Bangkok soy king: ‘Nowhere else is it done this way’

Chalad Chomjai
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Somchai Kamolsakdavikun selects fresh soybeans to be used as the main raw ingredient in the production of soybean paste and soy sauce at his Hao Yong Seng factory in Bangkok’s historic Khlong Bang Luang neighborhood, July 11, 2022. [Chalad Chomjai/BenarNews]


A worker picks up a soybean basket to place it on a resting shelf as part of the production process, July 11, 2022. [Chalad Chomjai/BenarNews]


Soybeans are dried before being washed and prepared for fermentation, July 11, 2022. [Chalad Chomjai/BenarNews]


Somchai checks on outdoor racks of soybeans that are being dried by the sun before being mixed with premium sea salt, July 11, 2022. [Chalad Chomjai/BenarNews]


The Hao Yong Seng factory relies on the sun to ferment soybeans, July 11, 2022. [Chalad Chomjai/BenarNews]


A 69 meter-tall (226 feet-tall) statue of the Buddha looms in the distance as tourists board a boat along the Bang Luang Canal (Khlong) in Bangkok, July 11, 2022. [Chalad Chomjai/BenarNews]


Somchai displays products including soy sauce, salty soy sauce, sweet soy sauce and soy bean paste at his factory, July 11, 2022. [Chalad Chomjai/BenarNews]


Old photos show the former palace of a lord in the reign of King Rama VI that Somchai’s father purchased and converted to the family soy sauce factory, July 11, 2022. [Chalad Chomjai/BenarNews]

A century-old factory, which lies along a canal of the Chao Praya River in Bangkok’s historic Khlong Bang Luang neighborhood, offers visitors a window into the old-style production of soy sauce and an opportunity to taste products from a bygone era.

“Uncle” Somchai Kamolsakdavikun, 80, who owns the Hao Yong Seng factory, inherited it from his father. The old family recipe and production techniques, he boasts, are superior to modern-day techniques found at mass-production soy factories.

“I took over from my father – now it’s a 108-year-old business,” Somchai told BenarNews. “We ferment the soybean paste and leave it for a week. We use firewood to bring the sauce to a boil to sterilize it and good salt from Phetchaburi province [in central Thailand].”

“Nowhere else is it done this way because most have switched to industrial production, but the taste is not the same,” he said.

The building that houses the old factory sits on property where there used to be a palace.

Somchai’s father bought the land from a relative of King Rama VI (1881-1925). Somchai will pass on the family business to his son and grandchildren, hoping they’ll keep it going well into the future.

Somchai employs a six-step process. Select soybeans are boiled and then mixed with wheat flour to ferment. The beans are then marinated with sea salt, which brings out a sweet taste.

Step four requires boiling the fermented beans over firewood to bring out the natural flavor without adding sugar, coloring or other flavors. The last two steps require sun drying the sauce in large containers before fermenting for another four to five months.

Customers include traditional restaurants.

Somchai said his son, who is in his 50s, is poised to succeed him. Grandchildren who are studying food technology are expected to continue the family tradition.

“We survive. The factory can support itself because it’s small and doesn’t focus on making additional profits.”


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