From shrimp paste in Tai O to chilli sauce in Aberdeen, we meet four sauce-mak­ers re­spon­si­ble for the flavours of Hong Kong.

Crave - - TABLE OF CONTETS - Words Tif­fany Chan Pho­tos Sa­man­tha Sin

Saucy busi­ness: four of Hong Kong’s favourite sauce-mak­ers re­veal what’s in­side their jars

AN­THONY YU KAI-CHIU Third-gen­er­a­tion di­rec­tor and gen­eral man­ager Yu Kwen Yick Chilli Sauce (Yu Kwen Yick Prod­ucts Man­u­fac­tory Limited)

An­thony Yu re­mem­bers his father smelling of chilli sauce. “When the fac­tory wasn’t in Aberdeen but be­hind the store, my father would come home and fin­ish his din­ner around 8pm, go back to the shop and con­tinue to work late into the night, un­til 10pm or 11pm,” he re­calls. “He’d bring that chilli sauce smell – that pun­gent sour, spicy smell – home and it would just per­me­ate the en­tire house. The smell was es­pe­cially strong when he would make a din­ner of pre­served sausages and rice with the sauce. It was ac­tu­ally very fra­grant, but I was young and didn’t re­alise this. I just thought the smell was an­noy­ing.”

To­day, Yu runs the busi­ness with his brother, Char­lie, and their father acts as a con­sul­tant, or “dic­tio­nary”, as he says.

Yu’s late grand­fa­ther, a lover of chilli from Guang­dong, founded the busi­ness in 1922. Yu re­mem­bers lit­tle of his grand­fa­ther – they didn’t have much time to­gether – ex­cept that he loved chilli sauce, he took care of his staff “through thick and thin”, was in­cred­i­bly so­cia­ble – even with the Bri­tish, with whom he couldn’t com­mu­ni­cate, but some­how man­aged to – and knew how to build strong, gen­uine re­la­tion­ships. “He was a very good PR,” Yu says. Ev­ery­thing he knows he has learned from his father, who took over the busi­ness in the 1950s.

Yu took the reins in 2008. He had stud­ied in Canada and later worked as ground crew at the air­port. When he was

study­ing, he missed home so much he would pour chilli sauce lib­er­ally over pasta and even pizza, sand­wich­ing two slices to­gether with the chilli sauce in the mid­dle. For Yu, it was a nat­u­ral move; it was his re­spon­si­bil­ity to in­herit the busi­ness. His younger brother, who he de­scribes as his “Robin”, is also a part­ner in the busi­ness, re­spon­si­ble for the brand­ing and de­sign.

The brand has al­ways been based in Sai Ying Pun, where it has an al­most cult-like neigh­bour­hood fol­low­ing as well as loyal cus­tomers nos­tal­gic for local brands. For Yu, the chilli sauce and chilli bean sauce are not just beloved condi­ments but prod­ucts with mas­sive po­ten­tial.

“Just re­cently, the Lobby Lounge at the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Hong Kong crafted a cock­tail called Mr Yu – it had the Yu Kwen Yick taste and it re­ally worked. So the po­ten­tial of this sauce is ac­tu­ally great,” he says.

Alvy’s pizze­ria in Kennedy Town also uses the chilli sauce to make fiery, crispy Buf­falo wings.

“Our prod­ucts are at least 90 per cent hand­made and each bot­tle of chilli sauce takes up to six days to pro­duce. The in­gre­di­ents are fresh, with no preser­va­tives or ad­di­tives, so the shelf life is short (put it in the fridge af­ter open­ing).”

This makes it dif­fi­cult to mass-pro­duce the sauce for su­per­mar­kets, Yu says. “That’s not our goal, any­way. We’re just proud to be made in Hong Kong.”

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