Handmade Bao in Petaling Street

Catty-corner to the Ka Yin Fui Kon building at Jalan Sultan, Kuala Lumpur, a tarpaulin makeshift roof in the alley between two rows of double-storey shophouses shelters a crude hawker stall. Billows of steam arise from the multi-tiered bamboo steamer on top of the gas stove, marking the spot of Tuck Kee Dim Sum Pau. About 60 years ago, the alley was bustling with hawker stalls selling rice and porridge, cockle noodles soup, stuffed tofu, beef brisket noodles soup, wonton noodles, chee cheong fun, fruits and so on. Along with changing times, most hawkers either moved elsewhere, switched careers, or retired. Tuck Kee alone remains operating in the same place.

The second-generation owner, Chan Kam Weng, is born in 1965, the same year the bao stall was founded. A native KL-ite of Petaling Street, he took over his father’s unnamed bao stall upon finishing middle school. As a tribute to the struggling and enduring story of his father’s migration from China to Malaysia, Chan Kam Weng named the bao stall Tuck Kee after his father, who learnt bao-making skills and set up the stall to upkeep a family with nine children.

In the past, Petaling Street was a bustling area, several families lived together in the upper storey of the shophouses. In the evening, they would come downstairs for tea and supper. Tuck Kee has its own water and electricity supply, hence no need to draw from neighbouring shophouses. Opening from 7P.M. until the wee hours, Tuck Kee sells various types of bao and dimsum, as well as making tea. During those busy times, six to seven siblings help out at the stall. Later on, the numbers diminished, Chan Kam Weng alone persisted in the business for more than 40 years. As more and more old neighbours moved out of Petaling Street, Uncle Chan had to reduce his product line and adjust business hours. Nowadays the bao stall is open from 11A.M. to 3P.M., the only items on the menu include char siu bao (barbecued pork bun), sang yuk bao (steamed meat bun), lotus bao, red bean bun, and glutinous rice chicken.

Starting a business is hard, sustaining a business is even harder. Although times changed to pursue low cost and high efficiency, Uncle Chan maintains the consistent practice for decades by not employing foreign labourers or any machinery, and relies entirely on his hands to control the taste and quality. The daily production maximum cap is 500 pieces, leavened by a decades-old natural starter, resulting in a slightly yellowish appearance with a soft but chewy texture. The bao fillings are not made from pre-packed mince pork, but from a whole slab of fresh pork selected with care by Uncle Chan himself. One part is used to marinate the barbecued pork, while the other is finely chopped into mince for steamed meat bun. He dares to guarantee that his bao can be safely consumed by customers adhering to certain dietary restrictions.

Before dawn, Uncle Chan, his nephew Leong Kah Wai, and two helpers arrive at the stall to start kneading dough and letting it rise, cutting meat, and prepare fillings. Around 9A.M., they skillfully make bao stuffed with different fillings, which were fermented until they were about the size of a fist and are ready to be steamed. At noon, as vast amounts of vapour drift from the steamer, customers come one after another to buy freshly steamed bao. Most of them have been regular customers for ages, there are also new customers attracted by the aroma. Uncle Chan takes his insistence on the authentic taste seriously, as long as it is accepted by 80% of customers, he will stick to his usual seasonings and will not easily make adjustments.

Chan Kam Weng has always stayed in an alley of the busy city, declining offers by investors to set up mass production facilities, choosing to continue the legacy of local community culture and authentic taste. Throughout the years, even though not extremely rich, he is quite self-sufficient. As he is getting on in years, Uncle Chan gradually hand over the reins to his nephew, who followed in his footsteps for more than 20 years. The future of the bao stall is up to Leong Kah Wai, whether to remain in the alley or shift into a shop.

有你 UNI Production
Producer : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Michael Lerk
Drone : Daniel Lim
Video Editor : Michael Lerk
Copywriter : Pua Hui Wen


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