Growing up back in the 70s (it really does seem an eternity ago!), eating out was an occasion so I can still distinctly remember the handful of restaurants frequented by my family. One of them was the famous Sakura along Jalan Imbi, founded by Madam Kwan Swee Lian who is now the owner of Madam Kwan’s. In those days, I would look forward to tucking in to Sakura’s nasi lemak, it was such a treat! Those were happy days with my mother and aunts.
Whenever some relative from abroad was back in town, we’d bring them to Sakura so Madam Kwan’s first restaurant has a lot of warm memories for me. In those days, there were hardly any restaurants offering local fare in a nice ambiance. If you wanted that, you’d have to go to a hotel café. So Sakura was very popular, Western food was on the menu along with local favourites like Fried Prawns, Nasi Bojari, Fish Head Curry, Belacan Kangkung, Hokkien Mee, Curry Laksa, Asam Laksa, Curry Chicken and Beef rending. Now my favourite restaurant in Pavilion is Madam Kwan’s, her nasi lemak remains excellent and even better than at Sakura.
Today I had the pleasure of meeting Madam Kwan (actually I have seen her many times at her Pavilion outlet during lunch but never plucked up enough courage to speak to her) at the official launch of her book, “Madam Kwan: Her Untold Story And Beloved Recipes” written by her granddaughter, Catherine Foo. The book is also a biography as it details Madam Kwan’s extraordinary life. Born in 1934, her life has had its fair share of hardships and it reveals that Madam Kwan lost Sakura as a result of crippling personal debt due to a scam land deal back in 1997. As a result, her restaurant of 20 years was turned over to new owners. However the resilient Madam Kwan bounced back with her namesake restaurant of which there are outlets in Suria KLCC, Pavilion KL, Mid Valley Megamall, Bangsar Shopping Centre, One Utama Shopping Centre, Empire Shopping Gallery and Sunway Pyramid, and also in Genting Highlands Resort.
The biography also touches on her personal life and the heart-breaking loss of her eldest son and his family in the 1993 Highland Towers tragedy followed by the loss of yet another son within a decade; providing a rare glimpse of Swee Lian’s strength, determination and ability to overcome the adversities thrown her way.
Having cooked with passion for over 60 years, it is no surprise that the biography is interwoven with delicious recipes that reflects her Hakka background as well as favourites from Madam Kwan’s Western and Malaysian menu.
Twenty-five recipes have been handpicked including classic favourites from the restaurant such as the Hainanese Chicken Chop, fragrant Petai Prawns, creamy Curry Fish Head and iconic Nasi Bojari.
“Behind the famous Madam Kwan’s brand and delicious food is a compelling tale of a woman with gumption, resilience and courage that few are aware of. As her granddaughter, I am very proud to be able to honour this extraordinary woman and her immense determination and talent. She is a truly amazing lady, and I think her story, told here for the first time in detail, is testament to how strong and spirited she is. I hope you enjoy reading about my Grandma as much as I have enjoyed learning more about her,” said Foo during the launch.
The humble Kwan attributes her success over the years to customers, family, staff and suppliers. “Success is not my own. I have to thank my family for their patience, loyalty and hard work to run the business. Also having wonderful support from both staff and suppliers throughout the years at both Madam Kwan’s and the earlier Sakura businesses eases my burden while the smiles and satisfied looks on customers’ faces as they leave my restaurants make it all worthwhile for me,” said Madam Kwan Swee Lian.
Celebrating her rich life and contribution to promoting Malaysian cuisine, local celebrities and business partners joined close family members at the launch, where the brand also introduced the new Madam Kwan’s Curry Paste that is infused with aromatic spices such as turmeric, lemongrass, shrimp paste and candlenut.
With the convenient ready-made curry paste, fans of Madam Kwan’s signature dishes can recreate the delicious flavours of its popular tender beef rendang, chicken curry, fish head curry and curry laksa at home.
The company’s chief executive officer, Datin Maureen Ooi said, “Both Rudy and myself wanted to publish this book on Mum’s life story to honour her achievements which comes with some of her beloved recipes because the two parts play an equally important role in her life since the beginning. The book is a tribute to an amazing woman.”
Both the curry paste and “Madam Kwan: Her Untold Story And Beloved Recipes” are available all Madam Kwan’s outlets while stocks last. The book retails at RM89.00 nett while the Madam Kwan’s Curry Paste retails at RM13.90 nett. For those looking for a lovely gift, they can purchase the book and curry paste set at RM100.00 nett, which comes in a special tote bag.
Those wanting to get a signed copy of the book and meet Madam Kwan herself can do so at the outlets at Pavilion KL (30th September) and Mid Valley Megamall (7th October) between 3.00 – 5.00pm.