Bread: Its Malaysian History At A Glance
We, Malaysians have an awesome selection of food for breakfast such as nasi lemak and roti canai. However, many of us have bread for breakfast before rushing off to work or school. We spread fruit jam, kaya or top it with cheese, egg or meat for a filling sandwich.
The bread history in Malaysia is believed to have started sometimes in the 1950s during the British Malaya. The traditional bread in Chinese community was a steamed bread which was similar to Western white bread, but since it is not baked it does not have a brown outer crust. It has a filling such as meat or vegetables.
At the same time, the Indian community and their traditional types of unleavened flat breads were gaining ground among the locals. Thei bread was usually made from whole wheat flour and baked on a hot iron griddle called a tava are known as roti or chapati. Roti is usually served with curry throughout the region.
As the volume of production started to increase, the Indian bakeries sold their bread to various coffee shop (majority opened by the Chinese Hainanese group) and some even sent through various Indian vendor who carried the breads with various other food stuffs by the tri-wheeled delivery “truck” and motorcycles.
I remember growing up watching Indian and Chinese sellers riding their motorcycles carrying different types of breads, mostly produced by local small bakeries.
One of the major bakery from that time which is still in operation today is the Federal Bakery in Kuala Lumpur. By the 1960s, a large bakery group from Australia, Quality Baker started to open up their business in Malaysia. Some old bakery equipment was transferred from Australia to Malaysia and the new company known as Quality Bakers (M) Sdn Bhd was set up and their first bakery was built in Jalan Chan Sow Lin. With its semi-auto bread production system, the Sunshine bread had finally become one of the major bread brand name in Malaysia.
Sometime in the early 1970s, the founder left the Quality Baker and set up a new company in Shah Alam and this new company was known as Gardenia Bakeries (KL) Sdn Bhd. In 1980’s, Gardenia set up the second plant also in Shah Alam.
Due to the serious competition from Gardenia, Sunshine finally lost its market.
With the loss of customer, Quality Baker in Australia decided to sell off their Sunshine business in South East Asia (namely, Malaysia and Singapore). A new buyer was interested in the Sunshine business in Singapore, but not that in Malaysia.
They decided to buy only the Singapore Sunshine brand and established a bakery in Johor, the southern state of Malaysia for OEM supply. As such, Quality Baker Malaysia was ended up with producing bread that cannot be using “Sunshine” brand any further. The General Manager of Quality Baker Malaysia, Terry Bredwell finally relaunched the product in Malaysia with the name of High-5.
In my search for bread history in this country I stumbled upon this story about a guy by the name of Mokhtar, a lone bread maker in Slim River in Perak.
The factory was originally operated by an individual who was engaged in the making of bread around 1912.
Then the factory was bought by Mokhtar uncle, Abdul Kadir Habib who arrived from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India in 1950.
And interestingly, despite not having certain brand or name on the packaging, the popularity of the family operated bakery has been expanding around the surrounding area for more than 60 years.
I am sure, Mokhtar is one of hundreds of small time bakery operator who have been surviving on the demand by its local-based customers for decades.
It must be tough for small time bakeries to compete against big company who doled out variety of bread and with big financial back up.
And if you visit more affluent places in the Kuala Lumpur or anywhere in the Klang Valley you will find all the niche bakeries sprouting up every where. And you can see all sort of western style breads being sold.
I remember I used to stop by at this small and chic place called The Bakery in Ukay Heights in Ampang when we still lived there. As it is located two doors from my favourite laundry shop, it was just convenient to pick John’s dried tomato wholemeal bread and few sets of delicious quiches on the way home (from work).
However after we sold the house in Ukay Heights and moved to Nilai in 2008, looking for tasty and quality bakery was pretty hard. Possibly due to the fact that Nilai was a fairly new township then. To fix our craving for good bread I would normally scheduled my journey to include Ukay Heights every now and then to buy some bread while still sending our laundry there. Spoilt lot, aren’t we? A