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