Growing up, Alice Tan Yee Ting was nourished on a steady diet of her mother’s heirloom Hakka meals. As her parents were butchers, Tan also spent a considerable amount of time helping out and learning the family trade, eventually becoming particularly adept at cutting and handling pork.
When she grew up, Tan continued to nurture a passion for eating her mother’s food, eventually learning many of her Hakka staples. But her love of food was relegated to the backburner when she started working, venturing into all sorts of career opportunities, from fashion to event planning and skincare.
After getting married and giving birth to her second child in 2018, Tan was retrenched from her job. That propelled her decision to start a food business with her mother. For a few months, the two sold their homemade dishes at a stall in Ampang in Kuala Lumpur but eventually decided to give it up as the work was arduous and back-breaking.
“It was very long hours, we were up at 2am to buy ingredients and then we spent hours cooking after that. So after six months of running the stall, I felt like it was too tiring for my mum.
“So we stopped and then I tried out a few different jobs, like selling insurance, but I still felt like it was not my passion,” she says.
When the Covid-19 pandemic began, Tan wasn’t able to see her mother and consequently couldn’t eat the Hakka dishes she loved so much. It was then that she decided to turn her love of food into something more tangible, at the instigation of a friend who pushed her to start an online business given the explosion in demand for food delivery services. And that is how HakkaSoul was born.
“I started this business because I missed my mother’s food. During the pandemic, I couldn’t see my mother so often, so when I went out, I would often seek out Hakka dishes in restaurants. But none of them tasted like my mother’s home-cooked food. So that’s when I started to think, ‘Why don’t I bring that food to people so that they can actually taste it?’,” she says.
HakkaSoul is dedicated to the authentic pork-centric Hakka dishes that Tan learnt to make from her mother and features about 20 meal options. Tan makes both ready-to-eat and frozen meals and only cooks to order in her rather small condominium. With her husband and two young children often at home, she simply doesn’t have the space to cook excessively.
Each dish is designed to feed two to three people, and Tan is generous with her portions, so expect huge servings.
To begin, try the Braised Taro Pork (RM35) which Tan describes as the “ultimate comfort food”. The pork is marinated, fried and braised alongside taro and features beautifully tender pork with a good fat-to-meat ratio and a sweet, stirring sauce designed to tie it all together.
The taro on the side is a little mashed up, but otherwise makes for an excellent sidekick in terms of successfully bringing this dish together.
Up next, try the Braised Soy Pork Belly (RM35). Here, pork belly is juxtaposed against a soy-rich sauce whose dark, murky waters are host to salty-sweet flavours that are intensely satisfying. The fat from the meat also adds a layer of richness to this incredibly decadent meal.For more porcine delights, try the powerfully soul-stirring Vinegar Pork Trotter (RM35). This is a meal that is a popular Chinese confinement dish for post-partum women as it features copious amounts of sliced ginger, said to aid in recovery and healing.
Tan’s version is particularly good and features velvety soft pork trotters couched in a sauce that straddles the vinegary-sweet divide with dexterity and precision and ultimately aids in elevating the dish into unforgettable territory.
The Braised Dried Oyster Meatballs with Mushroom and Chicken Feet (RM35) features homemade meatballs alongside plump shiitake mushrooms and cartilage-rich chicken feet. This is a meal that is less robustly flavoured than many of Tan’s other offerings but its beauty lies in the pleasure derived from its sheer simplicity and the nurturing home-made quality that it evokes.
Finally, try Tan’s version of Rendang Chicken (RM30). The recipe was inherited from Tan’s mother and is her own take on it. The dry-ish rendang features chicken awash in tropical nuances and herbaceous undertones. Overall, while the meal is quite good, it is not as memorable as the other dishes in the talented Tan’s culinary oeuvre.
Having found her passion in life, Tan is now determined to move forward with expansion plans – in this sense, quite literally. Her first order of business is moving out of her tiny apartment and into a larger property that will allow her to cook more and perhaps even diversify her menu.
“In the future, I might start doing lunch boxes, because when the pandemic first started, people were looking for frozen food, but now they seem to be wanting more fresh meal options. So if I can move to a landed property soon, I think I can do more with my business,” she says.
Order from HakkaSoul by sending a WhatsApp message to 017-971 1160.