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Passing down a family tradition with century-old Liu Ma Kee bean curd shop

  • Written by Localiiz
Jay Liu, fourth-generation owner of Liu Ma Kee

Image credit: Julian Leung Photography

Born and raised in Jordan, the Liu family is as much a neighbourhood institution as their namesake brand, Liu Ma Kee. Selling preserved bean curd products since 1905, the store and family have been at the same address since its inception. Jay Liu is the fourth-generation owner of the family business, and has lived, played, and worked in the Jordan area since birth. He insists on using the traditional methods of production passed down by his great-grandfather, because “there are things that cannot be automated, and need to be made by hand.” 

Handmade preserved beancurd by Liu Ma Kee

Image credit: Calvin Sit Photography

The daily routine of bottling the bean curd cubes at the back of the shop is one of the few things that has remained constant in the neighbourhood. “There used to be a vegetable stall beside us, a Chiu Chow pastries shop, and a cinema at the back, but they are all gone now. Even the old-school grocery stores have closed. We are the only one left on our street,” says Liu. 

Rather than growing the business, Liu is more focused on being part of the neighbourhood and making high-quality products in controlled quantities. “As long as we make enough to sustain ourselves, we are content. I’ve turned down big orders before, up to 100 boxes, because it will be too tiring to fulfil. We only sell our products in-store and in old-school grocery stores, not big supermarkets,” says Liu. They also supply to restaurants, such as Fook Lam Moon restaurant in Wan Chai. 

Shopfront of Liu Ma Kee

Image credit: Julian Leung Photography

“We have customers who are over 80 who still walk to the store to buy our products regularly. A lot of them have been buying from us for over 20 years. One time, an old lady came straight to our store after coming back from overseas. She had grown up with our sauces and condiments and had missed it while she was abroad,” says Liu. He had also grown up with the taste of his family’s preserved bean curd, and would eat it every day. It is a surprisingly versatile ingredient — it can be made into a creamy pasta sauce, baked into cheesecake, and spread on toast, according to Liu. “A lot of people would ask me if I eat my family’s sauces, if I would be sick of preserved bean curd,” he says, but to this day he still prefers his family recipe.

The Liu Ma Kee family, (left to right) Liu Chun-kin, Sandy Liu, Jordan, Elly, Jay Liu, Mrs Liu

Image credit: Julian Leung Photography

They say nothing beats the taste of home, and for Liu it is preserved bean curd. There are also restaurants and shops that he has been going to since he was young,  Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium (裕華國貨), Sa Kee Roasted Meats (沙記乳豬燒臘) and Chung Kee Dessert (松記糖水店). “I feel at home here,” he says. Music is another important part of Liu’s life — an accomplished flautist, Liu spent his university days abroad, but England just didn’t feel the same. “I like that here, I can just head downstairs to the stationery store to buy what I want. You can’t really get anything from the ones in England.” 

Jay Liu sticking labels onto jars of preserved beancurd by hand

Image credit: Julian Leung Photography

As an integral part of the neighbourhood and the family’s legacy, Jay Liu is taking up the hefty mantle with surprising ease. “I’m only continuing what I have been doing all my life,” he explains. “Machines are not able to adjust based on the circumstances, they cannot feel. When you make a musical instrument, it has to be by hand. You have to touch the material, feel the shape, in order to determine if the instrument is made correctly. There is no mould for it, each piece is different. There is a limit to what machines can help with.” The pale yellow cubes of preserved bean curd hold the weight of tradition, carefully stacked, passed into Liu’s steady hands, until it is passed on again. 

Information in this article is subject to change without advance notice. Please contact the relevant product or service providers for enquiries.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board disclaims any liability as to the quality or fitness for purpose of third party products and services; and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy, adequacy or reliability of any information contained herein.

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