THE PRAWN

SALT Magazine - - Heritage Heroes -

Across the is­land at Defu Lane, a sim­i­lar sight greets our eyes at the grounds of Kwong Woh Hing Sauce Fac­tory, a soy sauce pro­ducer that’s been around since 1947. Rows of tra­di­tional ceramic vats sit along­side gi­ant steel tanks, all fer­ment­ing un­der the sun.

En­ter­ing the fac­tory, the first thing that hits you is the smell of soy sauce. Car­ried on the wind, the scent fer­ment­ing soy­beans is eye-wa­ter­ingly savoury. All the soy sauce here is aged for a min­i­mum of a year, although that pe­riod can go up to a num­ber that Si­mon Woo, the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion owner of Kwong Woh Hing, is tightlipped about. Like many fam­ily-run busi­nesses, the recipe and process for mak­ing their pro­duce re­main a se­cret, although Woo shares that the most im­por­tant step is the fer­men­ta­tion of the beans. It's key to the soul of the sauce. "Even if two peo­ple use the ex­act same recipe for mak­ing soy sauce, the fi­nal taste will be dif­fer­ent be­cause the en­vi­ron­ment, and na­ture of the [fer­men­ta­tion] cul­ture will be dif­fer­ent," he adds.

Hav­ing been in the busi­ness for decades, the 53-yearold Woo is also wit­ness to the chang­ing taste of con­sumers. He re­veals, "In the past, be­cause peo­ple were less af­flu­ent, they used less soy sauce, so it had to be more salty. Now tastes have changed, and we fo­cus more on the aroma and flavour of the sauce." Kwong Woh Hing launched its premium line of light and dark soy sauces about 18 years ago, and has seen many long-time cus­tomers moving from reg­u­lar to premium.

Be­sides soy sauce, Kwong Woh Hing has also branched out. Woo’s taken to fer­ment­ing his own healthy drink­ing vine­gars, and also makes condi­ments like sam­bal and plum sauce. Of par­tic­u­lar note is their range of

"Sig­na­ture Del­i­ca­cies" pre­made pastes that can be used to pre­pare ev­ery­thing from black pep­per crab to char siew, all of which took Woo, who's a con­sum­mate cook, over a year to for­mu­late.

The names of the sauces play on hawker stalls which take their name from the lo­ca­tions of their orig­i­nal stalls, re­sult­ing in a (fic­tional) "Hougang Char Siew" sauce. It's the brain­child of Woo's son, Dick­son, who worked with stu­dents from Repub­lic Polytech­nic to con­cep­tu­alise and de­sign the pack­ag­ing. "We wanted to cre­ate some­thing that would ap­peal to a younger au­di­ence, yet still re­tain a sense of nos­tal­gia, which is why we went with illustrations on the pack­ag­ing," says the younger Woo, who en­tered the fam­ily busi­ness three years ago at the age of 27.

Hav­ing stud­ied dig­i­tal me­dia and an­i­ma­tion, it's clear that the younger Woo has an eye for trends, and fresh per­spec­tives on the tra­di­tional busi­ness. Cur­rently, he's largely in­volved with the mar­ket­ing and brand­ing of Kwong Woh Hing. While the soy sauce used to be only sold di­rectly from the fac­tory, and to other busi­nesses; they have since also moved on­line, and onto the shelves of COMO Dempsey. "We can­not pro­duce enough to be stocked in the ma­jor su­per­mar­kets—a small com­pany like us, we only have her­itage to of­fer," the younger Woo de­clares.

“Even if two peo­ple use the ex­act same recipe for mak­ing soy sauce, the fi­nal taste will be dif­fer­ent be­cause the en­vi­ron­ment, and na­ture of the [fer­men­ta­tion] cul­ture will be dif­fer­ent.” - Si­mon Woo

Si­mon (right)and his sonDick­sonWoo.

Soy­beansbe­ingin­noc­u­lated.

Mary Gomes’curry Dick­son Woo steps out­side to check on the ceramic vats of fer­mented soybeans at the Kwong Woh Hingfac­tory.

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