In the bustling city of Singapore, a hidden gem awaits those seeking a taste of authentic halal Hakka cuisine. Joyce, a Chinese Muslim revert with a passion for cooking, has turned her love for food into a thriving home-based business called Hoochew Zaoka.
Hoochew Zaoka, a name born from the fusion of dialect (Hoochew) and kitchen (Zaoka), soon became interchangeable with delectable Hakka cuisine. Although facing challenges in scaling up her business due to the time-consuming nature of her dishes, Joyce's main aim was to reconnect reverts with their cultural roots and provide an alternative halal dish that everyone could savor.
Joyce's path to becoming a revert began when she met her husband, who introduced her to Islam. A year before their wedding, she embraced Islam wholeheartedly.
Joyce has always enjoyed cooking and has a knack for experimenting with flavours. However, her journey towards becoming home-based took an unexpected turn. Prior to starting Hoochew Zaoka, Joyce was a homemaker, caring for her children and tending to household chores.
It was when her daughter reached primary five that Joyce's life took a turn. With her children growing older, she sought to explore her culinary passion beyond her family's dining table. "My husband and my kids were my guinea pigs," she chuckled, sharing how they eagerly tasted her experimental dishes.
With her husband's encouragement, Joyce embarked on her culinary journey by working as a canteen stall operator, which allowed her to polish her skills in a professional setting. It was during this time that her love for cooking blossomed. Joyce found joy in preparing meals for her students and exploring diverse cuisines.
However, Joyce realized that there was a lack of authentic halal Chinese cuisine options for reverts. Determined to bring a taste of their cultural heritage to fellow Muslims, she ventured into the world of home-based businesses. Joyce's passion for cooking and her desire to cater to the Muslim community led her to create her signature dish: Meicai.
Meicai, a traditional Hakka dish, was a personal indulgence for Joyce and she misses the taste of that. Wanting to share this delectable treat with other reverts, she started experimenting with different recipes, aiming to evoke a sense of nostalgia and familiarity. Joyce vividly recalls the moment that ignited her culinary inspiration - a visit to a vegetarian restaurant with her mother, where she tasted their version of meicai.
Determined to enhance the dish's flavors, Joyce added a touch of her creativity. She realized that the absence of fats in the vegetarian version left it lacking in texture and depth. By incorporating beef trimming, she achieved a delightful balance that pleased the palate. The result was a flavorful, halal adaptation of meicai that captivated taste buds and hearts alike.
Joyce's humble beginnings involved opening orders only on weekends, unsure of the response she would receive. She modestly admitted, "I didn't have high hopes for it." Little did she know that a fortuitous encounter with Denise, who shared her culinary creations on social media, would change everything.
For Joyce, Hoochew Zaoka's success extends beyond profit margins. "Making it big isn't my priority," she says. She strives to spread awareness about the existence of halal alternatives in Chinese cuisine and to reignite fond memories for those yearning for a taste of their past. Customers who have sampled Joyce's dishes often remark on the authenticity and familiarity they evoke, leaving her with a deep sense of satisfaction.
As a Muslim revert, Joyce cherishes connecting with fellow reverts who share her love for food and faith. Interacting with people who appreciate her culinary endeavours brings her immeasurable joy. She expressed her gratitude, saying, "Being a Muslim and interacting with other reverts makes me feel truly happy."
Joyce's story exemplifies the power of passion, dedication, and the ability to bridge cultural gaps through the love of food. As she continues to serve up her delectable dishes from Hoochew Zaoka, she hopes to inspire others to embrace their heritage, one halal Meicai at a time.