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Famed biscuit shop in Ipoh turns 100

by January 20, 2018 General

The 100-year-old Guan Heong biscuit shop offers a mix of traditional and modern delicacies. ― Pictures courtesy of Sitt familyThe 100-year-old Guan Heong biscuit shop offers a mix of traditional and modern delicacies. ― Pictures courtesy of Sitt familyIPOH, Jan 20 ― Every family has their own set of traditions, and the Sitt family is no different.

The pride of their family lies in the Guan Heong biscuit shop, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year.

Over the past century, four generations of the Sitt family have helped run the store at 160, Jalan Sultan Iskandar.

Guan Heong is now believed to be the oldest biscuit shop in Ipoh, but it is far from being a relic of the past.

It was included in the Top 50 World Street Food Masters list at the 2017 World Street Food Congress 2017, and is believed to be the first Ipoh biscuit shop to courier its products directly to Singapore.

It still offers traditional favourites such as Teochew biscuits, Hokkien biscuits, and tau sar peah — all made by hand.

But there are also modern fares like Hawaiian biscuits made with macadamia nuts, and savoury biscuits made with meat floss, salted eggs, dried pork, and lotus paste.

The shop’s story began in 1918, when Sitt Kun Shan left his native village of Zhenjiang in China to settle in Ipoh.

Armed with recipes of traditional cooking and baking, Kun Shan set up a shop in Jalan Sultan Iskandar, only a few metres away from the store’s current location.

At the time, the store only had a handful of workers, who also produced Hokkien-style noodles.

“My grandfather came from a village where everyone knew how to make these biscuits. It was a tradition for them,” said Kun Shan’s grandson Hock Lye, who now runs the store with his family.

Hock Lye honed his craft at the family shop in the 1980s.Hock Lye honed his craft at the family shop in the 1980s.“He also brought workers over from the same area. They maintained the original taste and the business grew from there.”

Hock Lye, who is responsible for many of the newer recipes, said he tried to come up with new recipes every year.

“If possible, we want to have at least one or two new items every year. To this day, we have around 200 types of mooncake, biscuit, or cookie.”

To him, the secret of Guan Heong’s longevity is simple — maintaining the original taste and passion of the old days.

He stressed the importance of making their products themselves, instead of outsourcing to other people.

“It allows us to maintain the traditional recipes and pass them on to the younger generation,” he said.

“Nowadays, it is more difficult for family businesses to continue, as the younger generations tend to move elsewhere.

“In that way, we are lucky because our kids are involved in the business.”

Hock Lye’s 31-year-old son Michael and 29-year-old daughter Sky left their corporate jobs in Kuala Lumpur to help their parents.

Both siblings feel they made the right choice by carrying on the family business.

“They taught us how to make the biscuits and cookies in accordance with the old ways. These recipes are special — you cannot just get them off the Internet,” said Sky.

“The family culture they passed down is important, and I feel that is the key ingredient to the store’s longevity,” added Michael.

The future looks bright for the 100-year-old store, with a fifth generation poised to continue its legacy.

Michael just got married this year, while Sky has a one-year-old son and another child on the way.

“I’ll be delighted if my kids carry on the family business, and its something that gives us a lot of pride,” said Sky.

“Hopefully Guan Heong can continue for another 100 years.”