Compared to other Asian-American restaurants in Seattle, Malaysian eateries are severely underrepresented; In fact, there are only three Malaysian restaurants in the Seattle area, and two of them are on the East Side. It wasn’t until Safira Ezani and her mother Masitah Hamzah founded their pop-up Masakan in 2020 that they discovered parts of Malay (Malaysian and near geographical neighbors Singapore and Indonesia) communities throughout the region.
According to Ezani, Malaysians tend to be dispersed and less centralized than other Southeast Asian American communities in Seattle. “My favorite answer I hear from people who come to our pop-ups is that it reminds them of home,” she says. “It was hard for us to find a Malaysian community and keep up with our culture when [we’ve] moved to America, that’s this great melting pot. “
Seattle’s pop-ups thrived during the pandemic with more and more pizza kitchens and an increasing representation of Central and South American cuisines, but Masakan’s offerings filled an important void. Ezani and Hamzah started a Malaysian catering side project a few years ago (and still offer private catering alongside Masakan pop-ups). They both have full-time jobs, but cooking was an affair of the heart. Expanding that to a wider community “felt like a pipe dream to us,” said Ezani.
The turning point came last June when Ezani attended a cake sale to raise funds for black-run organizations in Seattle. “It ignited this sense of community that I missed in my life,” said Ezani. “It put me on this path to reconnect with my own culture and like me [could] share it with others. “
Masakan’s first pop-up was at Cafe Avole last October when the Ethiopian-owned cafe was located in South End Brighton (Cafe Avole is slated to reopen later this month in the Liberty Bank Building). The positive response from the community inspired Ezani and Hamzah to keep going. Since then, Masakan has hosted pop-ups at Good Day Donuts at the White Center, The Station Café on Beacon Hill, and the Distant Worlds Coffeehouse. Masakan advertises his pop-ups and pre-order links on his Instagram account, and the menu usually sells out within a few hours.
“When I describe [Malaysian food] to someone who has never eaten it, I tell it is almost like Chinese and Indian food, but you know, when it got stuck on a tropical island, ”said Ezani. “The cool thing about Malaysia is that it has a really large population of Malay, Chinese and Indian … There is also Arab influence because Malaysia is a Muslim country.”
Masakan offers usually contain ingredients such as coconut, shrimp or fish, lots of chilli and are always halal. At the pop-up last month, Masakan was selling kuih sampler boxes, a selection of Malaysian sweet or savory snacks. The boxes contained beef curry puffs, kuih lapis rose – steamed layers of rose-flavored rice pudding – and kuih koci, black sticky rice buns with palm sugar and desiccated coconut wrapped in banana leaves. “My mom says food is like memories to us, and I think that’s really true,” said Ezani.
Born in Malaysia, Ezani moved with her family to the United States at a young age, grew up in Florida, and later moved to the Seattle area. Although I’ve seen other Asian-American enclaves, “I only met one other Malaysian kid in all of my school years through college,” she said. Masakan pop-ups have changed that. “It opened my eyes to all these small Malaysian, Indonesian or Singaporean communities … to share this pride in Malaysian food and to give it to people who have not eaten it in years, that means a lot to us.”
The next Makasan pop-up will take place on Saturday, October 2nd, at the Distant Worlds Coffeehouse in Roosevelt from 11 am to 2 pm, wrapped in banana leaves with beef rendang, a spicy, braised beef dish with lemongrass; Pulut Panggang, sticky rice rolls filled with seasoned shrimp and desiccated coconut and pandan cake.
For those looking to get fed up with Malay food, Ezani recommends turning on Instagram notifications for Masakan, advising that the October 2nd pop-up will be first-come-first-serve without pre-ordering . Masakan’s next pop-up will be on Saturday October 9th at the Malaysian Jaiiya Cafe in Edmonds.