Blue Island Malaysian Cuisine: Making a Place in America

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Blue Island Malaysian has become a recognizable fixture of Lexington Market. Since 2000, this Baltimore food spot has been serving up steaming portions of saucy, savory Malaysian food, at the lowest prices you’ll see just about anywhere. It’s a simple business model, but it’s one that founder Sabrina had a feeling would work when she opened up shop 15 years ago.

Like so many Lexington entrepreneurs, Sabrina was born overseas. She moved to America from China as a teenager, to join a growing set of family members. Her plane landed in Baltimore, and Sabrina says she fell in love with the city immediately. This instant affinity for Charm City wasn’t extended to all American cities. When visiting family in NYC, Sabrina found residents rude, the pace chaotic.Blue-Island-9-copy

She quickly settled in Baltimore and has never looked back. She worked for two years at a friends restaurant in Lexington Market, always observing the business potential of the bustling space. When asked to describe the elements of business-friendliness that she saw in Lexington Market, she smilingly speaks in bullet points, ever the consummate professional, “ Always Busy. Long-time tradition. Convenient Location…Hospital…University. Very Attractive! I feel I made the right choice.”

It’s a choice that has paid off in the long term. Sabrina says it was hard to get a job in America, as a recent immigrant with limited English skills. Today, her English is excellent and she’s proud of what she has managed to build in her adopted hometown. Like all Lexington Market vendors, her business has survived hard times. “2011 was the worst,” Sabrina says, “Now it’s coming back up again.” But today, business is good, steady enough to sustain herself and 6 full time employees. Blue Island has dozens of regular customers, earned from years of quality and affordability. “Even when they move away,” Sabrina says, “they still come back.”

When asked what she thinks the Blue-Island-5-copyfuture holds for Lexington Market, Sabrina is resolute in her optimism. She loves the city for its own sake: the weather, the friendliness of her neighbors and customers. As long as the vendors focus on quality and healthy dining options, she thinks Lexington Market’s inherent allure will do the rest. She is also very happy about the changes she sees coming in the form of renovation and reinvestment. On this point she is very emphatic. “History is very important! American is not an old country, so when you see something with history, you should protect it!”