. But she also emphasised the need to further promote Malaysian cuisine which, except for a few big cities, is not well known in the country.

Her company also organises food samplings in supermarkets where she has received an “overwhelmingly positive response”.

Abraham fondly remembered her growing-up years in Seremban and said she watched how her mother cooked in her kitchen at home. “I offer my products the way my mother would prepare food for the family… without using chemicals or flavourings,” she said.

“The exposure to the local Malaysian cooking inspired me to master the use of the plethora of Southeast Asian spices and herbs, using fenugreek and brown mustard in seafood and vegetable dishes; cinnamon, cardamom and cloves in meat dishes; galangal, fresh turmeric, etc to flavour sauces and marinades,” she said.

She added that “business expansion is very much on the cards and we are going to concentrate on tapping the business potential in the market”.