KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 8 — Sometimes sashimi isn’t just sashimi.
That’s certainly the case with homegrown Salmon Dee Kap’s marinated sashimi where one sliver might transport you to Seoul, with sweet soy sauce and punchy umami, and the next slice might remind you of a plate of som tam you had once in Udon Thani, spicy and tangy in equal measure.
Salmon Dee Kap is the brainchild of siblings Sonia Lee, 30, and Nicholas Lee, 27, as well as their respective spouses, Kingster Liew, 32, and Sasithorn Duangkamjan, 28.
How they came up with the idea for their marinated salmon sashimi business is one of serendipity.
Nicholas, who is in the industry of seafood supply, happened to bring home some salmon sashimi for dinner. His Thai wife Sasithorn wanted them to experience how her countrymen enjoyed their raw fish so she marinated the salmon sashimi with her homemade som tam sauce.
Sonia recalls, "To our surprise, all of us loved it, and it was a whole new experience of eating sashimi for us! We were used to the conventional way of eating sashimi with just soy sauce and wasabi, we were really delighted trying the Thai marinated sashimi for the first time.”
The team (left to right): Nicholas Lee, Sasithorn, Sonia Lee and Kingster Liew.
While key ingredients for the marinade include limes, chillies, garlic, shallots and cilantro, there are differences for each flavour of marinated salmon sashimi.
The first, Salmon Dong, was inspired by the Korean dish yeoneojang (soy marinated salmon sashimi). Sonia says, "We tweaked and improved the original recipe. This dish is deliciously sweet and savoury and you’ll get a burst of umami with every piece of buttery salmon that’s been marinated for at least four hours in our sauce.”
From South Korea, they moved to North-eastern Thailand, where Sasithorn is from, for further inspiration. Salmon Tam pays homage to the Isan dish of shredded unripe papaya or som tam. The sauce is spicy, savoury and mildly sweet and sour; the marinated salmon comes with fresh sweet corn toppings.
Key ingredients for the marinade include limes, chillies, garlic, shallots and cilantro.
Sasithorn also created a milder version of the som tam sauce — one that has a burst of tropical flavours such as spicy, sweet and sour — for their third product, Salmon Yum. Thai salads are commonly known as yum which means "mix” in Thai.
With the sauce recipes taken care of, the next step was securing a steady source of fresh salmon. Sonia says, "Nicholas is very familiar with suppliers who offer the best quality sashimi grade salmon at the best prices. One of his main roles is to source for the best quality products to supply to the major five-star hotels.”
This has drastically shortened Salmon Dee Kap’s initial process of sourcing for suppliers, allowing the team to spend more time on the R&D (research and development) of their recipes — as many as 23 iterations over a course of six months!
Salmon Dee Kap capitalises on a niche market for marinated salmon sashimi. The dish itself might strike a chord with those familiar with Korean food; less so for others.
Sonia observes, "We don’t really see many others making marinated sashimi. The ones in the market are mostly Korean soy marinated sashimi, similar to our Salmon Dong. However, we’ve not seen anyone else offering a unique Thai-style flavoured sashimi such as our Salmon Tam and Salmon Yum.”
Spicy and savoury Salmon Tam (left). Sweet, sour and spicy Salmon Yum (right).
Many repeat customers return for their Salmon Dong and Salmon Yum options. Sonia reckons the former is popular as the flavour of the Salmon Dong sauce is light enough not to overpower the taste of fresh salmon whilst the latter has a sweet, sour and spicy profile, making the Salmon Yum rather like its name — very appetising and "yummy.”
The operations side is mostly handled by Nicholas and Sasithorn; Sonia and Kingster focus on the marketing. It is a bit of a balancing act as the Lee siblings are juggling this alongside their full-time jobs and other businesses, while their spouses work full time on Salmon Dee Kap.
Which makes it very much a family affair as the four of them have to coordinate closely. Families who work together tend to deepen their relationships too.
Salmon Dee Kap plans to add more types of marinated seafood sashimi to their product line. Besides the recently launched Marinated Prawn Sashimi, the team has already begun researching and developing other marinated seafood such as crabs, scallops and cockles.
Given the quartet is selling freshly marinated sashimi, it is imperative for them to ensure that their perishable products are delivered to the customers in a timely manner.
Sonia explains, "Salmon can only be safely consumed raw if it is kept at the right temperature between 2-5°C from the moment it was caught to the point of time where it is ready to be prepared for consumption within 3-5 days.”
The sweet and savoury Salmon Dong was inspired by the Korean dish 'yeoneojang' (soy marinated salmon sashimi).
Therefore, Salmon Dee Kap only procures their salmon upon receiving orders and they do not keep stocks to avoid compromising the safety and freshness of their sashimi.
Again, Nicholas’ presence in the seafood supply industry is a boon here; the team can easily access stocks only after an order has been made.
Delivery is another concern. Salmon Dee Kap uses heat insulated bags and ice packs in the packaging to maintain the temperature of the sashimi during delivery. Furthermore, they only engage delivery partners who can ensure that delivery will be done within four hours or less from their pick-up time.
Sonia shares, "Initially this was very challenging for us as we do not currently own our own delivery vehicles. We’re relying mostly on third party delivery services where the actual time taken for delivery is sometimes beyond our control.”
One option would be to freeze the marinated sashimi before delivery, however the team decided against this. Sonia says, "We believe in only serving the freshest sashimi to our customers. So we are not willing to compromise the standard of our quality just for convenience.”
Based on their existing capacity, the startup is only able to produce about 150 jars of 150 grams marinated salmon sashimi in a day. Sonia shares, "This is because all of our salmon sashimi is freshly cut and each portion is freshly prepared upon order, so this really takes up a lot of our time and effort.”
A platter of marinated salmon sashimi is perfect for sharing.
Thus the journey continues for them to further streamline their processes. Sonia notes, "It is normal to face numerous unexpected hiccups along the way. I would say owning a business really enhanced our problem solving skills.”
Currently Salmon Dee Kap only delivers within the Klang Valley but the team is actively looking at expanding into other states.
Sonia says, "We have been receiving a lot of enquiries and interest from Malaysians living outside of Klang Valley. Ultimately, our end goal is to be able to provide Malaysians with a unique and different experience of eating freshly marinated sashimi right here in Malaysia without having to travel overseas.”
Therefore, while the quartet will focus on growing their online business for the time being, their master plan is to bring Salmon Dee Kap to life offline with physical stores all over the country.
Who knows? One day, there might be a Salmon Dee Kap shop opening right in your very own neighbourhood. You’d be able to taste some of the best flavours of South Korea and Thailand... without ever leaving home.
Salmon Dee Kap