Small noodle factory survives test of time

January 30, 2016 08:01
Lee Yu-yeung and his mother jointly run the Ming Fung noodles factory in Tsuen Wan's Tso Kung Square. Photo: HKEJ

With today's stratospheric property prices and rents, it's becoming increasingly hard to find small family-owned businesses in the city.

Still, there are few establishments that manage to endure the test of time, like a 48-year-old noodles factory that stands humbly in Tsuen Wan's Tso Kung Square.

One can say it's a testament to Hong Kong's can-do spirit.

Ming Fung Company, a small shop specializing in making Cantonese-style noodles and wontons, is now run by the same family that acquired it in 1968.

Lee Yu-yeung, the third generation owner of the business, said his family indeed has a long history of making noodles.

“Tung Fat Lung – not Ming Fung – was the noodle factory founded by my grandparents. It was extremely small-scale. My father, who had worked as an apprentice at another noodle factory, was responsible for making the noodles, while his younger brothers did rice noodles and delivery,” Lee said.

Since the owner of Ming Fung wanted to reunite with his children overseas, he handed the business over to Lee’s father. The year 1968 marked a new chapter in the family business.

Lee recalled his “childhood nightmare” in the shop. “My parents devoted all their energies in the factory. They worked day and night. My brothers and I were too small to be allowed to go out, so we spent our days in the shop trying to beat each other on who could pack the most number of pasta.

"We were treated to some snacks afterwards. But it was no fun at all. We worked all day while children our age played outside."

Since he assumed ownership of the factory 15 years ago, Lee has become more appreciative of his parents' sacrifices to grow the business.

“They are truly incredible people, heroes really," he said. "My father used to work around the clock. You would be so impressed by his diligence and sacrifice.

"I remember after he acquired Ming Fung, he started working 22 hours a day, and the remaining couple of hours he spent taking a nap at the store. Still, he would appear so energetic the following day."

Lee remember his father as stern. "You would feel terrible and dare not look into his eyes if you made a silly mistake.”

Due to failing health, Lee’s father passed on the business to him. He was doing fine, until the SARS outbreak in 2003.

“Our business was in a bad shape as many of our retail purchasers also suffered from the impact of SARS. Fortunately, our banks understood our predicament and came up with different proposals which helped us with financing," Lee said.

"Those were the days when people helped one another, and less calculating."

You probably could consume a bowl of noodles in less than 15 minutes. However, making noodles is painstaking and requires years of experience.

Lee doesn't allow the machines to do everything. "Doing noodles manually gives us flexibility to adjust the quality and texture of the dough, and that is important, given that Hong Kong’s weather and humidity vary throughout the year,” he said.

However, that means he can't take a break until the noodles are done because he needs to examine the dough from time to time and make sure it is done the right way.

Lee gave away one secret to delicious wonton noodles: they must be cooked “al dente”.

The noodles should be loosened the night before so that the air would take away the alkali and excess water.

After that, the noodles are ready for cooking. After cooking, the noodles must be rinsed in cold water before being served in hot soup to bring out the best texture.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 29.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Ming Fung has been making Cantonese-style noodles and wontons since 1968. Photo: HKEJ
Lee considers his father as a "super hero". Lee started working in the noodle shop when he was just a small boy. Photo: HKEJ

Reporter at Hong Kong Economic Journal