A Taste of Home: Revathy Palakastin of Dubai’s Gaia on Her Favourite Malaysian Dishes

Chef Revathy Palakastin, Head Chef at Gaia

Greek-Mediterranean restaurant Gaia is based in Dubai

Palakastin attributes her success to her parents, who raised her in Kota Tinggi, Johor

Revathy Palakastin and the team at Gaia

The Johor-born head chef shares what she misses most about home

Having been based in Dubai for the last decade, Revathy Palakastin has worked at some of the city’s best restaurants, eventually being appointed as head chef at Greek-Mediterranean restaurant Gaia in 2020. Palakastin attributes her success to her parents, who raised her in Kota Tinggi, Johor.

The talented chef studied culinary arts in UOW Malaysia KDU Penang University College before moving to Germany for an internship. She then began her career at Shangri-La Singapore before landing in Dubai. While Palakastin often misses home, she considers Dubai her home away from home due to the supportive community that surrounds her.

What do you miss most on the food and drinks front?

What I miss the most is my mum’s cooking — she is one of the best cooks I know. However, I also miss chicken rice and mee pok from the hawker centres due to how simple yet complex the dishes are. I love how at hawker centres you’re spoilt for choice and can have three or four different kinds of cuisine in the same place. Living in Kota Tinggi where I am from, we only have a small hawker centre but the uncles and aunties who run the stalls never disappoint.

What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?

The first thing I go for is economy bihun, which is simply bihun and spicy sauce. To me, the spicier the better! My mum also makes an amazing bihun goreng at home — she’s such a great cook which limits my need to go out to eat.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in Malaysia? 

We’re so spoiled for choice with the widespread selection we have in Malaysia that I don’t have a favourite restaurant. However, I’m keen to try some of the top restaurants I haven’t yet visited like Dewakan and Nadodi, which have contributed greatly to the Malaysian food scene.

If you have guests visiting from abroad, where would you take them to give them a real taste of Malaysia?

I’d first let my guests try my mum’s cooking, then bring them on a hawker spree to experience the different Chinese dishes. Next, I’d bring them to a nasi kandar to show them the different kinds of gravy and side dishes that can be eaten. Coming from Johor, I’d definitely bring them to Restoran Todak, a famous seafood restaurant, to show them the diversity of seafood we have. Driving to Penang to eat is also a must.

Do you stock up on any Malaysian ingredients or packaged foods when flying back to Dubai? 

One thing I always stock up on is ikan bilis! My mum sends me cleaned and dried ikan bilis that I can store for months in my freezer.

Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home in Dubai?

In all honesty, the flavours of Malaysia have not yet been captured in Dubai. There are not many places I go to, as knowing the true taste of Malaysian food makes it difficult to settle for anything less.

Tell us about working at Gaia

Working at Gaia is an experience I will value all my life. I have not just honed my skills as a chef but also grown as a person. The people I have met on my journey at Gaia are individuals that will be in my life forever.

When I was announced as head chef, I had no idea how I was going to live up to the role. However, I persisted courageously when I made mistakes, and am blessed to share this space with a team that is great at what they do. The dynamic and shared energy is great as all of us cook with love and passion.

What are your plans for the future? 

I want to cook with ingredients that bring back memories of my childhood while also incorporating the flavours I have tried during my travels. I aim to produce dishes that are uniquely mine, cooked with love.

In your experience, which Malaysian dish has been the best received in Dubai? 

Nasi lemak and roti canai! More and more Malaysian chefs are starting to cook boldly with Malaysian ingredients in Dubai, which is definitely something to be proud of.


16 October 2022


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