Josey Chu has been producing and selling her Southeast Asian sauces under the name Madame Chu since 2017, but only recently began selling noodles, samosas and interesting drinks from a stand.
For a day and a half over the Fourth of July weekend, she worked the Monona Community Festival, and while most cart and stand operators were charging $12 or more for a meal, Chu generously filled boxes of cold noodles for $8 and sold vegan samosas for $4, or two for $7. Both the noodles and the samosas were fantastic. (See our Diner’s scorecard for upcoming places to find her.)
Noodles come with either Chu’s homemade sesame sauce or satay peanut sauce, and a choice of tofu, chicken or pulled pork.
The long, wide noodles I ordered were coated in a delicious sesame sauce that had a perfect hint of chili pepper along with sesame paste, sesame oil, sesame seeds, ginger, onions and garlic.
Chu put a bed of chicken and beautifully sliced cucumber on top to achieve a perfect combination of tastes and textures. She piled the small paper box so high two people could’ve shared it for lunch.
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When I came back for a drink and complimented her on the noodle dish, she told me that she boils the chicken breast for two minutes, takes it off the heat for 30 minutes, then lets it sit in its broth overnight in the fridge. That way, she said, it becomes succulent and not dried out. “It’s grandma’s approach.”
Later that evening, I tried a samosa, which are baked not fried, and served with green chutney and tamarind sauce. Like the noodles, the potato and pea mixture inside had the right amount of heat. It also had a mild curry flavor.
Chu said samosa are an unusual food choice at the festival.
“Hot dogs are in heavy consumption during the Fourth of July,” she said. “You don’t need any education, ‘Oh, this is how you eat a hot dog: with or without a bun, ketchup, mustard, relish.’ Samosa is more of a unique, different cuisine, more like Indian, more like Trinidad or Southeast Asian type food.”
Chu said that some people had questions about eating her samosa with the two chutneys.
“That required a little bit more education than your hamburger, cheese or no cheese, do you want tomato? Do you want ketchup? Get what I’m trying to say?” she asked.
Chu also offered a host of intriguing homemade drinks for $5 with $3 refills. Customers were invited to change to another drink on their return trips.
She had iced tea; ginger limeade; island iced tea with green tea, lime and spiced pineapple; green iced tea with green tea and lime; mango ginger limeade with mango puree, ginger juice and lime; mint ginger limeade with ginger juice, mint and lime; and horchata with coconut milk and cinnamon.
Chu used a manual juicer to squeeze fresh lime for each drink that called for it, which was nearly all of them.
My island ice tea kept me going on a brutally hot day.
She also sold peach hand pies (two for $5) made with cinnamon and sugar and drizzled with chocolate and condensed milk.
Chu didn’t have the name of her business on her stand at the Monona festival, but was wearing a Madame Chu T-shirt. Her son Keagan Johnson, 15, helped out while I was there, and Chu’s husband, Ben Johnson, assisted with setup and teardown.
When I called her on Tuesday, Chu said she was still recovering from working in the heat at the festival.
Chu began selling her sauces in 2017, and makes them at the FEED Kitchens on Madison’s North Side. She sells her sambal nyonya, ginger garlic, and satay peanut nyonya condiments on her website, at Metcalfe’s Market Hilldale, Willy Street Co-op and The Conscious Carnivore.
Nyonya is a garlic vinegar chili sauce in Chu’s Peranakan cooking tradition associated with Penang, Malaysia.
Peranakan culture mixes elements of Chinese, Malay and Western cultures. Chu said her grandmother on her mother’s side was half Thai and half Chinese. Her father’s side of the family came from China to Malaysia and ended up in Singapore, she said.
Chu, 56, was born and raised in Singapore and came to UW-Madison in 1999 for a doctorate in industrial engineering, which she got.
She said she studied the human factors and usability in computer interactions. “After that, the passion grew into food.”
Chu has also applied to be a vendor at the Madison Public Market, but doesn’t have her hopes up “because I am a small business.”
When I noted her reasonable prices relative to other food sellers, she said she didn’t pay attention to how much others were charging.
“My goal,” she said, “is to let people enjoy the food, sample and recognize Madame Chu’s product.”
Chu, who lives in Sun Prairie and also has a nursing degree, worked as a nurse for the Sun Prairie Area School District from 2018 through this year. “And then my husband said, ‘Well, you cannot really continue to be a nurse and food processor, so pick one.'”
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