In 1964, Haji Tuah Raman – then a young man in his 20s with a slight frame – traveled from Kg Ayer before the morning buzz of Brunei’s capital to set up a small stall near the city’s now defunct theatre.
On the menu was noodles lying within a richly spiced beef broth, served with slices of beef and garnished with vegetables – known popularly as soto.
The eldest of four siblings, Hj Tuah (pictured below) worked solo initially, until he fatefully met Hjh Durah Hamid, who became business and life partner. By the 1970s, Hj Tuah had saved up enough to buy his own house in Lamunin, and the couple relocated to Durah’s hometown in Tutong.
It was in Tutong that Hj Tuah built his brand, where he consistently delivered soto for breakfast and lunch along the district’s riverfront until they were relocated to the Tamu Tutong in Serambangun in the early 2000s – where the business continues to serve to this day.
In 2013, Hj Tuah passed away at the age of 79, with his wife passing 100 days later. But two years before, he realized his dream of opening a restaraunt, through his daughter Siti Amah (main picture L). She took on the mantle of carrying her father’s legacy – bringing the Hj Tuah brand to Brunei-Muara for the first time in 40 years.
But to do so, she would have to take a route similar to her own father.
“We were raised on the back of our father’s hard work,” said 45-year-old Siti. “He never worked for anyone other than himself, and for no other reason than his family.”
Siti initially chose a life away from her family’s business, working at an international school as a food and beverage manager. In 2007, she and her team were laid off as part of a downsizing phase for the school’s canteen and lodge.
Siti then started selling cooked food from home at a stall in front of Sengkurong’s clinic, saving judiciously until she had enough funds to open Hj Tuah’s first restaurant at the Al-Wahdah building behind Hua Ho Sengkurong in 2011.
“I remember my dad would come as early as 5am (to the restaurant) to make sure we have things ready to open by 7am,” said Siti dotingly. “He provided the support until he was confident that I got the recipe right.”
Last November, five years after they opened in Sengkurong, Siti bid for a third branch for Soto Hj Tuah, this time at the Jerudong Park Food Court. Siti’s daughter, 23-year-old Izzati Ishamina Supri, who is in her final year studying Applied Economics and Finance in Universiti Teknologi Brunei, has been tasked with taking the brand a step further.
“My mother has been teaching me how to maintain the quality of the soup, meat and the noodles so that it is consistent, just like how my grandfather used to make it,” said Izzati.
Once she graduates; Izzati will go all in, she has ambitious plans to turn Soto Hj Tuah into a soto fast food chain, repackaging it to attract younger customers.
“Soto can be prepared and served quickly, it makes perfect sense for fast food,” she said. “Maybe we can even expand regionally as a quick noodle chain.”
Izzati shares many a fond memory of her grandfather, but it’s really his advise about business that the 23-year-old remembers the most.
“My grandfather was simple that way. He didn’t believe that you had to get a loan to start a business. He always said that you can start small, work hard, earn, save, and then work hard to save even more.”
Soto Haji Tuah is located at Gerai B5, Pasarneka & Tamu Complex, Kg Serambangun, Tutong (Tutong Branch), No. 2, Block A, Al-Wahdah Building, Spg 1530-29, Sengkurong (Sengkurong Branch), No 14, Phase 3, Jerudong Park Food Court, Jalan Jerudong (Jerudong Park branch). For more information, you can follow @soto_haji_tuah on Instagram.