Even though it’s included in so many dishes and aspects of our cooking, a bottle of soy sauce remains as a household necessity, but not really something we give much thought to.
Your mother will probably have her own preferred brand, and odds are, if you learnt to cook from her, that’s the brand you’d use.
But there is one Malaysian who wants to elevate the humble soy sauce to an art form, and to guide it to take its place in our kitchens as a premium ingredient.
Brewing For As Long As Malaysia Has Existed
It would only be a tiny exaggeration to say that soy sauce is in Shirley’s blood.
Her late grandfather left China for Malaysia looking for better opportunities, and he started brewing soy sauce right next to his house. He would then take a bicycle to go out and sell it.
Her father took the family business a little further, and found a piece of land to set up their manufacturing process on.
Last year, Shirley felt called to the business after she saw at her parents’ hard work in brewing traditional soy sauce. She felt the urge to raise better appreciation for the product.
“People can appreciate any other artisanal food, but why not soy sauce?” she exclaimed.
It was a tough decision to leave her banking and investment job where she had worked for the past 11 years. After all, it was a completely different industry and she took a 90% pay cut.
Still, she persevered in order to survive through this transition.
Shirley set up Musees Soy Sauce to hand-brew premium artisanal traditional soy sauce.
“To be honest, some days I still doubt on my decision when I wake up in the morning but this spins off fast when I look at my life and I know I have a purpose to continue,” she explained.
“The sense of satisfaction keeps me going.”
As the third generation of Musees Soy Sauce, she reintroduced traditional soy sauce with her series, Mu Artisan Soy Sauce.
She handles the finance, marketing, sales, operation, and even gets her hands dirty by cleaning the pottery urns.
What Makes A Product “Artisanal”?
One of the Mu Artisan Soy Sauce products Shirley highly recommends is the first draw soy sauce. To produce this, she has to fully utilise the skills passed down from her grandfather and father.
“It is hard to get the pure first draw unless your family and friends are soy sauce brewers,” she said.
“Traditional handmade soy sauce is an ancient art that is is worth preserving. Someone has to stand up, take it and pass it down to the next generation.”
In her eyes, her product stands out, because as she explained, many soy sauces in the market are made from a chemical mixture with no soybean fermentation, or a mixture of chemical and natural soy sauce.
Mu Artisan Soy Sauce places a lot of emphasis on being 100% handmade, the product of natural fermentation, lower in sodium, part of a small-batch artisanal production, and contains zero chemicals.
Of course, she maintains that her soy sauce hass no MSG or chemicals such as protein sauce and colouring.
The steamed non-GMO (genetically modified) soybeans and organic soybeans from Canada are mixed with flour and sit for 180 days to develop the fermenting mould.
These are then added in salt and water before putting them into the small pottery urns for fermentation.
The urns are left under the Malaysian sun for six months to acquire a deep and rich flavour and natural aged taste.
“Even though it requires much more capacity in terms of labour and space, the umami and aroma are simply different from the mass production,” Shirley said. “Our strategy is to stand firm and hold the tradition at the same time by continuing to learn inside and outside of the industry.”
“A lot of people said Mu Artisan Soy Sauce brings back their olden days’ memory taste. This keeps our journey going.”
Not Going Into The Battle Alone
During her search for new ideas for Asian soy sauce, Shirley met the owner of Beauty Soy Sauce, who also happens to be a third-generation soy sauce brewer. He was an engineer by trade, but left to work full-time in the brewery.
Like her, he wanted to see a creative breakthrough in his family business which has been running for more than 100 years.
As a product of their collaboration. Musees Soy Sauce now is the sole distributor for Beauty Soy Sauce from Japan. These are uniquely flavoured soy sauce (such as apple, banana and pear), which are used in Michelin stars restaurants including the Shangri-La Hotel in Tokyo.
“I think Malaysians have more demand for soy sauce which is also one of the reasons why I started Mu Artisan Soy Sauce with Beauty Soy Sauce,” she explained.
Another aspect of being an artisanal product is helping the others to understand the painstaking processes that happen to bring a product into fruition.
Learning from the similar workshops in Japan and Taiwan, she aspires to bring soy sauce workshops back to Malaysia and teach people how to brew their own soy sauce from scratch.
“We want to continue to educate and increase public awareness on natural homemade soy sauce,” she mentioned. “We believe Malaysians need to have better knowledge on food security and appreciation on artisanal food.”
Elevating Their Soy Sauce From Being “Just Another Grocery Brand”
For the first six months, Shirley was worried that customers will not buy a bottle of RM18 soy sauce which is three times more than what a grocery sells. Yet the customers started to appreciate them and kept coming back for more because of the taste, aroma and flavour.
“I do believe is not something that hides in the kitchen. It can be elegant and fit the [chosen] lifestyle, just like wine.”
She prefers to deliver the soy sauce to the customers personally, where they can chat like friends and she can really get down to the ground to see what they are talking and thinking about.
However, if the business grows bigger and they are unable to handle personal deliveries, they will consider running an online store with a responsive chat.
As for stockists, she is selective in supplying the soy sauce to them because they have limited supplies. She wants partners who share the same mind more than just the figure game.
Feature Image Credit: Musees Soy Sauce