Razif Hashim shakes his head when asked about the “crazy” thing he has gotten himself into. It is still a form of production, but instead of theatre or film, he is operating machines that manufacture tortillas. While this entreprenuerial pursuit appears removed from entertainment, two decades of acting experience keep him on course and, of course, he has his wits about him.
“I’m grateful and blessed this is not that much different from making a movie. When you are in a production, coordination is key: Ensuring you have everything right, at the right time, is absolutely crucial. I’ve had 20 years of practice doing theatre, TV and digital recordings, and that has really helped ease the process for me. It’s not like I couldn’t imagine a lot of hard work, coordinating and making sure things work out,” says the managing director of My Mex Food Industries.
“I’ve worked in front of the camera, watched enough people do it and also done it myself behind the scenes. So, it wasn’t like the idea itself — food manufacturing and the processes, understanding the concept of halal, how to keep things hygienic, what not to cross-contaminate — is new.”
The brand is. It aims to offer affordable and authentic Mexican food products that consumers can top off with local favourites and create dishes made in Malaysia but inspired by Mexico, adds Razif, host of Best in the World, an Asia Food Channel series that ran for five years.
He founded My Mex with Israel Rovirosa of Olmec Pte Ltd in Bali, a supplier of Mexican food, and two other partners. Mexican-born Israel has been operating in Indonesia for about 14 years and sees Malaysia as a place that could work. “We had been talking about this for many years, over many ‘haha’ conversations. But I was busy with many things, such as Wayang Kitchen [which Razif started with two creatives in 2019 to serve edible theatre-inspired by food].
“It wasn’t until the pandemic that I realised I wanted to build something more sustainable for the future. Food is an essential service that can run regardless … unless there’s a zombie apocalypse and everything shuts down. The opportunity was there, so we explored it and made it happen. Finally, we launched in February.”
Razif is convinced the time is right to bring corn tortillas to Malaysian tables, as well as shells, chips and raw Masa dough for crafting empañadas and tamales. These products are gluten-free, vegan-friendly and devoid of preservatives, and provide an alternative to mass-produced tortillas by focusing on sustainability, quality and corn sourced locally.
My Mex’s core product is frozen tortillas, which it supplies to restaurants only for now and solely in the Klang Valley. It is not ready for business-to-consumer distribution yet, although those interested can place orders via Instagram @mymexfoods. Meanwhile, Razif is running events and putting his products out at bazaars so “people can get to know us and, from there, hopefully, it will just grow organically”.
Food enthusiasts in the country have increasingly embraced Mexican cuisine, he says. In 2020, he could find only about 80 restaurants serving Mexican cuisine. That number has risen to about 130 and he credits Netflix’s Taco Chronicles and culinary YouTubers for introducing locals to a variety of Latino flavours, from tacos and nachos to enchiladas, tamales and more.
“Interest is growing and we’re trying to understand more about Mexican food ... Taco Bell is here as well; I’m sure they did their research. I think we are finally at the stage where people are saying,
‘Ok, let’s explore South American food.’”
There is much to discover with corn or flour tortillas, the equivalent of rice in Malaysia, eaten with different fillings, dips and sauces in Mexican homes. Mothers often send their children to the corner tortilleria to pick up pieces of the flatbread, which are then loaded with shredded meat, sauces, cheese, avocado, guacamole or peas for the main meal.
Razif himself has always had a very strong affiliation to all things Hispanic. “My two sisters and I grew up watching a lot of Mexican stuff. I don’t know why … It just happened to be there on VHS and we were always fascinated by The Three Caballeros, to be exact. [The 1944 Disney animated and live-action hybrid starring Donald Duck and his co-stars, José Carioca from Brazil and Panchito Pistoles from Mexico, whisks viewers to both countries.]
“Then my sister got married to a Mexican and she was in this Hispanic/Latino community in Bali, which was how Israel and I got to know each other over the years.”
Four months into operations at My Mex’s factory in Bandar Sri Damansara, Selangor, Razif has been plunging his hands into more than dough. “I go out to the field to get the corn and wash them when we come back. We grind, cook, fry the tortillas ourselves and even bag the items. We don’t have a lot of fancy machinery to cut the tortilla chips. We still do it by hand, so it’s quite artisanal.”
Off the factory floor, he has learnt about running the business, which includes import and export of machines and tortillas, respectively. He takes care of governance, paperwork and sales, listens to what the market wants, then adjusts Rovirosa’s recipes accordingly. “As producers of tortillas, we provide a base for people to put their stuff on and enjoy. We want to focus on delivering the best base we can.”
Razif associates food with emotions and considers both inseparable. A good meal becomes a memory and people can evoke emotions from that experience.
It is the odd Malaysian who can talk about memories of tortillas. “What we’re doing is help people make memories by understanding what a corn tortilla is.”
Mexican customers in Malaysia say that tasting My Mex products brings back fond childhood memories of being sent to the store to buy tortillas for the family’s dinner. “It was almost impossible to get this kind of product here until recently — tortillas made with corn and water, with a strong corn taste and no preservatives. Nothing crazy,” he adds.
This article first appeared on Aug 14, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.