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[InC-terview] Ili Sulaiman Talks About "By The Sea with Ili"

By Freddy  /  03 Nov 2016 (Thursday)

Being a Food Hero is certainly no easy feat. After meeting Ili Sulaiman, it is clear why she emerged victorious. While her cooking skills need not be doubted, her ceaseless smile, infectious energy, and down-to-earth personality make her an ideal TV personality. Besides hosting a variety of shows on Asian Food Channel, she has also founded a food delivery service, Dish by Ili, and her restaurant, Agak Agak.

Ili will be hosting a brand new show, By The Sea with Ili, in which she travels to exotic cities in Southeast Asia. She not only learns about and tastes the local seafood dishes, but also incorporates local ingredients and cooking methods into her own cooking by the sea.

We speak to Ili about the sea, sightseeing, seafood, and what she has learnt from the show.

By The Sea with Ili premieres on Thursday, 10 November 2016 at 10.00pm on Asian Food Channel (Starhub Ch 435) 

Photo credit: Asian Food Channel

InCinemas: Hi Ili, please tell us about yourself.
Ili: I’m Ili Sulaiman. I’m from Malaysia and I won Food Hero 2015. So I’m part of the Scripps Network Interactive talent pool. Since I won last year, I have had three digital webseries that are available online: Taste of Home, Home-Cooked Asia, and the last one I’ve just shot, which is By The Sea with Ili, that’s coming up on the 10th November at 10pm. It’s on Thursday on Asian Food Channel.

InCinemas: Why should people watch By The Sea with Ili?
Ili: First and foremost, I don’t think there is any show quite like it that’s ever been on Asian Food Channel. So it’s by the sea; it’s seafood; it’s the beach; it’s beautiful scenery; it’s amazing people that live in their element. So it’s like stories about local people; it’s stories about food. It’s stories that if you are a sea person and you love the beach and you want to go on a holiday, it’s perfect. So in a nutshell, that’s what the show is about: beautiful sceneries, great food, great people.

Photo credit: Asian Food Channel

InCinemas: Are you a sea person?
Ili: Yeah, totally. My mom calls me a beach bum. Surprisingly, though, I learnt how to swim in the ocean. So I didn’t learn how to swim in the pool, I learnt how to swim in the ocean. So I have to go to the beach at least once every 2-3 months. So naturally it’s like a place of comfort for me. Everything about the sound of the ocean, the seafood, the sunshine, the coconut water, you know.

And there’s something about the locals that live by the sea. They’re very rooted in their culture. They’re very rooted in the way they live. And that’s what the show is about as well. It’s about highlighting these really fascinating people, unique seafood that they eat in their daily lives, and me indulging in that with them.

InCinemas: In the show, you get to travel, eat the local food, cook, and you also interact with the locals. So which is your favourite part?
Ili: Why do you always have to pick one? Okay, I would say… (thinking) I would say the people. Definitely. I think the people make the place, the people make the food, right? So it’s like it’s the binding ingredient. You could go to a beautiful place, but if you don’t have someone there to tell you about the place, or share their experience with yourself, then it doesn’t become as much fun or as beautiful as you imagine it to be. I would definitely say the people definitely made the trip a little more special for me.

Photo credit: Asian Food Channel

InCinemas: So you visited five different cities in the show, right? Which one would you recommend for people to visit?
Ili: Actually all the different cities are unique in their own way. So like Vietnam is very untouched, especially in the two cities I went to. One is like old school Peranakan, which I never thought existed in Vietnam. Like, would you think Peranakan existed in Vietnam? No, right? And then there’s also the very raw part of Vietnam, which is the island. A beautiful island, very quaint little town with quaint people and that’s where I went sea urchin hunting. So that’s pretty cool. Like I dived with the person who has been doing it for 20-30 years, almost all his life. He didn’t speak a word of English. But we could communicate because we love the ocean, we love seafood, right?

And then you have Thailand and Phuket. And there’s a lot of history and culture and tradition embedded in that. And then I went octopus hunting there. That’s pretty cool, too. Who goes octopus hunting? I did. (laughs) You know? And then like Trengganu. Obviously, I’m Malaysian. So it was eye-opening for me to see that part of Malaysia that I never got to understand or never got to dive into. And, you know, it’s really untouched. It’s like you’re going back in time, like this is how my grandfather used to live, my grandmother used to live. You could see it, you know? It’s like flashback history.

So to tell you the truth, I really couldn’t pick one because they all gave me different feelings, different experiences.

InCinemas: This show is all about seafood. So how much do you love seafood?
Ili: I love seafood so much. So when I talk to some people, you know, through the journey, right. Especially the people that came on the show. A lot of them eat seafood at least three or four times a day. So they would eat two types of dishes that had seafood in them.

And then when I went back and I reflected on the trip, I realise that I eat, we all eat seafood. We have belachan, we have fish sauce, you know, these are all considered seafood as well, in our food. So technically even though we live in the city, we still eat seafood. And why is that? It’s because it’s one of the most tastiest source of protein, I feel, and it’s so vast. You know, you have fish, you have clams, you have octopus, you have prawns, you have big prawns, you know? It’s like never ending and there are so many ways of eating it.: preserved, pickled, fermented, in a sauce, in a cake, in a fishball. So it’s like it just goes on and on and on. So I love seafood.

InCinemas: What have you learnt throughout the show? What’s your biggest takeaway?
Ili: That we really need to look after our seas. That there are people who live by the ocean, that live by the sea, and they don’t know anything else, right. So it is something that people need to go and witness and experience themselves to have a better understanding, to then have a better respect about the way these people live. Because if the sea and the ocean, if we don’t have an appreciation for it, it’s not just the sea life. But it’s also the people that live and rely on this resource that will be affected, right? That’s one.

Also, the second thing, the biggest takeaway is how beautiful Asia is. It is like breathtakingly beautiful, like you know. Even when it’s like sunny or really hot and 38 degrees and I’m cooking outdoors and I’m literally bathing and my prawns are turning orange (laughs) and I’m like, “Quickly! Faster. Ili, faster.” So like when it starts raining, like the monsoon rain that we get here, like torrential rain, it suddenly becomes so romantic, right? I think you can only get that in this part in the world. And that’s the beauty of being Asian, right? We get to indulge in this, and we should. We should give it the respect it needs.
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