Accidental saucier Filed on July 29, 2021

Maria Aquino, founder of Saigon Pouper, specialises in a variety of artisanal sauces

About me: Before opening my café I was a nurse and doing a bunch of things outside the F&B world. The year 2020 has changed my life, bringing out the best in me.

Without formal training, I became a cook essentially by accident. This led me to start Saigon Pouper only four months ago.

Tucked away in Al Khaleej, Deira, Saigon Pouper serves affordable Pan Asian cuisine and speciality classic milk teas with black tapioca pearls. My menu changes daily based on the best available ingredients in the market. Regulars receive the menu each morning via WhatsApp. While most of my orders are for delivery, we do have walk-in diners adhering to social distancing and other guidelines set by the government.

Favourite dish to cook: The double-fried Korean fried chicken tossed in my sweet chilli sauce or my Pancit (noodles) in seafood or chicken broth.

I take pride in my sweet chilli sauce. It’s got that hint of heat, crushed tomatoes and herbs, a slightly sour tang, sweetness and a touch of garlic. It is a perfect dip for dumplings or fried calamari, marinade, salad dressing, can be used on a pizza, in pasta, stir-fry or as a barbeque rub.

On the other hand, my bold chilli sauce is packed with flavours; a blend of peppers and spices with a high heat level. It can be used as a marinade or with fried fish and steamed rice.

Making these simple condiments takes time and patience — my passion is to create food that tastes good with them!

The future: In the coming days, I’m looking at a honey garlic miso sauce with a touch of chilli, — it would be perfect as a glaze for meats or fish, salad dressing or added to a bowl of chicken or seafood broth.

Food brings people together and the future is all about good comfort food at affordable prices for my company and me, as well as the stability of running my business. After two months, I have a good customer list with new ones added every day to the delivery list. I hope to keep this steady growth.

Advice to budding chefs: Believe in yourself, cook with your heart and be passionate.

Nisthula Nagarajan

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