Keeping The Kampong Spirit Alive: Keng Eng Kee Seafood
··3 mins read
Nestled within Bukit Merah Central is Keng Eng Kee Seafood, a local Zichar eatery that has been wok-king out fiery dishes for 3 generations. Meet the trio of Liew siblings—Paul, Wayne, and Jiamin—who helm the business as third-generation owners.
In the 1970s, their grandmother started Keng Eng Kee as a small hawker stall at Old Havelock Road. Now, 51 years later, the eatery has grown immensely. Their store even boasts a special, air-conditioned VIP room alongside the usual hawker-setting tables.
In Singapore, zichar is one of the most popular cuisines, with its roots in Teochew and Hokkien culinary culture. Translated as 煮炒, zichar literally means “cook and fry”. More widely, zichar refers to affordable and commonplace Chinese home-cooked dishes, usually shared with friends and family.
With the cessation of dining in during Circuit Breaker in the past year, many F&B businesses lost most of their revenue overnight. Coupled with high rentals and staff costs, it was undoubtedly a difficult time for many within the F&B industry, even for veterans like Keng Eng Kee.
Amidst the crisis, many restaurants’ first anxieties were about cost, revenue and sales. But Keng Eng Kee thought about its people first.
“When the circuit breaker was first announced, my grandma called me to ask, “Are all your staff still with you?””, says Paul, the eldest of the three siblings. It might have been a simple question, but their grandma’s words are an exact testament to Keng Eng Kee’s philosophy. The team truly believes that their people are the essence of their business and are the ones they should protect first and foremost.
“She reminded me that we started Keng Eng Kee to support a family. 51 years later, families of employees depend on it. Our business isn’t just about profit and loss. It is a family business that grows with everyone involved.”
People first & family first, then business.
Paul Liew, third-generation owner of Keng Eng Kee Seafood
With this maxim, Paul’s words aptly capture the core of Keng Eng Kee’s values—a commitment to keeping the ‘kampong spirit’ well and alive. “My dad always says, don’t be calculative, we must help those around us, in whatever ways they need, that is the kampong spirit,” Wayne explains.
It’s not just their culture or philosophy, though, that sets them apart. Keng Eng Kee’s food is just as impressive.
Drizzled in a smooth and rich chilli gravy, their Chilli Crab 辣椒蟹 ($86.40) is heavenly and unlike anything else out there. The secret lies in the sambal chilli, which is homemade from scratch with lemongrass, ginger flowers, and more. The result? A gravy that is sweet and savoury, spicy and tangy, all in one bite.
The Mingzhu Rolls (from $14.40) also bear a deep significance to the family as it was a recipe from their mother. They make their beancurd rolls by hand, before steaming and deep-frying them, which is the way it’s always been done. It is a dish that Wayne, who is also the chef of the restaurant, has mastered. And he is determined to pass it on.
In tough times like these, it is inspiring to learn of these stories of humanity and support, especially from a truly local home-grown F&B business. The ‘kampong spirit’ is no myth here. That much is clear, with the close camaraderie between the three siblings and their team of cooks and staff members.