Supermarkets, to me, are as super as their name implies. No matter where I am in the world, I would always make it a point to track one down, exploring each aisle thoroughly. Growing up in a traditional family, I remember how my great-aunt would shop for provisions daily, sometimes from the wet market but more often than not from the old-fashioned chap hoay tnah, a truck with open sides driven by the “roving vegetable man”, who hawked everything from fresh tofu and seafood to salted, preserved greens — a godsend for the housebound housewives of yesteryear.
It was only with my parents that I got to go to supermarkets. In the eyes of a child, it was a world away from the vegetable man’s stall. Air-conditioned, usually within a shopping complex and with aisles illuminated by fluorescent lights, it was here at the modern supermarket that my world expanded marvellously and magically. I remember my mother buying slices of pink cooked ham — which I would steal from the fridge and eat as is — and being introduced to luscious peaches that did not come from a can.
Through the supermarket, my childhood diet extended to Italy via spaghetti with tomato sauce and to England when we had chops and peas for dinner. Once, there was a Scandinavian food fair and it happily resulted in my tuck box filled with salmon pâté sandwiches for recess — the height of culinary sophistication for a curious nine-year-old.
The supermarkets of today do not let down the young generation. In fact, they have become places of greater grocerial (if I could be so bold as to take liberties with that noun) magic.
The vanguard today in the Klang Valley is undoubtedly The Food Purveyor, a family-run organisation whose portfolio spans supermarkets for the masses to those for upmarket clients. At the top of its pyramid is the premium boutique chain known as Ben’s Independent Grocer (B.I.G.), followed by Village Grocer (with 15 stores) and Pasaraya OTK, which has three outlets, in Gombak, Sentul and Puchong. The last is where this story began.
The early days
“It started with my dad in the early 1950s,” says Ong Kim Too, 66, the genial group executive chairman of The Food Purveyor. Born in Kuala Lumpur in the Year of the Dragon, he recalls: “At that time, the business was only a kedai runcit (sundry shop), which was managed by my late father and eldest brother, Tai Kim. As the second youngest in a family of 10, I was considered lucky because I could go away to study.”
For the full story, pick up a copy of The Edge Malaysia (Nov 26, 2018) at your nearest news stand. Save by subscribing to us for your print and/or digital copy.