Kacang Puteh Man
With a reputation of being one of the world’s most expensive cities, selling a cone of nuts for a dollar in Singapore is no easy business.
Yet, that’s exactly what 46-year-old Mr Moorthy Arumugam has chosen to do. It was a family business passed down to him from his father, and something that he was passionate to take on. Apart from not wanting to let his father’s 30 years of hard work building the business go to waste, he was also keen to preserve his family’s secret recipe.
It has been four years since Mr Moorthy has taken over the humble stall with his wife Mdm Vasantha. The husband and wife tag team plant themselves just outside the Peace Centre where they have their cart stocked up with an an assortment of sugared and steamed peanuts, cashews, chickpeas, green peas, tapioca and even some murukku, a savoury Indian snack. Kacang puteh, which means white beans in Malay, used to be the go-to snack for movie-goers back in the day.
What distinguishes Mr Moorthy’s kacang puteh from others is his traditional methods of preparation. Mr Moorthy dedicates Sundays in his kitchen to frying, roasting and seasoning the assorted nuts.
One would think that a small business like Mr Moorthy’s could not possibly be so time-consuming but he prides himself as a hardworking man with a passion to preserve this profession and the tradition of this old school treat.
Although the kacang puteh snacks range from $1 to $1.50, Mr Moorthy and his wife find it remarkable that up till today, people still ask for discounts. These customers tend to be the older generation who remembered that the snack cost only 20 cents in their growing up years.
The couple have seen both the young and old patronising their stall and have noticed that younger customers love the sweet, sugared nuts the most.
Mdm Vasantha said jokingly, “The older people usually buy the steamed nuts because they cannot chew anymore.”
A common sight just behind the bus stop at Peace Centre, they have never moved their cart elsewhere as they have always loved the strategic location.
“A lot of times, we see people get off the bus just to buy kacang puteh from us”, said 52-year-old Mdm Vasantha gleefully.
Served in thinly folded paper cones, their customers usually get a variety of six to eight at a go. More often than not, tourists who pass by Mr Moorthy’s cart have found the colourful snacks fascinating and waste no time in buying a few cones.
Plans to expand the business have crossed their minds, and they had considered installing a few more carts at strategic locations. However, high rental costs put them off. Mr Moorthy and his wife have no plans of relocating their stall as they have customers who frequent their stall regularly. “Sometimes when we close our stall, when we’re sick or on holiday, people [would] call my husband to ask where our shop is and why is the store not open. We even have a customer all the way from Woodlands who calls my husband first to check if we are opened before coming down.”
Business is especially good during festive seasons like Deepavali and Christmas, with numerous orders coming in for the murukkus, their best seller. Apart from the steady flow of customers who frequent his stall, Mr Moorthy also receives orders from alternative sources. Companies have requested for his service to set up hiskacang puteh stall at their corporate events where he can serve up to some 400 to 600 people. Ad hoc orders like these have helped keep Mr Moorthy’s business afloat.
Mr Moorthy may be one of the last kacang puteh men standing in Singapore who traditionally prepares all his ingredients from scratch. While Mr Moorthy is happy selling kacang puteh, the future of his business is grey. With his children choosing careers in other fields, his secret family recipe is unlikely to be passed down.
So, before this traditional old school treat completely vanishes off the streets, go find him just outside the main entrance of Peace Centre, Singapore 228149, facing Selegie Road, from 11am to 8pm.