Taiwan family puts new spin on traditional dish
Fish ball maker doing big business in Quanzhou
When she was a child, Wu Yunchen often ate fish balls at her home in Yunlin county in Taiwan.
Not because fish balls were her favorite dish, but because her parents ran a family business making them.
"Two generations of my family have made fish balls, first in Taiwan and now in Quanzhou in Fujian province, going from a small family business to digitized factory production," Wu said. "We are driven by ingenuity."
The family moved from Taiwan to Quanzhou in 1998, when Wu was 14. At that point, they had been producing the delicacies for over a decade.
"Fish balls date back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and have been popular in Taiwan ever since. We wanted to bring the dish back to the mainland, so that more people would get to know it here," she said.
They started a company, Fu Bang Foodstuff, in Quanzhou and settled in the city. "There are different types, such as mushroom balls, cuttlefish balls and tofu balls," Wu said. "Most of our products are sold on the domestic market, including in Guangdong province and Northeast China."
Now, this childhood dish has become Wu's daily concern.
Because the business environment has changed since her parents' time, Wu has had to become more proactive and creative to be successful.
"The mainland population is far larger, with many more customers," she said. "Policies here, in terms of financial support and subsidized electricity for industrial use, are also beneficial."
Wu is referring to initiatives by the local government last year to support businesses when factories were forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
The efforts of the first generation made Fu Bang a leading catering business in Quanzhou. Now that Wu has taken over, she is taking the company into new markets by embracing the digital world.
For her, the key to her parents' success was the quality of the fish balls they made, but she is taking a slightly different approach.
First, to reduce costs and enhance efficiency, she has focused on improvements to the production line, from the purchase of raw materials to production and packaging.
Second, she has opened the factory to visitors, building confidence among potential future customers.
Third, she has focused on the balls themselves.
"Fish balls are more than just an addition or a side dish," she said. "They can be made into different shapes. We want to make fish balls delicious, fun and sophisticated."
With the onset of the epidemic last year, Wu saw an opportunity to expand her customer base. "The young generation seldom cooks," she said. "We capitalized on the trend and began working on new products."
One of the first to emerge was the instant fish ball. Normally, fish balls are frozen and have to be cooked, but the instant balls are ready to eat. Wu enlisted the help of product designers to make them as appealing as possible and then reached out directly to customers. "We taught people how to make dishes with our fish balls through livestreaming."
Under her leadership, sales volumes climbed by 34.2 percent last year.
As a member of the catering industry, Wu naturally enjoys food. Her favorites include bubble tea, the popular tapioca ball milk tea combo that originated in Taiwan, fried sour pork and siguotang, a traditional Fujianese summer dessert of fruits, beans and crushed ice.
Though born in Taiwan, Wu has been living in Quanzhou for more than 20 years, and it has become her home. She enjoys the city's history and often visits the Kaiyuan temple in her free time.
"My husband comes from Quanzhou, my parents live here with us and my two children were born and raised here. For me, home is where my family is," she said. "In the future, we want to build an industrial food park to attract more businesses and entrepreneurs from Taiwan, and bring more delicious foods and products to the mainland market."
From left: Wu Yun-chen (center) examines the quality of products at her factory in Quanzhou, Fujian province. Wu, her husband and child relax at their home in Quanzhou. CHINA DAILY