How Geylang Bazaar was a Testing Bed for My Squid Business
Imagine this, you’ve just finished shopping and you are craving for something chewy, but not so filling because you just had your lunch. What would you do?
In front of your eyes, in the basement of Bugis Junction, you see a huge fried squid. AND it’s halal! YES! You stand in line to wait for fried squid big enough to cover your face.
We talked to the Director behind Uyi Savoury Squids, Timothy Ho, which now has four branches all over Singapore. They are in the plans to open another branch.
Uyi Savoury Squids is a home-grown brand inspired by Chef Masahiro Tanaka, a renowned food specialist overseeing many food outlets in Fukuoka City. Chef Masahiro Tanaka grew up in a tiny fishing village of Yobuko in Fukuoka city, Japan. Refining his Obasan’s (grandmother) recipe, he created a squid which is almost 30 cm in length. It is coated with light crispy batter, chewy and succulent at the same time. Imagine you are eating that extra-large Taiwanese chicken cutlet, except at Uyi, you get squid instead.
The squid is really soft. It’s always easy to overcook the squid and it becomes rubbery instead. How do you ensure this is kept consistent?
We have specially selected the squid species and they are specially imported from Japan. We have a formula on how long we fry the squid. Squid can be a slippery and the flour recipe that we use cannot stick on the squid. The flour that we use is also specially formulated to keep the squid crispy. Although it is similar to the Taiwanese Large Crispy Chicken, with the slippery and smooth texture of the squid, it was difficult for the batter to stay on while it was frying. We took a few months just to work on the batter daily. We tried every day to finally arrive at this special formula.
Where does the squid come from?
It comes from Yobuko fishing village in Japan. The head chef, Chef Masahiro Tanaka, trains each cook at the branch, so that there is consistency in the taste of Uyi’s menu items. It takes 1 month for the training of all the food.
Why do you focus only on seafood?
Seafood is something Singaporeans like to eat but it is quite expensive when you have it at restaurants. Take-away food have this perception that is cheaper and more accessible. At the same time, our quality of food is high.
We want to keep it unique, and serve deep fried unique items which other people don’t serve. Chicken is quite common. The food we sell is not a craze. People don’t mind eating it now and then.
Before this you were at Geylang bazaar and known as Encik Sotong? How long were you selling at Geylang? Are the things you sell there similar to what you have at the stall now? What has changed since then?
Yes, in 2015 we were Encik Sotong at the Geylang Bazaar during Ramadan. (See what they looked like when they were at Geylang Bazaar here.) We sold ‘Udang Panggang’, ‘Krispy Sotong’ and ‘Sotong Bakar’, or grilled prawns, fried squid, and grilled squid. In the beginning when we set up, we didn’t sell much, but towards the middle, we noticed the same customers keep coming back and buying more and more. We were very happy because they gave us feedback.
This past year we participated in this year’s bazaar in July as Uyi Savoury Squids with more items on the menu. It was a testing period, a trial to get feedback especially from the Muslim community. It was good so we decided to take the next step. In August, we immediately applied for a halal certificate and looked for suitable places for the next step. For us what was logical was to find a place in a basement food hall and keep to our take-away style of serving the squid, and that was how we had our first branch at Bugis.
Why the name Uyi?
It’s cute and easy to remember. It’s actually pronounced as Woo-Yi. It has this Japanese feel and we needed to find a balance in the brand to tell our customers that this is a Japanese product, a Japanese recipe, but at the same time it cannot sound too Japanese.
Uyi has successfully crossed over from being a stall at Geylang bazaar’s Ramadan market, to having three branches around Singapore. Like Uyi, there are many youths out there who dip their foot in Singapore’s halal F&B scene by setting up a stall at smaller markets. What advice do you have for people trying to follow your path?
Yes there was a lot of interesting food in the 2016 bazaar, a lot of up and coming youths. It’s not like past years where you would find ramly burgers and kebab stalls every ten or so stalls. There are galaxy donuts and all of that.
I find it commendable that the youths tried that out. You get very hot and sweaty selling at Geylang bazaar. What I would tell them is to have perseverance and determination. There will be challenges at every step. Moving into brick and mortar business, there is a contract for three years and you have to keep up the contracts.
Could you share with us a bit about these challenges you face?
Well for one, we deal with seafood items, and the supply is always going up and down, unlike farmed animals. If we encounter short supply and quantity, we need to get that particular squid no matter what. At this point of our business we cannot disappoint customers, so we will get the squid no matter how high the cost is. The costing is drastic.
But the high point is seeing customers coming back and bringing other friends. It’s a nod of approval from them that money cannot buy. All this hard work pays off when we see that.
We try our best to maintain food quality and consistency. We don’t plan to expand too fast because then, we won’t be able to manage the whole chain.
What’s your recommendation at Uyi Savoury Squids?
I love everything that we are selling. The popcorn squid is most popular with the ladies, and actually we can cut the giant squid when you request us to do so too!
The marinade for the Grilled Squid ($3.80) originated from Chef Masahiro’s grandmother. She was well known for creating her homemade sauce to complement grandfather’s daily fresh catch. Combining the chewy texture of the rich natural squid with the original Tanaka marinate, the unique and savoury Grilled squid was created. Other than the original Obasan BBQ sauce, you could also choose between Obasan Fiery Sauce or Zi Ran Sauce.
To find out more about Uyi Savoury Squids’ location, opening hours, and contact details head to halalfoodhunt.com Uyi Savoury Squids is a verified listed merchant on halalfoodhunt.com
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