Get Your Malaysian Food Fix at a Collab Dinner at Koko Head Café

Feast on Malaysian specialties by chefs Lee Anne Wong and Andrew Pressler. Utensils optional.
Chefs Lee Anne Wong and Andrew Pressler are sharing some of their favorite Malaysian foods. At a recent pop-up, Pressler served curry laska (seafood curry noodle soup) and nam khao salad (Lao fermented sausage and fried rice balls).
Photos: Courtesy of Andrew Pressler


Chefs Lee Anne Wong and Andrew Pressler are on a mission: to bring Malayasian food to Hawai‘i.


The two are hosting a collab dinner featuring a menu packed with their favorite dishes including assam laksa (fish-based, rice noodle soup), beef rendang (a kind of spicy curry dish) and nasi lemak (Malaysian coconut rice) on Jan. 30 at Koko Head Café. (Buy tickets here.)


Wong, co-owner of Koko Head Café and the new executive chef of Hawaiian Airlines starting June 1, spent a month in Kuala Lumpur in 2013, creating a series of dinners for Hennessy X.O cognac. While there, she and her sous chef ate Malay food every day. “I was in heaven,” she says.


When she moved to Hawai‘i from New York City later that year, she was shocked to discover that there weren’t many—if any—Malaysian restaurants here.


“I found it odd that this is not in demand in Hawaiʻi,” Wong says. “We certainly have the ingredients here.”


Enter Pressler of Prima Hawai‘i (and formerly of Grondin French-Latin Kitchen), who started a series of Indo-Malaya pop-ups that’s been satisfying Wong’s craving. A recent pop-up dinner at Prima featured nasi ulam (Malaysian mixed herb rice), galangal fried chicken, sambal shrimp and roti canai (Indian-influenced flatbread).


“When I first tried one of IndomalayaHI’s pop-ups, I threw both my hands up in the air in a sign of victory,” Wong says. “Not only are these flavors I miss, but he nails it every time.”


From left, ayam masak merah (tomato curry chicken) and cumi cumi lsi (stuffed squid with cincalok sambal).


The two chefs decided to collaborate on a dinner at Koko Head Café next Tuesday to share some of their favorite dishes, paired with whiskey cocktails by Dave Power of Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawai‘i.


“It’s an amalgamation of all the foods and cuisines that are already beloved in Hawai‘i,” Wong says. “The cuisine itself is a reflection of its multicultural population, with Indian, Chinese, Malay, Thai and even European influences. Hawai‘i is its own melting pot of cultures and cuisines, so I feel that Malaysian food is like the awesome cousin you never knew you had until now. Ingredients such as chilies, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, galangal, turmeric, curry, shoyu, dried shrimp, fish sauce and coconut showcase a bond and flavorful likeness to already existing cuisines here. It is unmistakable South East Asian and, in my humble opinion, deserves a bigger fan club here.”


$90, 6 to 8 p.m., limited to 40 seats, Koko Head Café, 1145C 12th Ave., (808) 732-8920, buy tickets here.