written by Kerry Newberry
A few years ago, Holly Ong and Pat Lau cooked up one of their favorite childhood dishes: Singapore Chili Crab. But instead of traditional mud crabs for the signature seafood dish, they used freshly caught Oregon Dungeness crabs from Kelly’s Brighton Marina. “We are always looking to add flavors that remind us of our home using local ingredients,” said Ong.
The sweetness of the crab played off their homemade spicy, tangy umami sauce in a way that delighted them both. “We thought maybe other people will want to try this too,” said Ong. In 2019, the longtime friends who met while working for Nike Singapore, began hosting private supper clubs. “It was a way to share family dishes from Singapore that we missed the most,” said Ong.
Enter Covid in 2020, and the entrepreneurs shifted their focus from pop-up dinners to launching a food startup, beginning with three distinct Sambal chili sauces, the star ingredient at their supper clubs. “We also thought, ‘how can we demystify our food while creating a healthy product that we eat every day,’” recalled Ong. Sambals were the answer.
Essentially a chili paste made from red or green chilis ground together with other ingredients—from garlic and shallots to a variety of spices and herbs—Sambals can transform dishes, adding umami and heat to sauces and marinades. Endlessly versatile, Sambals can be used as a pesto or salsa, drizzling it over grilled fish or tofu to punch up flavors, Ong noted. “It makes a great dipping sauce for fried foods and vegetables, too,” she said.
In November 2020, Ong and Lau opened a retail store and kitchen studio on NW 23rd, along with an online shop. In addition to selling their small-batch Sambals, they curate a selection of cookbooks, kitchen tools and specialty foods from fellow women makers. Seasonal tingkats, home-cooked meals and snacks (from pillowy dumplings and curry puffs to kaya coconut jams), are available for pre-order by email subscription and quickly sell out.
As much as possible, Ong and Lau source local ingredients and have forged connections with BIPOC farmers through nonprofits such as Growing Gardens and Outgrowing Hunger. For them, food is more than sustenance. “As a business, we look for opportunities to flex our dollars in a way that can help others,” said Lau. “We try to do good through our food wherever we can.”
740 NW 23RD AVE.