How His Mental Health Crisis Led Him Back Into His Family Business: Ka-Soh

With a rich history dating back to 1939,  Ka-Soh has grown from a hawker stall along Tofu Street to now, a household name in Singapore. It has come a long way from its humble beginnings and is now managed by the third-generation owner, Cedric Tang.

The birth of its name, ‘Ka-Soh’

Uniquely derived, Ka-Soh was named after one of its head waitresses back then, Ka Soh Por. Cedric shared, “We were packed because we had dinner and supper crowds. If customers didn’t know what to order, she would tell them, ”If you don’t know what to order, go and queue again.” While one might think her fierce and feisty temperament would scare customers away, she was fondly remembered by all. Where people on the streets would go, “Let’s go and visit Ka-Soh.” 

Finding strength in Ka-Soh

Unlike traditional family businesses where children are groomed from a young age to take over the family business, Cedric and his siblings were never pressurised into it. Prior to Ka-Soh, Cedric was managing his PR agency. However, in the midst, he was also in the grips of depression.

Being self-aware is important and that’s how you identify steps to get through and move forward with mental illness.

Things took a turn for the worst when Cedric’s dad, the second-generation owner of Ka-Soh, started deteriorating in health. Cedric knew then, that was his calling to step into the business full-time, and carry on his family’s legacy. While openly coping with depression himself, Cedric learned the importance of acknowledging his battle with mental health instead of running away from it. He bravely shared how his journey at Ka-Soh has been his sanctuary where there is always “something for him to look forward to, (a place he can) push himself one step after another.”

Ka-Soh’s specialities 

First up, dig into Ka-Soh’s star of the show, its nostalgic Slice Fish Noodles Soup (from $9.57). Contrary to the Teochew style which serves steamed slices of fish in a light broth soup base, Ka-Soh takes on the Cantonese style, serving up its signature milky broth. Ka-Soh continues to adapt its very own traditional recipes and methods of cooking. Cedric shares how the broth is meticulously prepared every day over long hours, where large quantities of fish bones are churned, broken down, then emulsified into the water. This method helps it extract the maximum flavour customers adore, and achieve a robust milky texture without any use of milk. 

Arguably the star ingredient at Ka-Soh, Snakehead fish (Toman) is used throughout the whole process. They come with many healing properties, where one can consume after surgery as it is high in protein, calcium, collagen, and aids wound healing, Cedric shares. Decadent yet nourishing, it is a dish well-loved by both young and old. 

Ka-Soh’s San Lou Horfun (from $11.30) is your other must-have. As its name suggests, the name San Lou Horfun is derived from San (三) meaning ‘three’ in Chinese, as it features three main ingredients – horfun, stir-fried fish slices, and bean sprouts. Ka-Soh’s version is unique as it leans more towards the drier side.  With the dry version, the horfun taste is not only elevated but boast a distinct wok hei aroma, giving the noodles a different dimension. 

The stories he lived through 

Ka-Soh has been around for over eight decades now, and Cedric continues to keep it what it is intended to be – serving good food to people. He shares how customers would always come back and share the experiences they have had with Ka-Soh, where he would reminisce together. “I’m grateful to our regular customers who have been with us, a few of them for decades. That is something really special and one that not a lot of people can say they have.” While time might pass and things might change, it’s the nostalgic food, memories and people that make Ka-Soh’s legacy live on.