Everyone has that one food which brings back the taste of home. It could be your opah’s rendang, your aunt’s fish maw soup, or your dad’s chapati.
For Mei Lim, it was her mother’s popiahs (also known as spring rolls).
The then-16-year-old Mei asked her mother for the recipe, the one created when Mei and her siblings were still very young. This same recipe would later allow Mei and her siblings to launch a spring roll venture called SisterS Crispy Popiah.
Something old, something new
“I loved eating popiah. She taught me how to make them. She gave me all the ingredients and created a lot of recipes. My grandmother also loved to make popiah as well as other traditional Chinese cakes,” Mei reminisced.
Having nailed the original recipe, Mei decided to experiment with different ingredients and techniques. It was a laborious effort and took countless tries, but she eventually made one that suited her tastes.
In 2001, Mei began selling these homemade popiahs with her husband at a pasar malam in Kuala Lumpur. Growing up with a mother that sold mixed rice at a roadside stall meant that she was no stranger to the market scene and knew her way around.
Each popiah roll is composed of homemade sweet bean sauce, chili sauce, steamed turnips, dried shrimp, shredded cucumber and carrots, crushed peanuts, and her secret ingredient—crispy biscuits.
If you’re a fan of SisterS Crispy Popiah, you wouldn’t be surprised to know why it was an instant hit with the crowds. Its winning recipe was popular even back then and made the business flourish. So much so that Mei’s siblings ended up joining the venture, which explains the brand’s name.
Two years after that, Mei’s sister Theresa noticed that Mid Valley Megamall had an opening and excitedly told her siblings about it. “I saw the potential for us to offer a home-cooked product in a shopping mall environment, which was rare at the time,” Theresa said.
So with a capital of RM20,000, the siblings took up the opportunity and set up SisterS Crispy Popiah’s first mall kiosk in 2003. That truly was the turning point for the business’ growth.
The secret is perfecting your craft
It’s been 20 years since that outlet opened and SisterS Crispy Popiah has only grown bigger. The brand has expanded into more major shopping malls in both East and West Malaysia. They also offer a wider selection of spring rolls to cater to the needs of different dietary preferences.
To accomplish this, the siblings worked on refining their spring rolls according to the feedback received from loyal customers. Some additions to their menu include fried popiah, egg roll popiah, and teriyaki popiah.
SisterS Crispy Popiah also has a distinctive greenish hue that makes it stand out. “Normally, popiah skin is white. We used natural pandan leaves, ground it to form a gravy, then mixed it with flour to get our pandan skin popiah,” Theresa shared.
Their egg roll popiah is another item that was highlighted, due to the specific rolling technique required from their staff.
As it is made purely of eggs, the lack of a binding ingredient like flour means it’s quite delicate. “It’s very tedious to roll the popiah. If you’re not good in skills, it’ll easily break,” Theresa explained.
A win’s a win
The siblings’ determination to continuously innovate this classic snack without changing its roots didn’t go unnoticed. In 2014, the business won The Star People’s Food Awards, then The Brandlaureate Awards for World Halal Brands in 2019.
Besides the endless crowds that flock to SisterS Crispy Popiah, these accolades also serve as a testament to how their delicacy has a place in the people’s hearts.
Of course, it was not all smooth sailing. There have been hiccups along the way as running a business together with family is never easy. But Mei and Theresa credit the brand’s success to the siblings’ shared understanding of teamwork and mutual respect.
“We do respect each other, this is important. There are arguments, but afterwards we’d tell ourselves, it’s over… So whatever argument it is, [we understand that] it’s for the business. We just want to improve it, that’s all. Then after that, we’re back to normal like siblings,” the sisters shared.
Some things won’t change
Despite the brand’s popularity, the founders of SisterS Crispy Popiah remain humble and hands-on with the business. Mei continues to be in charge of the production side of the business, while Theresa acts as managing director.
As someone who grew up frequenting their outlets, the taste of SisterS Crispy Popiah not only reminds me of my heritage, but also the fond memories I have of my childhood.
F&B joints are known to pop in and out of the scene, but I believe that this one will continue to stay and introduce newer generations to this local hawker delicacy.
- Learn more about SisterS Crispy Popiah here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: SisterS Crispy Popiah / Mid Valley Megamall