Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
“The best thing since…” Sliced Bread is all about celebrating the hospitality industry’s new kids on the block, giving credit to those who have innovated, seized opportunities, changed the game, and overall just won. This Twisted franchise will shout about the unsung heroes of the food world; those who have staked their claims and made an impact, whether it’s because of incredible marketing, selfless action or simply their delicious food. If you don’t know them, you should…
Let us introduce you to Two Hot Asians – the hot sauce connoisseurs setting everyone’s lips ablaze.
Emily Yeoh, 42, and Ana Da Costa, 32, started their condiment business in lockdown, when, like many, Ana made the bold move to quit her day-job in operations, and Emily, who works as a freelance PR, decided to join her for the ride.
Offering up Chinese XO sauce and Malaysian Sambal made lovingly from their homes, the pair are adamant their condiments are “the only hot sauces you need in your life”.
Sure enough, following their launch in 2021, it’s clear that many agreed, and it wasn’t long before their sauces became a hot topic on London’s food scene.
What sets them apart? For one, undeniably, authentic flavours; but also a common goal. Their mission isn’t just to create a damn good sauce, it’s to preserve a legacy.
“I was born in Macau,” Ana says, during an exclusive chat with Twisted, “and everything I can remember from being back home is being surrounded by food”.
Growing up with a Portuguese father, Gabriel Da Costa, and a Chinese mother, Mei Teng, Ana recalls just how important meal times were to her family.
“My dad never spoke Cantonese or Mandarin,” she explains. “So whenever we went to visit my mum’s family, the only memories I have of the full family sitting together would be around a meal, because eating was almost like an international language, you know?
“They couldn’t understand him and he couldn’t understand them, but we would just be sitting eating Chinese food, which was lovely.”
One of the family’s favourite things to eat was Mei Teng’s XO sauce, which would regularly be used as a dip, or incorporated into Portuguese and Chinese dishes, like stir fries, dumplings and fried rice.
A sauce which originates from Hong Kong, it typically offers a lip-smacking hit of umami, and is made of chilli and “all the best stuff from the sea”.
“[A lot of Cantonese families] have a recipe for it, because you can buy XO sauce in the shops, but it’s not always good,” Ana says. “The best ones need loads of dried scallops and shrimp. That’s what makes it luxurious and extra special.
“So, my mum always made it like this, and we always had a jar at home. I loved it”.
The sauce was so special to Ana that when she moved to England in 2008, she begun to smuggle it back every time she returned from family visits, and it became the condiment she would chuck on just about everything, from traditional Chinese dishes to western fare, like eggs and pasta.
The sauce soon became infamous amongst her friends, too, who would ask Ana to sell her a bit whenever she got a new batch.
“At this point, I thought ‘why not make a business out of it?’” she laughs.
Then came Emily, and the rest is history.
The pair met through a friend and hit it off instantly, and like Ana, Emily had a catalogue of food memories she was eager to recreate, and a hot sauce recipe sat at the top of the pile.
“My dad [Eddie Yeoh] was born in Penang, Malaysia, and he’s Chinese-Malay,” Emily says.
“So, my ancestors come from this little village in China somewhere, and my dad travelled the world before he met my mum [Sandra Yeoh], who’s English, and settled in London.”
Emily grew up in Soho’s Chinatown, and still fondly remembers the Eurasian mix of food her parents would serve her, as a result of her mixed heritage.
“My mum and dad both cooked, but my dad spent three years in Germany as a chef before he came here,” she says. “He would even come into my school and cook things. He loved it”.
A Kung Fu instructor and a popular figure in Chinatown’s tight-knit community at the time, Emily recalls him knocking up Hainanese chicken rice and soya marinated chicken when she was young.
But more poignant is the memory she has of her dad preparing his Sambal sauce, which she’d enjoy with noodles, soups, rice, or “just about everything”, really.
“I would have it on my fried eggs on toast in the morning. I would even have it in a tuna mayo sandwich. It was just so addictive,” she says.
Like Ana, Emily became wedded to the idea of recreating the flavours her dad had refined in his Sambal.
The problem was, he always made his sauces freehand, using instinct rather than precise measurements.
Keen not to lose the recipe for the sauce she held dearest, she enlisted him to help her replicate his creation, made with chillies, keffir lime leaves, shrimp paste, ginger and onions.
“I really wanted to do something with it,” she says. “We would talk about it all the time. I’d be like, ‘Come on, let’s’, because my friends would always ask for it.”
Tragically, not long after Emily’s father shared his Sambal recipe, he passed away from cancer. Around the same time, Ana was also dealing with the sudden loss of her dad, Gabriel, following a pulmonary embolism.
Looking back on the loss of their fathers, Emily and Ana acknowledge they bonded over a “shared trauma” and an understanding of each other’s grief, as well as the food memories they both attached to their loved ones – be it Eddie’s instinctive recipes, or the indulgent meals that Ana and Gabriel loved sharing together.
“We were talking about it…still grieving and going through all these emotions together,” Ana says. “And from that, we created this baby.”
“Yeah, we turned it into something positive,” adds Emily, with a smile.
Whilst Two Hot Asians is still a relatively new business, it’s opened up a world of possibilities for Emily and Ana, both of whom also have previous experience working within the food and drink space – Emily via her PR background and Ana due to her time working behind bars, in kitchens and in operations.
They’ve been welcomed into the fold of London’s food scene with open arms, and alongside pop-ups and supper clubs (including those with Supa Ya Ramen and Ling Lings), Emily and Ana are selling two main products: Papa Yeoh’s Sambal (in tribute to Eddie) and Mama Da Costa’s XO Sauce.
“It’s called Mama Da Costa because I wanted to honour both [of my parents],” explains Ana. “Da Costa is my dad’s surname, but also I want to show my mum that I look up to her, because she’s the strongest woman I know.”
Reflecting on the journey they’ve been on, Emily admits: “It can be quite emotional, especially when we first launched and I was making [my dad’s] sauce and he wasn’t around to see it.
“But I know he does see it. It brings back all kinds of emotions: happy memories, and sometimes sad ones. I hope he’s proud”.