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How A Malaysian Girl Is Making It Big In The US With Her Penang-Style Hawker Stand

Azalina Eusope, who grew up in poverty on the streets of Malaysia, the child of street food vendors, doesn't get much sleep — two hours is par, five is a luxury reserved for Saturdays.

Cover image via La Cocina

Meet Azalina Eusope. She is a San Francisco-based street vendor who works 18 to 20 hours a day, serving up delicious Malaysian dishes from her Penang-style hawker stand.

Azalina Eusope at La Cocina

Image via sfweekly.com

Azalina Eusope is actually a fifth-generation street vendor, and she comes from Penang. Although, she grew up around cooking and street food, she yearned to become a doctor, and only later, after meeting her husband and moving to San Francisco, did she pick up cooking again as a way to cure her homesickness.

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She fled Malaysia at the tender age of 15 to escape poverty and ended up in the States. Years later, she borrowed USD500 to re-enter the family business in San Francisco.

Image via wordpress.com

She founded Azalina’s, a Malaysian food business, in 2010 as a food truck, and since then has become a thriving catering business with a line of sauces carried at Whole Foods.

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This year, Azalina is taking her business to the next level, with her first brick-and-mortar restaurant (in the Twitter building, also known as Market Square), as well as a 15,000 square foot kitchen (with ovens shipped from Malaysia!) and an urban hydroponic garden to supply the herbs for her food.

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Azalina was raised by her "coconut rice grandmother," so called due to her "exquisite coconut rice, flavoured with tons of spices, dried fruit and fresh nuts"

Her grandmother’s workdays started at 2 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m., during which she mumbled to herself a lot. After making and packing rice in the early morning, she shooed her 10 grandchildren off to school, sold herbs, rice and curry out of a little shack, and then, with a full basket on her head, walked from village to village selling rice.

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Azalina described her “lush, green, beautiful village” as a place of “delicious memories spending time with my family surrounded by food, ritual, cultural celebration, my pets and our spice farm.”

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Over time, word got out about her home-cooked meals, and her hobby eventually turned into a business. Bon Appetit magazine named Azalina one of "10 Top Upcoming Chefs" for 2010.

Image via rentnema.com

She was also honored by Women’s Initiative for Self Improvement for being an “Enterprising Woman on the Rise” in 2012.

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Azalina is on the precipice of huge success, and it's a far cry from her childhood in Malaysia. But success doesn't come easy, and she doesn't get much sleep either.

Image via blogspot.com

She has two employees and two kids, and works tirelessly with husband Tim at her side.

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Azalina expresses her love for San Francisco:

"I lived and worked in about six different countries. It’s just so different here. I can see how people do things and the whole mentality is different in a way. It’s exciting, and it makes you think in a new and creative way. I’m glad I came to San Francisco."

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"It is the only place I have lived in the U.S., and San Francisco is such a romantic place. For people like me who grew up in a village, we see advertisements or movies and it just seems so romantic. It’s a really beautiful place."

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When asked how common it was for a woman from her caste to escape that sub-community and accomplish something like she'd accomplished, she answered enigmatically:

Image via darkrye.com

“The only person that can break you is you.”

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She caters, teaches cooking classes, has 12 products available at Whole Foods Market, and she even catered an event with her signature Malaysian street food for President Barack Obama

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That’s quite a path for a woman who as a little girl dreamt big dreams beneath the stars, guided by spices.

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Whole Foods' one-year-old online magazine Dark Rye just made a pretty little video profiling Azalina Eusope. WATCH:

Footnote: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated about caste system and tribes in Penang. We apologise for overlooking it, and thank our readers for bringing it up to us.