IPOH, Oct 18: Kacang putih is a misnomer.
Literally translated, it means ”white legumes”, although it refers to chickpea lentils.
However, when most Malaysians say it, they are actually referring to the variety of Indian snacks that used to be peddled by Indian traders.
In the olden days, these peddlers would go from village to village on their bicycles, bringing with them a large quantity and variety of legumes. The snacks were packed and sold in conical-shaped papers.
Today, it is said that the best kacang putih comes from Kampung Kacang Putih in Buntong, Perak.
This is hardly surprising as 40 out of 50 families staying in the nearly half a century old village operate their own kacang putih business.
Muruku, pakoda, sivel, dhall, aulu, poori, pakoda Sri Lanka, omom, kadalai and tapioca chips are only a few of over 50 types of kacang putih that can be found by visitors to the village.
Kacang putih snacks are usually crunchy and savoury, but some shops also sell sweet treats like laddu, jalebi and athirasam.
The products are naturally the pride of Kampung Kacang Putih, which is located some eight kilometres off Ipoh town. Those visiting the village may find the traders more than happy to entertain any queries regarding their business.
According to Thanggaraja Solayapan, a 57-year-old kacang putih seller at the Ipoh Bus Station, the villagers’ forefathers hailed from India and came to Malaya in the 19th century.
They built a settlement at the foot of a limestone cliff in Gunung Cheroh, Ipoh, behind Sri Subramaniar Temple. The temple is where majority of the Hindu devotees in Perak would come to celebrate Thaipusam.
The migrants sold Indian snacks on a small scale as a means of survival.
Thanggaraja said that in the 70s, a rockfall at the mountain killed many of their family members.
The state government then relocated the survivors to a new settlement in Buntong, which became the village it is today.
As the villagers were accustomed to making Indian snacks for a living, they continued with the tradition. They perfected the art, eventually coming up with quality snacks that are enjoyed by Malaysians from all walks of life.
In addition to preserving the family tradition, they have also proved that the cottage industry was lucrative enough to comfortably support their families and finance their children’s further education.
In fact, these traders are now even able to help those around them by providing job opportunities as workers at their snack-processing factories as well as by becoming sellers and distributors for their products.
Jayabalan, 65, is one of such traders. He is the third generation running his family businesses Perniagaan JB Buntong Kacang Putih and Sempurna Kacang Putih.
His late father, Chinnasamy Nadar, sold kacang putih by carrying the assortment of snacks on a wooden tray on his head.
Jayabalan carried on the business by peddling the snacks from house to house on foot.
As his business grew, he went on to sell on bicycle, and then motorcycle and finally, by van.
With hard work and unrelenting effort, Jayabalan and his wife G. Sagunthala, 51, had managed to open two factories and stores in the village.
To this day, Jayabalan’s kacang putih snacks uses the recipe passed down by his late father.
However, as entrepreneurs, Jayabalan and his wife are constantly coming out with newer recipes.
“In the olden days we fried using coconut oil. However, many did not favour the taste. We then used palm oil instead and the customers loved it, so we stuck with it. We are always coming up with recipes that the customers might like,” he told Bernama.
Of the 40 types of snacks produced by his company, five were made using Jayabalan’s own recipe which he named Star, Sivel, Kalistar, Kari Muruku and Ramba.
His products are hugely popular not just with loyal customers but visitors to the village as well. His company’s gross income easily reach RM80,000 come the festive seasons of Hari Raya, Chinese New Year or Deepavali.
During Deepavali, his company would set up tents in front of the factories to hold a sale in conjunction with the celebration.
However, Jayabalan dismissed the notion that it was an easy business.
The business requires the use of between 10,000 to 15,000kg of flour a month and Jayabalan has to make sure that the raw ingredients are always of the best and unchanging quality.
“The prices of raw ingredients in the market tend to fluctuate. Many of the ingredients are imported, especially lentils. I had previously imported from India but they were unable to keep up with the high demand, so then I had to import from Australia.
“Our currency has depreciated, so that makes it very expensive to import from there, so now we are sourcing from Ukraine,” he explained.
Another ingredient, black pepper, is sourced directly from producers in Sarawak.
“The demand for our products is always high, but we often face a shortage of manpower. I have tried employing Indonesian and Bangladeshi workers, but that did not work out. It is easier to employ local workers with my wife and children to help,” said Jayabalan, whose company has applied for the JAKIM Halal Certification.
CONTINUING THE LEGACY
Despite it being a small-scale trade for some, the business of kacang putih has contributed significantly towards the country’s economy.
As entrepreneurs, Thanggaraja, Jayabalan and other kacang putih business operators preferred that the job opportunities within the cottage industry be given to locals.
To attract the young into the business, more current marketing techniques are used to reach to them, such as through social media.
Commercialisation has helped the industry in Buntong to not only progress but to become a tourist attraction in Ipoh town.
Today, Jayabalan’s daughter Buvaneswary is continuing the family legacy by handling the financial and administration matters of the company.
The graduate of Unitar College in Business Management is the next generation that will be taking over the village’s kacang putih business.
The second of six children, Buvaneswary is currently learning the tricks of the trade from her father.
“I have been assisting my father for some time now, having been exposed to the business since young. Now, with the knowledge I have, I can help to further expand the marketing techniques online,” said the 26-year-old who also has a diploma in IT.
“We will try to go further in the market. With communication technology, we can easily go overseas,” she said.
Many of the kacang putih businesses in the village are currently exporting their products to Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong, among others.