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Besides her passion for acting, pint-sized actress Sharifah Amani has a huge penchant for spicy food too.
WHEN you are introduced to the diminutive, youthful actress Sharifah Amani Syed Zainal Rashid Al-Yahya, your first impression, more likely than not, would be that she’s sugar and spice and everything nice.
But it doesn’t take long to discern a steely resolve under all that cuteness. Amani has a mind of her own. In fact, she can be like a cili padi, all fiery and hot.
Amani took the local entertainment scene by storm when she won the Most Promising Actress award at the 2005 Festival Filem Malaysia for her maiden role in the late Yasmin Ahmad’s movie, Sepet. A year later, she proved her success was no flash in the pan when she emerged Best Actress for her role in Gubra, also directed by Yasmin Ahmad.
Since then, the petite actress has become a household name and made her presence felt in theatre and television as well. Last year, she even tried her hands at directing and producing her own short film.
“I don’t want to be pigeonholed,” she says. “I’m picky when it comes to selecting my roles and scripts. I’m currently acting in a Japanese movie that’s being shot in Malaysia and filming a 20-episode drama series for TV3.”
In spite of her hectic schedule, the versatile actress enjoys dining out with her family whenever time permits. Their favourite haunt at the moment is The Tranquerah, a new Malacca-Nyonya restaurant that’s co-owned by her Gubra co-star, Alan Yun.
Admiring the outlet’s rustic setting, Amani gives the thumbs-up to to the numerous decorative touches that give the place a certain old world charm: the old wooden doors and window shutters mounted on the ceiling, the feature wall adorned with batik print moulds, and the collection oil lamps, soft drink bottles, biscuit tins, gunny sacks of dried spices and framed black-and-white prints.
“I love the Ikan Cincaru Sumbat! The fried hardtail scad stuffed with spiced chilli paste is really sedap (tasty) but mama’s ikan sumbat cili remains the best!” Amani enthuses.
She even shows me how she prefers to eat it. “I must strip off the edges and nibble on these first before I move on the meaty sambal-filled part. My other favourites are Kerabu Bendi (blanched ladies fingers with ground chilli) and Sambal Belacan (pounded chilli and shrimp paste dip).
“Whenever my family dines here, we’d order the Ayam Buah Keluak – braised chicken with black nuts from the Pangium edule tree. Mama would scoop out the buah keluak’s dark filling to savour its unique taste,” she tells me.
As we sample the house specialities of Gerang Asam Fish (fish in spicy tamarind broth), Nyonya Curry Chicken, Deep-fried Crispy Sotong, Sambal Udang Petai (stir-fried prawns and stink beans with ground spices) and Mee Siam (mildly spicy fried rice vermicelli), Alan Yun, who is hosting us, points out that the entire menu is conceived by veteran Nyonya chef Florence Tan.
“Our food is MSG-free, and we’re one of the few Malaccan Nyonya restaurants in Klang Valley,” says Yun. “So far the feedback has been good.”
I ask Amani how she maintains her trim figure since it’s evident she has quite an appetite.
“I’m lucky I can eat whatever I want without putting on weight,” she says. “I really like spicy and sour food.”
Not surprisingly, the busy 25-year old entertainer rarely has time to cook.
“Traditionally all the women in our family are supposed to master my paternal grandmother’s ayam golek recipe for Hari Raya. Mama and my two sisters have already learned to cook it but I’ve been so caught up with work this year, I never got around to learning it.
“The dish requires so much preparation that it’s literally a labour of love. When we return to Kedah for Hari Raya, everyone would attack this dish first. It’s interesting to note how each family has interpreted it in their own way. Of course, nobody can cook it better than grandma,” she stresses.
When bowls of Cendol, Ice Kacang and Bubur Cha Cha appear as we conclude the meal, Amani confesses to having a weakness for sweet treats like tiramisu and crème brulee.
“I cried buckets when my favourite eatery in Bangsar which served the most divine tiramisu closed down!” she says wistfully. “Now I’ve to console myself with Alexis Bistro’s pavlova and Kokopelli’s crème brulee, which has a nice crackling burnt sugary crust on top.”
Before we part, Amani states emphatically, “It’s important to find out what you like to do in life. I’m so blessed I enjoy what I’m doing, and I plan to continue acting, directing and exploring different aspects of film production as long as possible.”
There is no doubt in my mind that Amani’s star will continue to shine for many years to come.