KUALA LUMPUR: The musically-inclined Soliano family, household names among Malaysians for generations, are singing a different tune these days.
With most live performances grinding to a halt because of Covid-19, this talented family of singers and musicians are churning out another kind of music for the soul – food!
Operating from their home in Bangsar, brothers Daniel, Dado and Don are getting standing ovations for their charcoal-fired hawker fare that is leaving many a customer drooling for more.
In their garden, a huge wok settles grandly on hot charcoals as the cook deftly tosses fresh ingredients – eggs, crisp croutons of pork lard, fresh prawns, juicy cockles, slices of Chinese sausage and a generous portion of flat rice noodles – to serve up a lip-smacking plate of authentic Penang-style char kway teow in “wok hei” perfection.
A plate so good, there is barely any guilt in confessing it is better than what Penang has to offer. How could this be?
This hardworking team of six call themselves Don Char. The chefs are the Soliano brothers, Daniel Soliano Guerzo, Don Alfonso, Diosdado “Dado” Soliano Guerzo.
Lending a helping hand are the three “char bosses” overseeing the entire operation – Audrey Soliano, Vianne Tai and Joy Shavini Victor.
Don Char began humbly enough in Langkawi where Don, a full-time bass player then, used to unwind by indulging in his second love – cooking char kway teow. He was the official cook at family gatherings.
“It began with our first Christmas bazaar in 2008 when I cooked for my family and the Pulau Langkawi folk. It was called Perdana Char Kway Teow because I was living in an apartment called the Perdana Beach Resort,” Don says.
While he cooked up a storm, Joy and Vianne would bring the house down singing their own version of the Pussycat Dolls’s Don’t Cha: “Don’t cha wish your kway teow was hot like me” and the name Don Char stuck.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic put a somewhat nasty spin on things and when the Movement Control Order brought their daily jobs as musicians to an end, the family decided it was the time to revive Don Char.
“We began by selling it to our family because, after all, they are our biggest critics. Their response was encouraging so we branched out to our personal social media followers and from there we expanded to the mass market,” said Joy.
Don admits that the whole exercise was rather nerve-wracking at first because people knew them as performers, not cooks.
Don Char began with Don and his signature char kway teow, followed by Dado’s delicious chicken wings and for the final punch, Daniel’s speciality, baked fish with chilli.
Cooked over a charcoal fire, the chicken wings are a definite must-try. Dado’s secret marinade checks all the boxes for taste and texture, and the tender meat just begs for a second bite.
The baked fish is an equally big hit, and for those afraid of spice, don’t be. The chilli coating may seem menacing but looks can be deceiving. It’s actually not overpowering in the least but delivers a sweet-sour flavour that works so well with seafood.
Got your gastric juices churning? A word of caution – save your hunger for Fridays and Saturdays only as Don Char does not operate daily. Sometimes, not even weekly. But there’s a good reason why.
“It’s a pretty huge team and all of us have different schedules so we can only operate twice a month.
“We decided to sell on one working day, which is Friday, in order to give office folk the chance to enjoy our food during office hours or to have the food sent to their office,” Joy explains, adding that Saturdays are perfect for those who wish to eat in with the family.
The response to Don Char so far has been overwhelming, says a clearly elated Joy, who adds that music and food share one similarity – everything has to fall into place organically to achieve a memorable effect.
But what sets Don Char apart from other hawker fare? Hands down, the charcoal fire, which Joy believes lends a certain aroma to all three dishes.
Don Char can also be counted on for fresh ingredients as the Solianos regularly do their marketing for fresh seafood in Kuala Selangor.
Laughter is loudest where the food is best and this couldn’t be any truer than at Don Char’s.
Along with the heady aroma of chicken wings roasting on the fire and the clink-clank of flat rice noodles being stir-fried in the wok, there’s a light-hearted stream of laughter and jokes traded among the Solianos, besides singing and strains of music in the air which truth be told, helps deliver that secret ingredient to any tasty dish – love.
The next time you have a craving for hawker fare, place your orders via WhatsApp at (011) 1163 5366 or check out Don Char’s Facebook page for updates.
You can either collect your orders yourself at the gate or have the food delivered to your address – the choice is yours. Happy eating, everyone!