Re: Gine HoJiak: A Malaysian tour operator swaps sightseeing for sambal

September 17, 2020

Eight months ago, Malaysian tour operator Tommy Looi and his wife, Regine Ho, were busy planning 2020's itineraries for their clients, looking to launch a new trip to Alaska to catch the Northern Lights. Fast-forward to September, and their lives have taken a dramatically different detour: With foreign travel still off-limits, the couple, their family and employees now run a food delivery business from home, selling kitchen-cooked, petai-spiked sambal, fresh-blended peach gum milk tea, and much more.

It's tough work - Regine has even needed acupuncture therapy after spending too many hours over the pan and stove stirring the sambal petai. Re : Gine Hojiak, their re-engineered new business, is the remarkable result of their resilience and creativity. Starting from scratch, they now sell 100 boxes of sambal per day and 30 bottles of milk tea, plus plenty of other outsourced treats, from tarts to tofu puffs, cakes to jelly. 

Read more about Re : Gine Hojiak's offerings below, then check out their website to order at re-ginehojiak.com

When we stepped into their Puchong home, the family and their team were halfway through their morning's tasks. The air was thick with the sizzling aroma of sambal petai, potently irresistible.

Re : Gine Hojiak was conceived to ensure that Tommy and Regine could retain the entire staff at their seven-year-old Pudu-based tour company, which specialises in corporate travel to Europe and North America. Tommy and Regine strive to make each tour distinctive, offering uniquely personal touches in their accommodation and sightseeing choices, whether you may be visiting Paris for the first time or exploring Iceland's hidden corners.

Those principles apply to Re : Gine Hojiak's food too, particularly its flagship sambal petai. This is a recipe that the family took two weeks to fine-tune in a painstaking process, seeking feedback from trusted friends to produce a flavour-packed sambal.

The sambal is crafted from scratch - fiery red chillies, lots of onions (sliced till everyone's weeping), ginger and garlic galore, lemongrass, turmeric and candlenuts, with belacan but no salt or MSG added in the mix - and fried by hand on the same day as the delivery.

It's a true labour of love - Regine's 79-year-old uncle splits the petai beans, while her 83-year-old aunt cleans the ikan bilis, making Re : Gine Hojiak a genuinely homegrown small business.

Patrons can customise their sambal, with petai only, with prawns only, or (our recommendation) with both petai and prawns for maximum satisfaction. Each type is prepared separately, with the sambal base alone taking more than an hour of frying for its unmistakably rich fragrance.

The anchovies are delivered in a separate container, so they remain delightfully crunchy.

This is terrific - lusciously textured, with tender prawns, crunchy petai and thick, soft sambal, bursting with natural sweet-savoury nuances, moderately spicy for most of us. If you love sambal petai, this might be one of the most lip-smacking ones you'll encounter in the Klang Valley, with full-bodied petai in every bite.

Two people can share a full serving with petai, prawns and ikan bilis (RM25) - you'll only need to pair rice with this, and maybe some cucumbers or other vegetables. Alternatively, you can buy a jar of the sambal alone to use for your own cooking (RM15).

It's no surprise that word of mouth has helped the business rise steadily - from 30 boxes of sambal per day in May to 100 now. The outcome: Even without tours, Tommy and Regine have succeeded in sustaining their whole company's team, with eight employees cheerfully taking up various novel responsibilities, from handling food order enquiries to packaging their products.

The sambal is Re : Gine HoJiak's signature series, but drinks and desserts can be ordered to complement your meal.

Peach gum milk tea is our recommendation, relying on a blend of fine red tea from Indonesia and Kenya, buoyed by collagen-rich, good-quality peach gum, a healthier alternative to, say, boba. With no added sugar, sweetened simply with a splash of condensed milk, this is a reviving beverage for any time of the day. You can have it in its original flavour, but we prefer the Bentong ginger version, with the raw ginger chopped and blended by the team before being infused into the soothing tea.

Re : Gine's meticulous thoughtfulness applies to the cutely designed, reusable containers that the tea comes in.

Check out re-ginehojiak.com to view the other offerings - everything from much-coveted, Klang-made pandan layer cakes to the efforts of other homemakers as well as Tommy and Regine's family and friends, including yam cake, lap mei fan, walnut-banana cakes, otak-otak, salted fish skin crisps, and more.

Many thanks to Re : Gine HoJiak for this glimpse into their kitchen.

Find out more: facebook.com/reginehojiak

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