COFFEE WITH: EDMOND KONG AND MICHAEL KER
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?