There’s a new Malaysian food option for those seeking the Southeast Asian cuisine. Pandan Skies, from founder and Malaysian native Annette Roman Vermani, is now operating for takeout pickups on Thursdays in the Circle C Ranch neighborhood, with orders placed through Facebook and Instagram.
Through Pandan Skies, Vermani often offers nasi lemak, a common creamy Malaysian breakfast dish where rice is cooked in coconut milk, accompanied by a fried egg, cucumber slices, a spicy house-made sambal, and peanuts. As an add-on, there’s the curried chicken rendang, where the poultry is cooked with lemongrass, a citrusy, piney galangal, and turmeric paste. She has also sold banana fritters, blue rice cooked in blue pea flower (which creates the bright hue) and lemongrass paired with vegetable curry; fried rice with brussels sprouts; and kueh lapis (a colorful layered rice pudding). Another newer offering is the black pepper chicken, and she plans on making chicken satay soon, too.
Before starting Pandan Skies, Vermani worked as a flight attendant for several years at Malaysian Airlines, when she moved to Hong Kong to join Cathay Pacific Airways, which is where she met her husband. That’s when she started developing her recipes, because she wanted to explore and share the flavors of her Southeast Asian home country with others, dishes she deeply missed. However, when the family relocated to New York, her cooking had to pause because they had a small kitchen. It was when they moved to Austin — with a larger kitchen — that she was finally able to cook more.
Vermani started off by making nasi lemak for friends. “After plenty of hits and misses and potlucks and feedback,” she says, “I felt I had achieved the flavor I had set out to achieve.” She didn’t intend on launching a business originally. On a whim, as schools closed in March and people began to stay home because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, she posted on her neighborhood Facebook group that she was selling house-made banana fritters. Later on, she followed that with another post offering nasi lemak. “People in the neighborhood had never had Malaysian food, and were intrigued,” she says.
After a few months of increasing sales, she started her own dedicated Facebook page in early May. While discussing potential names with her husband, they came up with Pandan Skies, a reference to Monet’s Vanilla Sky. “The pandan plant is used a lot in Asian cooking,” says Vermani. “It’s got this lovely beautiful fragrance and is known as the ‘vanilla of the East.’”
Since then, Vermani has expanded her dish offerings, and will continue to do so as she tinkers with recipes and listens to customer feedback. Pandan Skies has drawn customers from all over the city outside of the Circle C Ranch area, fueled by social media. At some point, Vermani would love to be able to open a food truck. “Nothing bigger,” though, she says. “I don’t want the end result to lose its novelty.”
Vermani shares the week’s menu on her Facebook and Instagram pages every Tuesday, and people place their orders placed in the comments or through direct messages. Payments are made through Venmo, and orders are available for pickup in Circle C on Thursdays, usually in the evening between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.