Sisu Pantry: A Malaysian cancer survivor serves up inspiration for body, mind & soul

November 25, 2021

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As you explore Sisu Pantry, you'll find pockets of inspiration everywhere. 

Books on the shelves speak of the search for "courage, strength and happiness," while magazines provide an insightful, up-to-date glimpse into global affairs. A reminder pasted on the coffee machine says "be kind to yourself," beneath a quote by motivational author Brené Brown scribbled on a mirror. Arts and crafts showcase an exuberant sense of talent and imagination, including a plate with the word 'Lucky.'

Those books helped Sisu Pantry's founder Chew Lian navigate her life challenges; those magazines share her spirit for sustainability. The messages reassure her that she's on the right path. The beautiful paintings of nature on the wall reflect her family, contributed by her uncle and aunt who are artists.

Many cafe-hoppers in KL haven't been to Sisu Pantry so far, partly because it's relatively far out in Klang, partly because it slipped through the cracks of everyone's attention when it launched in late 2020, shortly before inter-district travel curbs were enforced. 

But they're missing out on a nurturing, life-affirming experience, a place that's personal and passionate.

Chew Lian has created a sanctuary for the spirit and stomach, the culmination of a journey that can be traced to her teens, when was she diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. She spent three years in and out of hospitals, forging her fortitude for the future. She pursued studies in nutrition, with a vision to someday open her own eatery and contribute to the community. 

Over the next decade, Chew Lian actively learned organic farming through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) in Japan and the UK to understand the source of food. She worked with restaurant brands on management, operations and menu development. But she also struggled with self-esteem and mental health strains, constantly questioning her skills and her appearance.

Sisu Pantry underscores her overcoming of obstacles (Sisu is a Finnish word defined as extraordinary determination amid extreme adversity). Despite the difficulties of running a pantry nearly single-handedly, Chew Lian says Sisu Pantry has helped her in the same ways she wants to be a positive force for others. 

If you're seeking to be nourished in body, mind and soul, take a trip to Sisu Pantry for a meal soon.

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Sisu Pantry's fare is wonderfully wholesome, crafted with real food, conceived with an open-minded curiosity about the world.

Chew Lian supports Malaysian suppliers with similar philosophies on sustainability, authenticity and quality, ranging from Fresh Ayam King for poultry to Cultiveat and WiFarm for vegetables, Shaury's Spices & Herbs for seasonings to ELAIESE for red palm fruit oil. She also supports Homa2u by using overstocked floors, wall tiles and vent blocks for her interior design, left over from poorly planned building projects. 

Her Tropical Jerk Chicken is Caribbean-inspired comfort, with soothingly smoky chicken on a vibrant spread of capsicum, corn, avocado, sweet potatoes and quinoa, finished with a splash of ELAIESE oil and beautifully served on local ceramic by Ilham Ceramic from Langkawi.

It's a nuanced platter - the tender chicken has hints of cinnamon, allspice, thyme and paprika, while the tangy sauce blends earthy ELAIESE oil with pesticide-free cilantro, charred pineapple, fresh jalapeños and apple cider vinegar.

This sums up how Chew Lian creates her recipes, with plenty of natural colours, rich in phytonutrients. That takes the same approach as ELAISE oil, a powerhouse of antioxidants, spanning carotenoids, Pro-Vitamin A and Vitamin E tocotrienols and phytosterols, helping to battle cholesterol and bolster immunity, hair and skin health. 

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Chew Lian, who formerly binge-ate whenever stressed, hopes her patrons will view her food as a fulfilling indulgence that they shouldn't feel guilty about. 

Dig into Sisu Pantry's Curry Laksa without remorse - keto-friendly spinach noodles are submerged in a mellow, moreish broth that sings of made-from-scratch curry paste, with fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal and fish sauce. Evoking a Thai red curry laksa, topped with poached chicken, prawns, long beans, organic tofu, shallots, garlic and pepper, it's a bowl of honest produce, pure and pleasurable.

We love the look that ELAIESE oil lends to this, with gorgeously clear red hues, a testament to how the oil (sustainably cultivated by Sime Darby Oils Nutrition) is collected and processed within 24 hours of harvest in a single-origin plantation on Carey Island. Its versatility extends to its practicality - Chew Lian says the oil helps extend the curry paste's shelf life, so she can be efficient in her use of ingredients.

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Sisu Pantry's food has stories to tell, with a heritage that stretches back generations, bridging East to West. From the start, one of its signatures has been the Ebi Chilli Rice, which Chew Lian loves for its history, a Chinese-influenced dish introduced to Japan in the 1950s, now a household staple there.

As always, Chew Lian stamps her own purposeful, meaningful originality here. The goodness factor is upped with a medley of Japanese short-grain rice and quinoa, mixed with seasonal leafy greens. The shrimp is firm and lively; the omelette is warm, soft and smooth. But the tomato chilli jam is the star that brings it all together, brimming with pesticide-free local tomatoes, red chillies, bean paste, ginger, garlic and caramelised scallions, roasted orangey with carrots, tasting homemade in the most satisfying sense.

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True to the ethos of a casual eatery, Sisu Pantry's menu is handwritten on its fridge, with specials coming and going. 

If you spot it, order the Hawaiian Chicken Duck Egg Cauliflower Pizza - the frittata-like base of duck egg with cauliflower is topped with Chew Lian's tantalising sauce of fresh tomatoes roasted for 40 minutes with carrots, garlic, onions and oregano, topped with chicken, pineapples, capsicum and Danish cheddar and mozzarella. It's a buoyantly balanced lunch, with protein and a plethora of fruits and vegetables.

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Desserts are ever-changing too. Highlights might include Sisu Pantry's take on the classic Victoria sandwich, with honey sponge cake thickly layered with luscious house-made berry jam and rose-infused cream; almond flour chocolate brownies blanketed with butternut squash puree; and marvellous madeleines lined with white chocolate, sea salt and rose petals.

Sisu Pantry accepts customer preorders for desserts, so whether you're craving cheesecakes or bomboloni, check them out. 

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Sisu Pantry recently celebrated its first birthday, with Chew Lian looking forward to its second year. 

Plans include a collaboration with KDU's mass communications students on a virtual cooking show to create another phytonutrient-rich pizza and demonstrate food preparations this December. 

Chew Lian also aims to work together with other cancer survivors, including on a potential project with them to provide meals to a hospital on World Cancer Day in February. 

Visit Sisu Pantry and chat with Chew Lian to learn more.

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Sisu Pantry
First Floor, 2A, Jalan Astaka, 5, KU/2, Bandar Bukit Raja, 41050 Klang, Selangor.
Open Tuesday-Thursday, 10am-5pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-9pm (6pm-9pm by reservations only). Tel: 012-384-3174

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