How a Malaccan Baba embraced his Peranakan heritage to make authentic Nyonya ‘kaya’

PETALING JAYA : We all have our own breakfast spread of choice. Some prefer a simple pat of cold butter, others a generous mound of strawberry jam. Kopitiam regulars would insist on some fragrant kaya to go with that butter on their Hainan toast.

How about some authentic Malaccan style Nyonya kaya?

That’s the premise of Baba Beng, an home-based purveyor of Nyonya kaya. Its founder, Daniel Quek, also makes Nyonya kuih but it’s his Peranakan kaya that is the star. He proudly claims, “No shortcuts taken; it takes hours to prepare.”

The 42-year-old entrepreneur has a business background having studied marketing in Australia. Putting that expertise into good use was always part of the game plan but leaning into his Malaccan Peranakan background was an inspired decision, given the saturated marketplace where there is no shortage of both commercial, mass market names and more indie, artisanal brands of kaya.

Baba Beng offers authentic Malaccan style Nyonya 'kaya.' – Pictures courtesy of Baba Beng
Baba Beng offers authentic Malaccan style Nyonya ‘kaya.’ – Pictures courtesy of Baba Beng

Quek observes, “Coming from a Peranakan background, we’re known for our food culture, especially on kayaand kuih. Though kaya is easily available, we could not get authentic tasting Nyonya kaya around. We wanted to enjoy kaya like how grandma used to make them, but none in the family were entrepreneurs.”

Baba Beng founder Daniel Quek started by selling his homemade Nyonya 'kaya' at bazaars before the lockdown.
Baba Beng founder Daniel Quek started by selling his homemade Nyonya ‘kaya’ at bazaars before the lockdown.

When Quek pursued an MBA in the UK five years ago, his dissertation became the impetus for him to answer the problem that he outlined above by starting Baba Beng.

He shares, “Baba is a term for the Peranakan males and Beng is part of my Chinese name, Quek Beng Chee, and it sounds catchy and easy to remember when put together.”

To develop Baba Beng’s Nyonya kaya, Quek has attempted to stick to tradition. For instance, the somewhat grainy texture of the spread might assure customers the kaya is homemade.

He explains, “Unlike most commercial based kaya, my Nyonya kaya is not made with additives such as flour and water to volumise it. I use lots of kampung eggs, pure fresh santan, sugar and pandan leaves to give it its rich, thick, aromatic texture.”

Quek uses 'kampung' eggs, fresh 'santan', sugar and pandan leaves to make his Nyonya 'kaya.'
Quek uses ‘kampung’ eggs, fresh ‘santan’, sugar and pandan leaves to make his Nyonya ‘kaya.’

Tradition is good and fine, but modern taste buds require adaptation if a business is to satisfy its finicky clientele. Quek acknowledges that he did tweak his recipe a little to make it less sweet “to accommodate the current preference of our customers and to offer a healthier choice, while maintaining the original taste of the Nyonya kaya.”

Another way to attract prospective customers, especially those seeking something different, is to introduce newer flavours. Baba Beng’s second product offering accentuates the base Nyonya kaya with durian, which will have both its ardent fans and its detractors (as with the fruit itself).

The foundation of the business remains its signature spread — the original Nyonya kaya. If nothing else, nostalgia wins the day as Quek shares: “A customer even told us that when she first tasted our kaya, it reminded her of her late Nyonya grandma which made her tear up.”

Baba Beng began as a very small operation for Quek, who wanted to test the market and determine if there was sufficient demand for the business to even grow.

He recalls, “I first started by just making small pots to sell when I received requests for my Nyonya kaya. Then I ventured more into community bazaars to make the brand’s presence felt. That’s where active sampling came into the picture as I wanted people to know what real Nyonya kayashould taste like.”

The somewhat grainy texture of the spread assures customers the ‘kaya’ is homemade.

Fast forward to today, Quek has since expanded the distribution of his Baba Beng Nyonya kaya to include various grocers and bakeries. He adds, “Our kaya is now available even in Seremban. If it hadn’t been for the lockdown, we would be in more states by now.”

Clearly, as with other businesses but particularly small and independent food and beverage (F&B) companies, Baba Beng was impacted by the pandemic and ensuing lockdown.

Quek notes, “We used to be active in bazaars. The lockdown has restricted our ability to be physically present to promote our Nyonya kaya to the public.”

There was no alternative but to join the crowds by rapidly switching to online social platforms. Without in-person promotions, Baba Beng had to make their presence felt digitally or risk missing out on reaching new and existing customers.

For those craving a different flavour, Baba Beng offers durian Nyonya 'kaya' too.
For those craving a different flavour, Baba Beng offers durian Nyonya ‘kaya’ too.

Today, that switch has become the cornerstone of Quek’s operations, perhaps even reshaping his distribution channel: “Our Baba Beng Nyonya kaya is available at more major online platforms thus getting the kaya is very convenient. Wherever you are in the country, we will be able to deliver our kaya to you.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Quek is currently exploring new flavours for his Nyonya kaya range. The plan as it stands is to introduce a new flavour every year for the next five years, which would allow the brand to have a more diversified product line, even as the base offering remains the same.

Quek adds, “Apart from expanding our distribution network, we would also like to look into working with more bakeries. We currently have a successful venture with a sourdough bakery in Damansara Jaya. Our Nyonya kaya was a hit when paired with their sourdough bread and customers were addicted to it.”

Beyond just the domestic market, Quek observed that customers who were travelling overseas prior to the lockdown used to buy jars of his Nyonya kaya for their friends and relatives. Since the closing of borders, he has been investigating this untapped need.

Quek has emphasised his Peranakan background in his branding for Baba Beng.
Quek has emphasised his Peranakan background in his branding for Baba Beng.

“We are looking at exporting the kayaand currently in talks with an exporter,” he reveals. So for Malaysians who are living abroad, it might not be too far off in the future when they can get a jar or two of Baba Beng’s Nyonya kaya and with it, perhaps a taste of home.

By : Kenny Mah – MALAY MAIL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s