COF­FEE WITH: ED­MOND KONG AND MICHAEL KER

SALT Magazine - - Contents - TEXT WEETS GOH PHOTOS CHOO HAO XIN VENUE: KIM CHOO KUEH CHANG

Two third-gen­er­a­tion own­ers of her­itage food busi­ness go tête-à-tête.

We skip the cof­fee for some blue pea flower tea,

and a chat about pre­serv­ing her­itage foods.

Af­ter work­ing as a phar­ma­cist for al­most a decade, MICHAEL KER de­cided to join the fam­ily busi­ness of mak­ing popiah. Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Orig­i­nal Popiah & Kueh Pie Tie has been mak­ing popiah skins by hand since 1938, and has brought this tra­di­tion ev­ery­where, from the In­ter­na­tional Food Fair 2014 in Copen­hagen to a hawker food show­case in New York. KER: It’s a strug­gle for us be­cause you’ve also got to move with the times, but we’re also known for be­ing a tra­di­tional busi­ness. We’ve mod­ernised some of our pro­cesses, but there are some things that you can’t au­to­mate. I’ll give an ex­am­ple: there are now ma­chines that mass-pro­duce popiah skins by spray­ing or smear­ing a thin bat­ter onto a hot­plate. With the hand­made way, the dough is much thicker, and we make the skins by swirling the dough quickly on the hot­plate. It’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent process. I think if there is to be au­to­ma­tion, it has to stay true to the ac­tual way things are made. ED­MOND WONG is one of the third-gen­er­a­tion own­ers of Kim Choo Kueh Chang, which has been sell­ing Nonya rice dumplings, or zongzi, since 1945. The com­pany also pro­motes Per­anakan cul­ture, through work­shops, tours, and talks held at their bou­tique— where you can find other lo­cal snacks, and tra­di­tional Per­anakan cloth­ing. WONG: Yes, I agree. I feel like we share the same val­ues. We’ve been ap­proached by tech­no­log­i­cal com­pa­nies that want to of­fer us “so­lu­tions”. But th­ese are their so­lu­tions, we’ve asked them to con­sider do­ing some­thing that repli­cates the way we pro­duce [the dumplings], but they couldn’t. The en­gi­neers should work around our needs in­stead of giv­ing us their so­lu­tions. Even as we move for­ward, we can­not, in any way, com­pro­mise our qual­ity and val­ues, or change the story be­hind our food her­itage for the pur­pose of con­ve­nience.

How has the process of mak­ing th­ese tra­di­tional foods changed over the years?

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