Instant noodles have a very, very special place in my heart. I started with the typical childhood Maggi, then eventually graduated to enjoy more premium instant noodles like those from Samyang and Nongshim.
In the past, they used to be just a treat, even during university days. As a working adult, however, I find myself considering them to be a legit yet minimum-effort meal, especially on busier days.
They’re fast to make, are filling, and can taste really good if you’re buying from premium brands. Like with any other industry though, innovation is always just around the corner. It just takes the right brand to execute it well.
One brand that I feel has managed to nail the balance between premium instant noodles with affordable prices is KampongKu. To make matters better, they’re proudly Malaysian made.
A foodie’s journey
To understand KampongKu’s origins, one has to travel back in time. We interviewed Annie Tang, Executive Director of Tong Young Food Industries, the parent company of KampongKu, to learn more.
Annie grew up in a family of foodies, and after her father had to shut down his textile factory in 2010, they set up a small office in China.
They began exporting cooking pastes to China and tried to get listed in the supermarkets there.
“Unfortunately, having the products listed was not enough as we need a good marketing plan as well. We did not have the experience then, especially in a foreign land. After 6 months, we decided to cut our losses and return to Malaysia,” Annie recalled.
But their dream wasn’t over. In 2012, Annie, her brother Thomas, and their neighbour developed MyKuali Penang White Curry Noodles. According to Annie, it was the first of its kind in the market and took it by storm, and not just locally.
“The product was exported to Hong Kong within 6 months of launching in Malaysia, and was subsequently exported to at least 10 countries within the next 2 years,” she recalled.
5 years after MyKuali, Annie and her family decided to move on to something newer and bigger. Together, they started Tong Young Food Industries Sdn Bhd.
There, she handled exports, sales, operations, and R&D. Meanwhile, her mother would put her cooking skills to use and create homecooked formulations, which her father would then industrialise for mass production.
They partnered Yee Lee Trading Co. Sdn Bhd to create the Red Chef brand of 4 instant noodle flavours, and since beginning exports in 2018, Red Chef is now available in 7 countries.
But after 10 years of creating products for other brands, Annie felt it was time to create some to call her own.
Elevating the instant noodle game
To materialise her vision, she brought in her old friends, Kelvin and Vincent, who bring to the table a variety of F&B business experience themselves.
On August 15, 2021, KampongKu was launched with 4 cooking paste products and 3 instant noodle flavours inspired by local street food.
Looking at KampongKu’s website, there’s a lot of emphasis on its ability to bring the “real taste” of Malaysians’ favourite hometown food in instant noodle and paste forms.
How it accomplishes this is through chunky pastes. These pastes include real chunks of ingredients such as fried garlic bits, fried shallots, dried shrimps, crushed peanuts, and more, to preserve their flavours closely.
The team’s R&D process for making these pastes involves comparing themselves against store-bought fresh food to ensure that they’re close—if not better—in quality.
Each ingredient is studied to find out how it can contribute the best colour, texture, thickness, and coarseness to the paste in order to match the flavours KampongKu wants to achieve.
“For example, we maintain the fibres of the lemongrass in our grinding process for our Asam Laksa paste so that consumers get to enjoy the aroma from them,” Annie shared.
To add, the brand uses no added preservatives or food colouring in its products. However, with the right processes and packaging, their products can have a shelf life of 12-14 months.
Putting Penang in a package
As of now, these are KampongKu’s products:
|Instant noodles||– Garlic Black Pepper Fried Noodles|
– Mee Goreng Mamak
– Curry Seafood Fried Noodles
|Cooking pastes||– Curry Chicken|
– Curry Fish
– Asam Laksa
– Sambal seafood
If you’re a Penangite, it’s likely you’ll find that these flavours hit much closer to home, which makes sense as the state’s abundance of street food was what inspired the team (who are also locals) in the first place.
Having tried all the instant noodle flavours myself (but not yet the pastes, as I’m not much of a cook), I can say that what the packaging promises is what you’ll get.
The Garlic Black Pepper Fried Noodles came with a distinct garlic flavour, a promise that other brands I’ve tried in the past have failed to keep, and the Sarawakian black pepper used gave the dish a real spicy kick.
Meanwhile, the Mee Goreng Mamak was savoury and slightly nutty thanks to the peanut chunks in the paste, and it held a slight tang from tomato ketchup (a common addition to Penang’s version of the dish, we’re told).
The flavour that stood out the least to me was the Curry Seafood Fried Noodles, but I’m generally not a curry fan anyway. That being said, it still delivered.
A pack of 4 (whichever flavour) would cost you RM8.90, which is not cheap when compared to Maggi, for example. But you’d be hard pressed to find similar instant noodle flavours in the market, let alone at this price point.
Most online recipes require you to get your own ingredients and use common instant noodles as a base for modification, but that’s not what people who are after convenience want.
As for KampongKu’s cooking pastes (all 200g except for the Asam Laksa paste at 180g), they’ll cost RM5.50 each, which is an average price for most 200g cooking pastes already in the market.
Eyes on the global market
KampongKu was able to utilise Tong Young Food Industries’ existing machinery and facilities, thus there was no additional capital expenditure (CapEx) cost.
“However, our operating expenditures (OpEx) have increased a bit due to additional costs in the product development, launching, and marketing of the KampongKu brand,” Annie said.
The cost of raw materials is also what KampongKu has to contend with, since some of them have limited supply when they’re off-season, leading to higher prices. To overcome this, the team studies the trends of price fluctuations in raw materials and purchases them at low prices for storage during off-seasons.
All the experience that Annie and her team have from previous ventures will be beneficial in growing KampongKu, and the brand can also utilise Red Chef’s existing export markets when its products are ready to be shipped overseas.
Within the next year, KampongKu plans to have its products listed on supermarket shelves and in 3 other countries. Of course, the launch of a new range of products is also in the pipeline.
Featured Image Credit: KampongKu