A taste of home
Cheng Cheung Hing Shrimp Sauce is very popular in North America. In fact, it’s so well known that it’s been featured in “A bite of China”, a popular food show on the Mainland. It is no wonder Cheng isn’t worried about the comment of a child. “As far as I remember, our business was most prosperous in the 1970s and 1980s. A lot of Chinese moved abroad at that time, so demand was high. Perhaps overseas Chinese needed the sauce for cooking dishes to help ease their homesickness!” At its peak, Cheng’s shrimp sauce production reached 70-80 tonnes a year.
In recent years, however, Cheng’s shrimp sauce factory has faced a lot of challenges – lack of fish catch being one of them. In fact, there were as many as 10 shrimp sauce factories in Tai O during the 1960s, but only two – including Cheng’s – remain. “During the most prosperous days, we could get 180 ‘dan’ (around 9,000kg) of silver shrimps in a single day, but in the past 20 years, due to destruction of the ecosystem, we have only had 200-300 ‘dan’ (10,000-15,000kg) of shrimps over the whole summer. This forces us to think of solutions.”
As a result, some 20 years ago, Cheng started buying silver shrimps from Mainland fishermen. Due to his high standards, he spent a lot of time communicating with fishermen. “Every detail is important; even if the silver shrimps come from the same area, their quality differs depending on how the fishermen have filtered out the remnants. This can affect the quality of the shrimp sauce.” After years of cooperation, Cheng has finally found a reliable supplier who is willing to follow his instructions about correctly processing the shrimps: “They add the right amount of salt to the fresh shrimps, then ship it to us, then we spend around a month fermenting and drying the sauce,” he says.
Despite the dramatic reduction in shrimp sauce factories in Tai O, Cheng Cheung Hing remains a famous name known by many. And, to this day, Cheng continues to produce as much as 50 tonnes of shrimp sauce every year. In the past few years, there have been approaches from bigger brands, inviting Cheng to sell his recipes and trademarks; but Cheng declined them all: “After all, this is a family business passed down through the generations, and I don’t want to be the one selling it to someone else.” Cheng smiles, and resumes stirring the next batch of shrimp sauce.