*Produced by SilverKris for Shi Le Po*
Shi Le Po has a distinctly Singaporean identity. Not only is its name a twist on an early appellation for Singapore, the snack brand takes inspiration from local zi char dishes and features Peranakan-influenced motifs on its packaging.
The brainchild of brothers Kelvin and Eric Yam, and their long-time friend Lanshi Loo, Shi Le Po was founded after Kelvin, the chef-owner of famed zi char restaurant Yam’s Kitchen, discovered the fish skin craze in Hong Kong in 2008. “He realised that people were already interested in eating fish skin, but it didn’t have much taste on its own. So he thought of experimenting to give it more flavour,” says Lanshi, who previously worked in construction and now takes care of sales and marketing for Shi Le Po.
Kelvin brought the delicacy home and went through a series of experiments before finally combining the fish skin with salted egg sauce – another emerging food trend at the time – to create an instant best-seller.
“He started selling it as a side dish at his restaurant,” Lanshi recalls. “The orders for the dish kept increasing as it got more and more popular. It became so overwhelming that he couldn’t fulfill all the orders. That’s when he decided to open a factory and rope Eric and me in to build a brand.”
Kelvin’s customers were also asking for the side dish to be turned into a snack. By the time Shi Le Po was established, the dish had been selling for a few years at Yam’s Kitchen and the demand for the snack was high. Yet, there were also competitors in this niche sphere of salted egg fish skin snacks. What helped set Shi Le Po stand out from the rest was its recipe and cooking process.
“As a chef, Kelvin doesn’t like to cut corners when it comes to ingredients. That’s why we always use salted egg yolks, instead of salted egg powder, to produce our snacks,” Lanshi says. “He is also very particular about the smell and taste of the egg yolks. Some of them have a bitter taste.” In fact, close friends and business associates were subjected to blind taste tests to ensure the flavours were just right.
Shi Le Po also uses dory fish skin, which comes from a fish farm in Vietnam. Salmon fish skin, the 45-year-old co-founder says, often gives off a pungent scent and has a plastic-like texture. Kelvin, the 50-year-old Ipoh-born culinary maven, experimented with cod and snakehead fish skin as well, but the latter wasn’t crispy enough while the former ended up too thin.
Lanshi adds, “We don’t use oil in the cooking process either. We bake our product after cooking the fish skin and mixing the other ingredients in. This makes our fish skin snacks less oily, crispier and more fragrant.”
Prepared in industrial-grade stir-fryers at Shi Le Po’s Singapore factory, the snacks are cooked at 200°C and tossed with fried curry leaves for an added dimension of flavour, as well as a chili padi spice blend. An infra-red thermometer makes sure the fish skins are at the right temperature when they’re packed and sealed.
Distributed in all outlets of The Cocoa Trees and major supermarkets in Singapore, Shi Le Po currently offers salted egg fish skins, salted egg potato chips and the spicy versions of both products. Other flavours include ginger and spring onion fish skins, black pepper crab fish skins and truffle and cheese potato chips.
“The chefs are always thinking of new ideas and trying to improve the existing products,” shares Lanshi. “We get inspiration from zi char dishes and local flavours that Singaporeans enjoy. I don’t think we have any competitors for our black pepper crab fish skin and ginger and spring onion fish skin.”
The homegrown brand, which also has distributors in Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, is working on new potato chip flavours, with more details to be unveiled soon. With hopes to break into the US and UK markets, the ultimate mission of Shi Le Po is to “bring Singapore to the world, to see and taste”.
Lanshi adds, “We want to share the culinary heritage of Singapore with foodies everywhere and spread the joy of healthy snacking with treats that blend the old with the new.”