Ili Sulaiman on her latest venture, a hotpot & grill delivery biz, and what’s next for her
Click Here to view full article
In my opinion, steamboats, or hotpots, are the pinnacle of comfort food to be shared with loved ones. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I grew up eating it once a year on Chinese New Year Eve, during what we call the Reunion Dinner.
Sadly, due to hygiene-related concerns during the pandemic, steamboats became a rare sight. On top of that, the MCOs pretty much rendered hotpot restaurants inaccessible.
However, crises often breed new creations, and that’s exactly what the pandemic did for countless industries.
One such creation was Ili Pot. Founded during the second MCO, the steamboat and grill delivery brand was the brainchild of Ili Sulaiman, a Malaysian television presenter and celebrity chef.
“The inspiration for steamboat and grill in a bag was due to everyone being isolated in their homes and away from family,” Ili shared. “We wanted to create a service that was all-encompassing, which makes you feel special and excited.”
Focusing on the idea of “all-encompassing”, Ili Pot has created bundles that include all the necessary products to prepare a steamboat. This includes pots, burners, ladles, tablecloths, and even rubbish bags.
Ili Sulaiman is no stranger to culinary entrepreneurship. In fact, she had left her corporate desk job to pursue a career in F&B.
While some may recognise her as a food influencer today, she was also the personality who hosted TV shows such as “Diary Mangkuk Tingkat Bersama Ili”, “Home Cooked: Malaysia”, “Family Feast with Ili”, and more, which resulted in her earning the Asia Food Channel’s Food Asia Hero title in 2015.
But even with her expertise in the field, starting a whole new brand is not easy. Yet, Ili decided to take the risk with Ili Pot.
“There was an opportunity for me to develop another brand which also speaks to my culture and heritage,” she pointed out. “I really feel that in order for me to be a successful entrepreneur and personality, I need to push myself to grow in all aspects of this journey.”
Catering to the Malaysian tongue
Inspired by multi-ethnic Malaysia, Ili’s food also draws upon her Chinese, English, Malay, and Sri Lankan heritage. Ili Pot, for instance, comes from her Chinese background.
When developing the dishes for the steamboat brand, Ili said she was very particular about creating flavours that reflect Malaysian palates.
“We wanted to pay homage to what we love,” she explained. “For example, our Tom Yam soup is not a Thai Tom Yam soup—it’s a Malaysian Tom Yam Soup. Our Miso has cili padi and hints of garlic in it.”
Something else Ili wanted to incorporate from Chinese culture is the “abundance of quality ingredients”. As such, Ili Pot’s products come with a variety of premium ingredients such as prawns, salmon, New Zealand lamb, Wagyu, scallops, and more.
“We do not skimp on our produce,” she said. “Because our customers deserve the best.”
While Ili’s original idea was focused on just steamboats, she decided to add grills because of her father’s comment: “Why no grill?”
Thanks to her dad’s wisdom, Ili Pot now offers grill sets which now make up 50% of the business.
Ili Pot offers five different types of steamboat sets, five grill sets, and three “Jamuan” or feast combos that include both.
The biggest set feeds up to 10 pax. At a price of RM290, it comes with beef slices, lamb slices, chicken slices, duck breast, king prawn, fish balls, meatballs, prawn paste, fucuk, vegetables, noodles, rice, dipping sauce, and more.
Customers can opt to order their sets with pots and grills for an additional fee. Soup bases include Creamy Chicken Garlic, Pho-Dap, Thom Yum!, Korean Jiggae, Thai Lemongrass, Mi So Spicy, Suki-Yummy, and Laksa-Mana.
Adding flavour and value
It took Ili and her team three months to launch the brand. Due to the restrictions, she and her partners were working remotely at the time and had to send samples of everything from the pots to the marinades via courier services.
Once the company was incorporated, though, they were able to lock down a venue for Ili Pot’s central kitchen.
Clearly, a lot of work and preparation has gone into Ili Pot, and it’s undoubtedly a convenient way to enjoy steamboats and grills. But for those who have the appropriate resources, it isn’t hard to source all the necessary ingredients for a hotpot yourself.
However, Ili believes that not everyone has the time to even think about going to the grocery store and buying all the necessary products. Plus, people may oftentimes buy too much or too little of certain ingredients.
“We have designed our sets to cater to the exact number of people and best of all, you just click, click, pay, and it’s delivered within the hour,” Ili said.
“We understand the product is easy to recreate at home but you’d rather spend that time with your family and friends. And we just deliver everything to you and you can unbox it with your loved ones and enjoy steamboat and grill with them.”
Ili Pot also sources fresh produce from importers and local producers on a daily basis, which means that the quality of its ingredients may even trump the ones that you might find in stores.