Kampung Lee Kong Chian in Gombak, Kuala Lumpur, is located beside Jalan Gombak heading east to Bentong, Pahang. Forking paths like palm lines led into the village, the yellow boundary walls of Chin Chong Soy Sauce enclosed hundreds of ceramic jars sunbathing in neat lines. The netting above the jars prevented entry of unwanted particles, yet unable to block the delicious aroma of soy sauce from spreading in the air.
Under the hot sun, Uncle Ng Chui Chong removes the lid of the soy sauce jar to yield a rich brown liquid with a slightly viscous texture. The first step of producing naturally brewed soy sauce is to soak and cook soy beans, then coat with flour to form a starter culture. Forming the starter culture and developing the bacterial culture is crucial in brewing soy sauce, as the amino acids produced during the weeklong fermentation process is essential to determine the quality grade of the soy sauce. Then combine the starter culture and brine in a ceramic jar, expose to direct sunlight and continue to ferment for three months.
Soy sauce craftsman plays the role of a vessel’s captain in determining to which direction the soy sauce’s flavour and quality should be heading, precisely controlling each step of the fermentation process to ensure the final outcome meets satisfactory standards. In Kuala Lumpur, there are only a handful of experienced craftsmen currently still active in the industry, Uncle Ng being one of them. During his youth, he worked at a large-scale soy sauce manufacturer for 12 years, began toiling before dawn, carrying burdens over 100 kilograms on the shoulders, accumulating precious experience and mastering the art of brewing soy sauce.
Having left his former employer, Uncle Ng chose Kampung Lee Kong Chian, a Chinese settlement of about 300 households, to start his own business. The village occupying 30 acres used to be a plot of coconut trees opposite Lee Rubber Manufacturing in Kuala Lumpur, in the 1960s it was offered to employees for building their own quarters, later on tenancy was extended to non-employees. The settlement was built without a plan, hence the unstructured character of the village layout and narrow paths, however the residents are very community oriented. Uncle Ng was elected as the community board chairperson for almost 30 years due to his diligence.
Chin Chong Soy Sauce was founded in 1973, producing naturally brewed soy sauce, cooking caramel, vinegar, and various sauces. The brand name was inspired by Uncle Ng’s name, suggested by a friend and heartily approved by Uncle Ng himself, as he jokingly said it is suitable for any line of business. In the initial days, Uncle Ng multitasked by brewing soy sauce in the morning and went selling soy sauce door-to-door with his mother-in-law. It was challenging to convince customers to try their homemade soy sauce, with doubts about product authenticity.
Eventually, Uncle Ng’s hard work paid off, Chin Chong Soy Sauce built a positive reputation and shifted to wholesaling, many restaurants became loyal customers. Apart from Uncle Ng’s excellent brewing skills, premium ingredients such as non-genetically modified soy beans are used. At the end of soy sauce fermentation, a sample of the resulting product is extracted and tasted by Uncle Ng who has a sensitive palate. After being approved by Uncle Ng, the soy sauce is required to undergo filtering, ultra-heat treatment, and bottling before leaving the facility.
86-year-old Uncle Ng Chui Chong now slowly steps into semi-retirement, reducing his work hours and handing over the reins to his children. In the yard full of old-time ceramic jars, by simply observing and sampling the flavourful soy sauce, the taste which lingers on Uncle Ng’s palate is a complex blend of life’s experiences.
有你 UNI Production
Producer : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang / Michael Lerk
Drone : Daniel Lim
Video Editor : Amelia Lim
Copywriter : Pua Hui Wen
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