Guan Hoe Soon
Answering to the Call of Digitalisation
For some time now, we have been in a new stage of transformation where corporations and are progressively turning their focus and answering to the call of digitalisation why equipping themselves with advanced technologies and new business models in order to adapt and remain competitive in a fast-changing economy to ensure business continuity.
Guan Hoe Soon, Singapore’s oldest Peranakan restaurant, is one of many businesses that answered to the call of digitalisation in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Find out how this 68 year old establishment digitalised their business and achieved that with Aleta Planet.
Working with a Peranakan family gave him the chance to master the art of Peranakan cooking.
Third Generation Owner | Guan Hoe Soon
From an early Chinese Immigrant to Making a Mark
Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant (源和春), Singapore’s oldest Peranakan restaurant came from humble beginnings - a story that echos that of many Singaporeans, and of our nation itself. Jenny Yap, Guan Hoe Soon’s third generation owner tells us about her grandfather who arrived in Singapore from Hainan, China many moons ago in search of a new life.
Life was not easy for the new arrivals. Many from China worked as labourers and lived in squalid and cramped conditions, however Jenny’s grandfather ended up working for a Peranakan family and that was where he had the opportunity to pick up and master the art of Peranakan cuisine. In 1953, when her grandfather had saved enough money, he opened a small shop at 185 Joo Chiat Road, serving authentic Peranakan Cuisine and he named the shop Guan Hoe Soon.
68 years later, Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant continues to serve the same dishes that was served by her grandfather, maintaining the same quality and authenticity of their food. We were very privileged to be able to have a chat with Jenny, the third generation owner of Guan Hoe Soon, to share with us on how she has managed to maintained the standard that has been instilled in her by ones before her.
Preserving the True Blue Peranakan Taste
Making Peranakan food isn’t easy, despite that, we want to preserve the authencity for generations- just like the ones before me have.
When people think Peranakan food, they automatically accredit it with the iconic Kuehs and Ayam Buah Keluak. But as Jenny shares with us their other popular dishes that may not be as recognisable as the Ayam Buah Keluak, they are as essential in Peranakan cuisine as their more iconic ones.
Otak otak is must order at Guan Hoe Soon, Jenny shares. “Our otak otak, just like all our other dishes, is all made in-house from scratch. First, we start with mackerel fish and then we add all our spices like red chilli, laksa leaves, and to achieve a creamy decadence in our otak otak, we add in coconut milk. Once the mixture is well incorporated, we fry the rempah till it bubbles. Then, we start the wrapping process. We roast the banana leaves before wrapping so that the fragrance of the banana leaves comes off onto the otak otak when it cooks. Then we wrap the fragrant otak mixture in the leaves and there you have it! A beautiful and delicious piece of otak otak, every bite full of fresh fish - the perfect complement to your meal.”
Guan Hoe Soon’s Assam Pomfret fish is also a dish that is never missed out by their regulars. Jenny shares, “We use the freshest pomfret fish for this dish, and just like most Peranakan dishes, it begins with loads of spices., we add onions, mint leaves, pineapple, galangal, candlenut, Assam water (tamarind water) and many other spices. Once the mixture is incorporated, we start frying the rempah and you have to keep on mixing the rempah so that it doesn’t char. The mixing has to keep going until begins to bubble and then we can start preparing the Assam Fish dish. Because the Assam fish is sour and spicy, many people love it and it works perfectly as an appetite stimulator for their meal.”
Babi Pongtay is another one of their most popular dishes that cannot be missed. As Jenny expresses, it is a very common dish - essential to every Peranakan household. “The Babi Pongtay is a dish enjoyed by the young and old - because it is one of the few dishes in Peranakan cuisine that isn’t spicy. The Babi Pongtay begins from a good cut of pork belly, after cleaning the pork, it is then chopped into smaller pieces - but not too small, because we would have to stew it to tenderise the pork and in the process of stewing the meat is likely to shrink. Next, we add garlic, coriander powder, fermented soybean sauce and fry the gravy till it is fragrant. Once that is done, we add in the pork, mushrooms and the stewing begins. After many hours, the Babi Pongtay is finally ready to serve.”
Jenny firmly believes in preserving these generations old recipes, being able to live up to the standards that were set by the grandfather when he first opened the store is very important to her, no matter how much tremendous effort it takes to continue to do things the traditional way.
“It takes a lot of work and effort in other to make a good Peranakan dish - there are spices and ingredients we have to prepare prior in order to make a good base for the rempah, you’ve gotta cook the rempah and then you can begin with making your dish.” Jenny continues, “so the preparation work for Peranakan food is a lot, but despite that, there is no cutting corners and we believe in preserving the traditional ways in which the dishes are prepared - no matter how tiring and taxing it could be.”
To that, Jenny adds jokingly, “And you know, Peranakan food isn’t a cuisine that you can just ‘anyhow’, you’ll get scolded by the nyonyas! So you have to be very good at what you do!”.
A Rise in Interest - thanks to an iconic TV series
Now that they remade The Little Nyonya, they are getting more and more interested in Peranakan Culture!
The Little Nyonya was a Singaporean drama series that aired in 2008 and its unprecedented success immediately brought about a fever in everything Peranakan. The popularity of the series went far beyond our shores, spread wide across our neighbouring ASEAN countries. First to benefit from it were the established Nyonya food restaurants whose business turnovers immediately shot up by 20-30%. More Singaporeans and tourists began to visit residential areas with concentrations of Peranakan-style houses, notably in Joo Chiat and other parts of the Katong district. The Nyonya drama has truly boosted the declining Peranakan culture.
In 2020, 12 years after the airing of The Little Nyonya, a Chinese adaptation of the drama premiered on Chinese streaming platforms, reigniting the interest for Peranakan culture once again - and this time, in China.
Jenny shares that despite strict travel restrictions set in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she continues to observe a heightened interest within Chinese expats living in Singapore - much like how it was like 12 years ago. Jenny recalls, “They are very curious about the Peranakan culture! When the Little Nyonya aired, they came through our doors, eager to learn about out cuisine right down to the cutlery that we use.”
She continues, “Now with the remake, the interest towards Peranakan food and culture has heightened once again, and we are seeing more and more Chinese visitors that are living in Singapore dining at our restaurant. So despite the travel restrictions, we still do have many Chinese customers who frequent our restaurant.”
Adapting to Stay Ahead
Covid-19 has taught us that in order to stay ahead we have to digitalise.
Like many businesses around the world, the pandemic has shed light and pushed business owners like Jenny to re-strategise and rethink how they can continue their business operations amidst lockdowns.
“Before Covid-19 happened, we have always done business the traditional way such as receiving cash payments. However, this pandemic has really taught us that we have to able able the adapt in order to stay ahead. We digitalised by enabling our customers to order online and paying via contactless payments. Now that customers are able to dine in and news of the borders gradually opening up, we want to be able to expand our payment acceptance and allow our Chinese customers to be able to pay conveniently and seamlessly. As the world continues to advance with technology, we will continue to adapt and upgrade our business so that it may continue to be passed from one generation to the next.
Digitalisation should not seek to disrupt your system, only to complement it. Contact Aleta Planet today, and take the first step into digitalising your business.
Contact Aleta Planet today, and take the first step into digitalising your business.