Nestled in a quiet corner of East Village, sits new business startup Kueh Ho Jiak, a family-run business specialising in traditional ang ku kueh, or ‘red tortoise cake’ in Hokkien.
I met mother-daughter business-owners, Sandy and Elizabeth, for a chat on what inspired them to take a leap of faith to start their own kueh business, as well as to try out some of their signature pastries.
Hi Sandy and Elizabeth! Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves and how you came to be in this business?
Elizabeth: I used to run my own curtain business for the past 8 years, till I recently sold it to focus my energy fully on Kueh Ho Jiak with my mum.
Sandy: I was previously from a completely different industry, and also looking after my granddaughter full-time. I used to live in a kampong in the past and we had a lot of sweet potatoes growing near us. In order to earn some pocket money, I started making and selling homemade ondeh-ondeh.
I had a lot of free time while looking after my granddaughter, so I took the opportunity to learn the art of traditional kueh making. I love making kueh, and I’m very blessed that I was able to turn my passion and love for it into a business.
What is the difference in using sweet potato to make your signature ang ku kueh?
Sandy: Sweet potato is actually a traditional component of making ang ku kueh from the olden days! It has a different mouthfeel and texture from the ones made from glutinous rice flour.
There are five different types of sweet potatoes that we use, and each results in the different natural colours that we have in our kuehs. It’s also a very tricky ingredient to work with, and the quality depends on various factors, such as the weather in which the sweet potato is grown, it all affects overall resulting dough.
Elizabeth, how is it like working with your mum and what is the best piece of advice that you’ve received from her?
Elizabeth: The best piece of advice she gave me was to never give up, no matter how hard the situation in front of you may be. My mum is the best role model in that aspect, from the many setbacks that she faced during the R&D period, the gruelling late nights she pulled doing research, going all the way for the business and more. She inspired me to believe that anything is possible with a ‘never-say-die’ attitude and hard work.
We do quarrel from time to time, but we’ve also learnt to separate work from family. Like when we reach home, work is left at the door, and she is ultimately still my mum above all.
Were there any hardships or struggles that you have overcome together?
Sandy: Definitely! I spent a good five to seven years doing R&D for the business, from honing my craft in traditional kueh making, refining my own kueh recipes down to the finest details to developing new and modern flavours for my ang ku kuehs.
Elizabeth: We also learnt to manage time between the business, family and finances. It wasn’t easy at first, but I feel that that is really the key to our collaboration.
What’s in store in the future for Kueh Ho Jiak?
Elizabeth: We hope to create more exposure for traditional local kuehs, especially for the younger generation and tourists visiting Singapore. In the upcoming months, we are also intending on setting up weekend workshops for kids to try their hand at making ang ku kueh.
And of course, to eventually expand our business internationally as well.
If you want something other than ang ku kueh, the Sweet Potato ‘Fa Gao’ ($2) is a great option to go for. The lovely steamed cake tastes the best when consumed warm. It is not too sweet, with chunks of sweet potato giving it a subtle earthy flavour.
Kueh Ho Jiak’s latest flavour is the Purple Sweet Potato with Gingko Nut ($1.60), which contained a velvety purple sweet potato and soft gingko nuts.
The sweet potato paste itself was not sweet at all and reminded me of the Teochew dessert, Yam paste aka orh nee.
And the highlight of my visit to Kueh Ho Jiak was definitely this piece of Hae Bee Hiam Ang Ku Kueh ($1.60). Like most of us, I would expect ang ku kueh to come in a variety of sweet flavours, but it’s my first time having a savoury flavoured kueh, and a spicy one at that!
Kueh Ho Jiak’s doing a great job at keeping traditions alive with their lovingly handmade goodies. They also do catering, so hit them up if you are looking for something more unique to bring to your next potluck.
Don’t miss out on unique takes on the classic ang ku kueh such as durian and hae bee hiam.
Expected Damage: $1.20 -$1.80 per piece of kueh