Unlike most 25-year-olds who would usually be spending their Friday nights out, Linda Sik is often playing chef – or more realistically sous chef – in her kitchen at home meal prepping for Saturday mornings.
But in this case, it’s not meal prepping in the way gym junkies would refer to it. It’s more like meal prepping to get up at 5.30am the next morning to setup her market stall at the Kings Cross Farmer’s Market.
Joy Oi – which is a play on words of a Vietnamese phrase that means ‘Oh my god’ that can be used to either express despair or complete joy, depending on the context – is an Asian-Mexican food stall that was started three years ago by Sik’s older brother Michael, and his friend and business partner, Daniel. Following a trip to the US where they discovered Korean-infused Mexican food trucks, they were inspired to bring the concept to Sydney.
Sik said they both had a vision to one day turn the market stall, which was only meant to be a testing ground for feedback, into a small bar. She said that dream is still a work in progress.
“At one stage they held a pop-up picnic inviting 50 of their closet family and friends where they received some really honest feedback and because of that the menu has improved since,” she said.
Joy Oi now specialises in serving up an array of fusion tacos, including lemongrass chicken, turmeric chicken, spicy pork, and Korean BBQ beef, as well as their sell-out, six-hour pulled pork and egg breakfast burrito.
But with Michael and Daniel having recently become preoccupied with their own wedding plans and their full-time jobs, Sik and her mum have taken over reins to keep the stall running. Sik, who by day is in events, said she does it mainly because she enjoys the change of pace.
“I find it fun because I get to socialise with new and regular customers, and I don’t mind cooking at all. I particularly enjoy it because I’m able to present the food nicely, and so we always try to do that when we plate up the food at Joy Oi,” she said.
Between the two siblings, food has also been a common interest growing up, mainly driven by their own intrigue to explore, try, and experiment with new flavours.
“Before all of this, my brother use to experiment a lot, while I was his sous chef. He use to make 24-hour steak, and every time we had a public holiday we’d have a spit roast,” she says.
“We’d make Indonesian style suckling pig known as babi guling or Argentinian lamb spit roast, and I’d help him make everything from scratch. It turned out well every time.”
Although the real chef and influence behind Joy Oi, Sik reluctantly admitted, is her mum, a recent retiree who “has time to boss [her] around in the kitchen”. Growing up, Sik recalls her mum would either be trying to mix Asian with western cooking, or taking them out to eat new food.
Sik said the most rewarding part so far of running the stall has been hearing the feedback from customers, and actually taking it on board, pointing that regulars have nicknamed the kimchi and cheese stuffed quesadilla “kimcheezy”.
“We’ve met a lot of other business owners and they’ve given us genuine input. They are also always interested to know about our background, and how we came up with the ideas. Others, even some that work in the food industry, would give us great tips and advice.”