Kim Hock Bakery

The morning mist gradually dispersed under the gentle sun rays, at the same time in Ayer Tawar New Village, thick white smoke slowly rose from the rear end of a double-storey wooden house next to the community garden. Locals are familiar with this sight, knowing that it is not a fire, but a sign that Kim Hock Bakery is open today. The second generation owner, Hwa Kia Hwa, piled rubber wood and dried coconut shells into the wood-fired oven, then lit the fire at 9A.M. for four hours of pre-heating.

The oven stands at two metres high, three metres wide and three metres deep. It is built with red mud bricks and cement. Its inner insulation layer is made of heat storage materials such as broken glass and coarse salt. Firewood is kindled within the oven, the temperature rose, allowing the oven walls to absorb and store the heat. After cleaning out the remaining ash, the residual heat is used for baking. Unlike ordinary ovens with adjustable heating elements, it is heated only once to sustain the whole day, which is only enough to bake a few batches of bread.

Hwa Kia Hwa grew up surrounded by the bread aroma, and helped his parents after school. After graduating from high school in 1968, he intended to pursue other careers, but at his father’s request, he inherited the family business and learned traditional bread baking skills. His father passed away in 1979, his mother continued to work until she breathed her last, Hwa Kia Hwa and his three younger sisters (Puah Yuat Mooi, Puah Guat Soon, and Puah Juan Nam) jointly manage the bakery for decades. It is still a family-run production, without employing workers. Hwa’s son Alvin worked outside for some years before choosing to return and take over as the third generation successor.

The wood-fired oven is difficult to handle due to inability to measure or control the temperature, relying on accumulation of experience to gauge the temperature and to predict how long the baking process may take. Puah Juan Nam uses a long-handled wooden peel to transfer proofed bread into the oven, fully utilizing the space to neatly arrange 42 baking pans. When baking is completed, she has to endure high temperatures to slowly and skilfully removing the breads. She alone is able to master this important task, hence nicknamed “The Oven’s Nanny”. 

Due to limited capacity and heat efficiency, Kim Hock Bakery bakes four rounds of bread daily, at a fixed production rate using 75 kilograms of flour plus other ingredients. In early days, bread dough is mixed by hand, a toilsome task. In the 1970s, a custom-made mixer was installed to ease the burden. The remaining procedures are still carried out manually, such as stir-frying desiccated coconut fillings on the wood-fired stove, bread shaping, placing onto baking trays to proof, inserting fillings and packaging. Such is their way of bread-making. The best-sellers are Hainanese white loaf, coconut buns, and red bean paste buns. Recently, new items such as pumpkin buns and muffins are also introduced.

Apart from regular customers and occasional tourists, Kim Hock Bakery established long-term business relationships with traditional coffee shops, mamak stalls, and traditional grocers in the vicinity. In the past, the founder had to deliver breads on a bicycle, riding more than ten miles in distance. It was not until they acquired a car in the 1970s that the delivery process became easier. Roti Kok has a high market demand, which they find it hard to meet despite daily production of minimum 200 packs.

From the 1980s to the 1990s, tight market competitions caused sales to plummet. Fortunately the siblings work together hand in glove to overcome the difficulties. Trending food nostalgia coupled with media exposure drove up demand for traditional bread. Although the wood-fired oven has become a signature attraction, Kim Hock Bakery now faces another challenge: firewood shortage. What once were vast rubber estates in the nearby areas are now planted with palm instead. Rubber wood has to be sourced elsewhere, which led to increased costs.

Food aroma is comforting. Kim Hock Bakery, as the only Hainanese family within Ayer Tawar New Village where FuZhounese makes up the majority, keeps up a comfortable daily life by baking bread with their wood-fired oven, allowing nostalgic flavours to continue their legacy.

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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