Home is as much a place as it is a feeling. That’s what Mekja from Malaysian Deli strives to cultivate through her food. Charmaine Wong reports from the cosy food establishment in Brockley.
With the soft tones of 1920s Malay melodies playing in the background, and the delicious scent of fragrant coconut rice wafting through the air, Malaysian Deli is a warm invitation into tropical Malaysia in Brockley. For many Malaysians living in the UK, it’s a home away from home.
“I love sharing my story and flavours from home,” says Raja Yusniza, 39, owner of the food establishment in Brockley. Her aim is to bring the taste of the coastal Southeast Asian country to London, like a sort of love letter to her hometown.
Opened in 2014, Malaysian Deli serves up authentic Malaysian food from Wednesdays to Sundays. From the nation’s favourite nasi lemak (rice cooked in fragrant coconut milk) and teh tarik (pulled milk tea) to roti canai (Indian flatbread with curry), there is really nothing more comforting than a hearty homecooked meal in this restaurant along Brockley Road.
Yusniza, more endearingly known as “Mekja”, was born and bred in the coastal state of Kelantan in Malaysia. “Since I was nine, I remember helping my mother to make local dishes, kuih (tea cakes) and ice lollies to sell to neighbours at the food market,” she says. “I’ve always really enjoyed making food with her and the process of preparing a meal for all to share.”
It was the years and years spent learning recipes and the secrets of making homemade food from her mother, that inspired the menu at the deli. “From the traditional Kelantanese dish called nasi kerabu which features blue rice soaked in butterfly pea flowers to the lempeng (Malaysian coconut pancakes) we kept the recipe as how we used to make it back in Kelantan. We wanted to serve up the real deal”.
In all its warmly lit cosy interior, the deli is filled with touches of Malaysian culture, from the picture-filled shelves to batik-patterned tablecloths. Every nook and cranny is decorated with the shores of Kelantan, photos of traditional Malay stilt houses and candle-waxed paintings of corals from the South China Sea – a reminder that home is as much a place as it is a feeling.
As with many businesses, it all started with an idea and a whole lot of hard work. “I came to Manchester to do my Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology and met my husband there. We fell in love, got married and were ready to settle down in London but we were in between jobs and we struggled to find something that would stick,” says Mekja. “We were living in Brockley, and we saw this shopfront that was up for sale and it was almost like a light-bulb moment for me.”
With a portion of her savings as capital, Mekja started off making cakes and kuih but the bakery folded after two years. “I thought to myself since I loved cooking Malaysian food so much, why not give it a go and share the delicacy that we loved so much with the world.” After three months, the business was able to break even and received good feedback. Customers have since left over 350 reviews praising Malaysian Deli with some saying that “the flavours were just like back in Malaysia” and they’d “happily go back”.
“Of course, we were met with a lot of challenges like ensuring cost efficiencies and staff management in a cost-of-living crisis,” says Mekja. “It was tough juggling running a business and building a family at the same time. But at the end of the day, Alhamdulilah (praise be to God), the support and positive feedback we get from our regular customers make it all worth it.”
With a group of staff who are all Malaysians trying to make a living in London, Malaysian Deli has been their home away from home. “The best thing about running a business is the community that we’ve built, not just with people who come enjoy our food but also with our staff whom I’m grateful to call family,” says Mekja. “They are the ones that make the hard work enjoyable, and I think it reflects in our food”.
Malaysian Deli is located at 338 Brockley Rd, London SE4 2BT. Opening hours are Wednesdays to Saturdays (6pm-10.30pm) and Sundays (6pm-10pm). Available for dine-in, takeaway and delivery. More information can be found on their Instagram page.