After owning an Indonesian restaurant in Melbourne for over two decades, the last thing that Lie Tjoa wanted was to open another venue. But it didn’t take much for her sons, Dion and Michael Sanusi, to convince her.
While Tjoa’s first restaurant was about traditional Indonesian cuisine, Dion and Michael wanted to open a restaurant that would represent them, too. Both born in Australia, they grew up eating Indonesian food, often adding their own touch to the dishes.
“They are proud of Indonesian food, but when they’d bring friends over, they’d often modify the recipes and make them their own,” explains Lie.
Yoi (an Indonesian slang word for “yes”) was born from this desire to remix Indonesian dishes – and introduce the cuisine to a new generation. In the northern part of the CBD, the restaurant is bright and plays popular music from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Post Malone.
You’ll often find Michael minding the front-of-the-house and Dion in the kitchen, while Lie does a bit of everything.
Sauces, sambals and spices
“All the sauces, I usually make them myself in the morning because we don’t want everybody to know how to make them,” says Dion. And that’s because sauces and sambal play a major role at Yoi.
One of their signature dishes is fried chicken glazed in salted egg sauce and served with a fried egg and your choice of rice or noodles. Dion created his own sauce, taking inspiration from the versions popular in Indonesia and Singapore. “We use fresh duck eggs, curry leaves, chilli and other ingredients. It’s a creamy sauce. The chilli is important because duck egg is quite intense – so the spiciness balances it,” he explains.
The gyutan don (stir-fried beef tongue on rice) is another example of fusion done right. The Japanese dish gets the Indonesian treatment with the addition of Balinese sambal matah, made with shallot, lemongrass and chilli.
This sambal is one of the four made in-house. You’ll also find two different red chilli versions and one green chilli sambal.
“They are proud of Indonesian food, but when they’d bring friends over, they’d often modify the recipes and make them their own.”
And while Yoi wants to make Indonesian food more accessible, they don’t compromise on flavour. “Some dishes are spicy, but you need the chilli for colour and texture. We don’t use food colouring or too much sugar. But if you can’t eat spicy [things], we can put the sambal and chilli on the side,” says Lie.
Most spices, like candlenuts and pepper, and ingredients, like coconut milk and soy sauce, are brought from Indonesia. “We want people – when they eat rendang – to taste that it's an Indonesian rendang,” says Lie.
Sweet martabak, a pancake with a bouncy crumpet feel, has been a big hit since Yoi’s opening. Lie recommends the perfect savoury/sweet combo as a filling: cheese and Nutella. Do trust her, but be aware that the portion is generous so you might want to share this one. “Three months after opening, we started running out of ingredients for the sweet martabak. My brother and sister were coming over to visit so I told them not to bring any clothes, just to fill their suitcases with flour and chocolate for the martabak,” says Lie, laughing.
Office workers, backpackers from the hostel next door, and mainly students have kept Yoi busy since the opening in August.
"My brother and sister were coming over to visit so I told them not to bring any clothes, just to fill their suitcases with flour and chocolate for the martabak.”
Juggling the restaurant and their university studies has been a challenge for Dion and Michael, but they say they grew up with the best role model: their mum. “She’s hard-working and she always pushes forward, no matter what the problems are. She’s helped us make it to uni. Now it’s our time to give back to her. I really appreciate how hard she has worked to make all this happen,” says Michael.
1/155 Franklin Street, Melbourne
Mon – Thu 11:30 am – 9 pm | Fri – Sun 11:30 am – 10 pm
Learn how to make this delicious savoury dish hailing from China. Bitter melon isn’t commonly used in Western cuisine, but popular in Asian cuisine for its many health benefits, including reducing blood sugar levels. A tip? Blanching the bitter melon reduces its bitterness somewhat.