KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 1 — Some people start home businesses due to an obsessive passion for what they create. Others do it for the money. A few are just plain bored and need new ways to pass the time. And then there are those who do it because of love.
In the case of Padkos, a home-based producer of biltong (a type of dried, cured meat strips hailing from South Africa) here in Malaysia, it’s a love story of Cape Town meets Kuala Lumpur.
Run by South African Zibya Hansa and her Malaysian husband Salim Abu Haniffa, Padkos (which means “road food” in Afrikaans) offers hand-crafted South African snacks on the go — with a subtle local twist.
Zibya (who is of Portuguese, Cape Malay and Gujerati heritage, having grown up in Cape Town and Durban) first met Salim during the 2010 FIFA World Cup that took place in South Africa.
She recalls, “A mutual friend connected us: I got him to stay with my sister in Johannesburg for the finals. I joined him there for the game. Two years of trips and late-night Skype calls, and two kids later, here we are!”
Moving to Malaysia exposed Zibya to an entirely new array of foods and flavours. She says, “With my colourful heritage, food was always an immersion of Indian, Cape Malay and Boere (South African Dutch) influences. After a few months in Malaysia, I started creating my own dishes that are a blend of South Africa and Malaysia. For example, a bobotie — the national dish of South Africa — is no longer just bobotie; it’s now better with sambal.”
Salim was the biggest fan of his wife’s cooking and soon others — family, friends and colleagues — followed suit. Zibya says, “What began as an experiment became a bit of a hobby as we tested out my mum’s recipe with local and imported meats. We discovered the preferred biltong to be not too dry with a little bite. After 5-6 months of trials, our local friends began ordering our biltong for cocktail parties or just as a healthy alternative snack food. That’s pretty much how we started.”
One would assume that the earnest home cook has been making biltong since her younger days in Cape Town. Surprisingly, Zibya reveals that she only learned to make the South African delicacy after moving to Kuala Lumpur.
She says, “I experimented with my mum’s guidance. The climate makes a big difference due to the heat and humidity, hence we’re careful to make sure the meat is dried and stored well to avoid any potential mould.”
The process of making biltong in Malaysia is unchanged in terms of spicing the meat. However, marination needs to be a little longer to avoid the impact of humidity when air drying it.
Salim says, “We use a drying box to air dry the meat and sometimes a dehydrator. The key here since most of the meat is imported is to ensure it’s as fresh as possible — chilled, not frozen — and processed as soon as it is taken home.”
While Padkos isn’t the first biltong producer in KL, Zibya and Salim differentiate themselves with their choice of ingredients. Salim says, “We use prime lean grain-fed topside Australian or New Zealand steaks, Sri Lankan coriander, Sarawak white peppercorns and organic apple cider vinegar so you get a great Asian biltong. Each piece is doused individually before slicing — not hacking — for individual air-drying.”
In South Africa, biltong is made from a variety of meats such as beef, chicken and fish. Game meat — kudu, springbok, wildebeest and even ostrich — is also commonly used.
Padkos offers both beef and lamb biltong in 50-grams, 100-grams and 500-grams bags. Flavours include the traditional-tasting Old School, fiery Pepper Punch and tangy Busta Lime. Besides the air-dried meat snacks, they also sell Mebos Chutney made from dried apricot.
The duo already has new products such as corned beef and naaz sauce (a spicy pickled apricot sauce for fried meats) in the pipeline thanks to encouraging response from customers.
Zibya says, “Requests have come in for chilli lemon and even kangaroo! We will first expand to include the basic flavours of chilli, garlic and barbecue before moving on to other meats. Currently we are in the experimental phase of the naaz sauce. I think Malaysians will love it; my in-laws sure do!”
Family permeates everything the couple does, and by starting Padkos, they hope to create a new legacy for their children. Zibya says, “The taste reminds me of home, especially when the smell of roasting coriander and drying meat wafts through the air. Our kids are of both Malaysian and South African heritage and we want them to grow up knowing both nasi lemak and biltong.”
That sounds like an enviable childhood, filled with the best of two worlds, full of love and flavours. A taste anyone would be fortunate to savour.