SALT Magazine - - Heritage Heroes -

The first thing I no­tice at Nanyang Sauce's bou­tique are the la­bels on their tra­di­tional range of soy sauce bot­tles—they say "Golden Swan Brand", com­plete with the im­age of a, well, golden swan. Ken Koh, the third gen­er­a­tion owner of the sauce com­pany ex­plains, "The com­pany was ac­tu­ally named Nanyang Sauce from the start. It's just that a lot of peo­ple were il­lit­er­ate in the past, so all th­ese sauce mak­ers, or in fact most man­u­fac­tur­ers of any prod­uct, would put pic­tures on their la­bels. So peo­ple iden­ti­fied the brands by th­ese pic­tures. There was a light bulb one, you prob­a­bly know Tiger brand, and ours is a swan."

Like many oth­ers of his gen­er­a­tion, Koh en­tered the fam­ily busi­ness after a stint or ed­u­ca­tion in an un­re­lated field. For him, it was 14 years run­ning a cor­po­rate team­build­ing busi­ness. "I knew that it was a mat­ter of time be­fore I en­tered the fam­ily trade. To pre­pare my­self, I did some­thing in a dif­fer­ent field so that I would have more ex­po­sure, and ex­pe­ri­ence the chal­lenges of start­ing up, of man­ag­ing a team and cash­flow. I've made friends in the busi­ness world, and feel like I'm now in a slightly bet­ter po­si­tion to re­ju­ve­nate the brand," shares the en­ter­pris­ing 34-year-old.

Part of Koh's ef­forts to mod­ernise and mar­ket the brand in­clude com­ing up with new pack­ag­ing for the sauces, as well as set­ting up a bou­tique at 288 East Coast Road—their first brick-and-mor­tar re­tail out­let, de­signed to re­sem­ble a "hip­ster pro­vi­sion shop". There, they hold sauce ap­pre­ci­a­tion work­shops, where guests get to taste the vary­ing grades, and styles of soy sauce. At the top of the line is their light and dark virgin brew (头抽) soy sauce, which has been aged 12 months to pro­duce a strongly aro­matic and in­tensely savoury condi­ment.

Be­sides time, the other se­cret to pro­duc­ing a good bot­tle of soy sauce, Koh tells me, are the earthen vats where the sauce is aged in. They've dubbed th­ese con­tain­ers "dragon vats", as each one comes em­bel­lished with the myth­i­cal beast. "Many of th­ese vats have been around since my grand­fa­ther started the busi­ness in 1959. They've got a 'mem­ory', and be­come more sea­soned with each batch, so the sauce they pro­duce be­comes bet­ter as time passes. It's a bit like how Chi­nese chefs value their old woks so much be­cause the woks be­come more sea­soned with each use," shares Koh. At Nanyang Sauce's fac­tory grounds, the vats sit un­der the trop­i­cal sun, fer­ment­ing at tem­per­a­tures up­wards of 40°C.

Ken Koh, the pro­gres­sive owner of NanyangSau­ce.

Nanyang Sauce’s dark and light virgin brew soy sauces

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