chinese new year

Photos: Tai Sun, Bee Cheng Hiang

1. Bee Cheng Hiang  

chinese new year
Bee Cheng Hiang’s Applewood Smoked Marbled Iberico. (Photo: Bee Cheng Hiang)

Mention Bee Cheng Hiang, and images of red-brown lacquered bak kwa (barbecued meat jerky) come to mind instantly. However, few know that the homegrown company, which turned 90 last year, has been constantly pushing the bak kwa and snacks envelope since the early noughties. 

Besides its best-selling bak kwa, the homegrown food products company, which was founded in 1933 by Teo Swee Ee, a bak kwa peddler in Chinatown, has rolled out snacks made from meat floss, rice dumplings, ice cream, chiffon cake, and swiss rolls studded with bak kwa.

A spokesperson shares: “We place great importance on research and development by our team of food scientists. We develop hundreds of new products yearly, but only about 10 per cent make it to the shelves. In a good year, that would translate to around 20 new products.” 

The company launched a new product each month to mark its milestone 90th-anniversary last year. For Chinese New Year this year, it has launched Prime Bak Kwa, a more tender version of its bak kwa, using enzymes from fruit as a natural meat tenderiser. The product results from feedback from customers, who prefer softer meat jerky. 

One of Bee Cheng Hiang’s rarely known bak kwa is the Applewood Smoked Marbled Iberico bak kwa, which is made from a premium cut of Spanish pork and smoked for two hours over US-imported applewood for a lingering smoky finish.

The limited edition bak kwa can be ordered upon request. Once, it also launched a curry mutton jerky, which did not perform well as the “mutton customer base was much smaller”.  

The inventive company has been the first to flex its creative muscle with bak kwa. Earlier innovations include Gourmet Bak Kwa, which features pork belly and bite-sized bak kwa sealed in vacuum-packed packaging. In 1945, the company opened its first outlet on Rochor Road.

It is also known for its advertisements, which are also frequently seen on television — a move started by Teo, who sponsored radio programmes and participated in trade expositions. In 1975, it opened its first factory at Depot Road before expanding to Malaysia a decade later. Its stores are currently in 10 other countries, including Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Looking beyond bak kwa, the company has come up with a plethora of snacks, such as its Crispy Pulled Pork Twist, a Twistee-looking snack made from pork floss, and its EZ Mini Crunchies series, cookies made from its crispy meat floss in flavours such as okra, furikake, chocolate and chocolate.

Besides passing the taste test, one key consideration is ensuring that the snacks are made without additives. These products have helped the brand to reach out to new and younger customers, especially those who already eat bak kwa and meat floss all year round.

She says: “Innovation is the key to staying relevant, competitive, and responsive to the dynamic landscape of the food industry.”, adding that gifting and travel retail make up considerable demand. 

2. Lim Chee Guan

In the bustling streets of Chinatown, a culinary gem draws crowds like moths to a flame during the lead-up to the Chinese New Year festive season. Lim Chee Guan, renowned for its bak kwa, tells a tale of resilience and tradition that spans generations.

Founded by Lim Kay Eng, a visionary who dared to defy his parents’ wishes for him to become a doctor and chart his own course, Lim Chee Guan’s journey began in the 1920s. He worked in plantations and shops before saving up to buy a pushcart to peddle bak kwa along Chin Chew Road in 1938. 

Besides adapting his mother’s recipe for meat marinade, Lim also tinkered with the preparation process, such as sun-drying the meat and barbecuing it over charcoal for a smoky finish. In 1956, Lim’s dream found a permanent home along New Bridge Road.

Here, amidst the clatter of commerce, Lim and his family poured their hearts into their business, a tradition that continues to this day with the second and third generations at the helm.

Today, the brand offers eight barbecued meat jerky types, including BBQ bacon, chicken, prawn, and even fish. All of its products can be bought online. 

For loyal patrons, queuing for Lim’s bak kwa isn’t a chore; it’s a cherished Lunar New Year tradition, a testament to the enduring legacy of one family’s passion and perseverance.

3. Tai Sun

Photo: Tai Sun 

Nuts are ubiquitous on snacking platters every Chinese New Year season. One homegrown company that is intrinsically linked to the snacking culture is Tai Sun, a third-generation, family-owned snack enterprise that started in 1966.

 The family-run company started out as a humble mom-and-pop business by the late Lim Jit Song and his wife, Han Yew Lang, in the kitchen of their rented home in the Hainanese enclave in Katong. Madam Han started producing salted nuts and supplied them to bars and restaurants in 10kg tins.

Business grew, and the company moved its operations to a factory in Jalan Senang in 1976. Its flavoured nuts collection has since grown to more than 10 products, including California Pistachios, Cocktail Nuts, and Honey Roasted Almonds. The company also runs brands such as Nature’s Wonders (dried fruit and nuts), Treatz (potato chips), and UCA (cassava chips).

Come Chinese New Year, the company, whose products are distributed to over 10 countries, rolls out its festive spin-off brand, NOYA. It comprises timeless snacks such as prawn rolls loaded with hae bee hiam (spicy dried shrimp), pineapple tarts, and love letters.