The small tropical country of Malaysia is known for its white sandy beaches and rainforests. It is also known for its cuisine featuring subtle flavours and complex spices with influences from other Asian countries including China, India, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.
While a trip overseas would be wonderful, there is no need to travel further than Bayview Street in Steveston village where you can experience these tantalizing tastes.
Sandy Chong and her family own and operate Kari House restaurant. Her two brothers David Chong and Jacky Chong are the chefs, her mother Siew Kee Cheng assists with cutting all of the vegetables, her sister-in-law Annie Tan helps in the kitchen and out front, and Sandy manages operations.
Sandy’s father, Hing Chong, was Kari House’s original chef and was well-loved by their customers. A great loss for both the family and Kari House, Hing passed away last year.
Kari House is celebrating its sixteenth anniversary this May.
In 1988 the Chong family left Penang, Malaysia and immigrated to Canada. They briefly lived in Montreal, but found the climate too cold so they headed west to British Columbia.
Hing had operated a restaurant in Malaysia. Although he did not formally train as a chef, he was a gifted cook and enjoyed preparing food for his family and friends.
Sandy says, “Our family would come out to Steveston on weekends; we loved the cozy little town. My father saw a sign for a new commercial development that was to be built called Riversong. Our business was the first to sign a lease and move in. We chose the storefront with a waterfront view and designed the restaurant from a shell.”
She adds, “We are so glad to bring and share home-style cooking in our family-run restaurant with our Steveston neighbours. When we started the business 16 years ago our goal was to introduce an authentic Malaysian flavour, but serve it in a Canadian way with fresh local produce and boneless, skinless meat.”
“My father learned how to adapt his recipes to restaurant size quantities. He had a lot of good secret recipes, and according to our loyal customers the following three are unbeatable: our satay, curry, and sambal chili sauces,” says Sandy.
“I would like the usual,” is a request Sandy frequently hears.
As many as eighty percent of Kari House’s customers are locals, with some dining at the restaurant two to three times a week. They do not require a menu to order, as they know their favourites and stay with the tried and true.
A few of the popular dishes include the warm Gado Gado salad (featuring assorted vegetables with peanut dressing), Malay Halia (chicken stir fried in ginger sauce) and Kari Rendang (chicken, prawn or fish in a spicy coconut milk curry).
If you are not a fan of spicy food Sandy recommends Kari Hijau (chicken, beef or pork in Thai green coconut milk curry). Dishes can be modified according to preferred spice levels. In addition to many other items on the extensive menu, Kari House offers vegetarian options along with some gluten free selections.
“We hear that our satay skewers and Kari Laksa noodle soup are the best. Customers have tried them elsewhere, even in Malaysia, and they like ours the most.” Sandy Chong
Sandy says, “We have many people wanting to order the sambal chili sauce and curry sauce to take home after eating it here. Some even ask if we will consider offering cooking classes.”
The menu features three desserts including Bubur Cha-Cha (bananas, sweet potatoes, taro root, sago pearls cooked in coconut milk and served warm), as well as Pisang Goreng (deep fried bananas with ice cream) and Mango Sticky Rice (sweet sticky rice, fresh mango and coconut milk).
Listening to customer’s feedback is very important. Sandy remarks, “I am grateful when clients share their opinions and experiences. If it’s a good dish then we’ll keep it, if not, we’ll try to make adjustments. I always believe that people only mention or point something out when they care.”
The Chong family appreciates the small and original businesses that make Steveston a special community. They know all of the surrounding merchants who support each other.
Operating a business in the neighbourhood where the Chong family lives is very rewarding. Long time Kari House customers have had the pleasure of seeing Sandy’s nieces and nephews grow from babies to teenagers as they have spent many hours at the family restaurant.
With a smile, Sandy concludes, “I feel warm and supported; many of our customers have become friends. I know their names and their stories. I’ve been invited to their homes for dinner. I am given souvenirs after they return from holidays. Many choose to celebrate special events with their families and friends at our place, even if they already dine here regularly. Now their families and friends have also become Kari House customers.”
130-3900 Bayview Street, Richmond, BC, V7E 4R7