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How Hong Kong got Malaysian pineapple tarts

Every child thinks their mum is the best cook,” says Wei Roberts, managing director and co-founder of Moreish, which makes con­temporary Malaysian-style pineapple tarts. Roberts, however, knew his mother’s pineapple tarts were something special because colleagues kept asking where they could buy them.

“There were quite a few occasions when they asked, ‘Can we please order some?’ But they couldn’t, because my mum just makes them for sharing,” he says. “It got me thinking about whether it could be a viable business.”

Born in Malaysia and raised in Britain, Roberts moved to Hong Kong about two years ago.

“I realised that Malaysian food was really under-represented in Hong Kong. On top of that, even if it were available, it didn’t quite do it justice,” he says. “As far as we know, no one else is making this product locally, which is quite surprising to me, because they were such a hit when I was growing up.

“In Malaysia, you have a few big festive seasons – Chinese New Year and Eid – and during either of these, pineapple tarts are a favourite.

“Even now, when we try to describe our product, people aren’t really sure what it is, and assume it’s the Taiwanese pastry,” says co-founder Fontaine Cheng.

A tangy pineapple jam encased in short­crust pastry, about the size of a gobstopper, Malaysian-style tarts contain a wetter filling that is made by cooking the fruit down, while the Taiwanese ones tend to be filled with strained fruit, with a drier, firmer crust.

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“We took the foundation of his mum’s recipe and, with our Western backgrounds, thought about how we could perfect and elevate it,” says Cheng.

“But do it justice as well,” Roberts adds, quickly. “You can’t just change things for the sake of changing things. We reduced the amount of ingredients for the pastry to six – sugar, salt, baking powder, flour, eggs and butter. We had to think where we’d get the best ingredients. The French make the highest quality butters, so we get ours from Normandy.”

Roberts and Cheng founded the com­pany in November 2014, but it wasn’t until this April that they got the ball rolling. A chance encounter with a small, family-owned pineapple farm near Hua Hin, in Thailand, meant they had found the right filling for their pas­tries. The farm cooks the pineapples with a minimal amount of sugar.

“We tried pineapple fillings from Malaysia and Singapore, and they were just too sweet, with about 20 per cent sugar,” Roberts says.

In another stroke of luck, the couple became aware of Lane Crawford’s open call for new brands to be sold at the luxury retailer just a couple of days before the deadline. They had to go through several rounds of pitch­ing, including a session with a panel of judges.

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“I was pretty intimi­dated,” Roberts says. “I was running through the spiel and I could see it’d been a long day for those guys and gals, and their interest was waning. So I thought, ‘You know what, let’s cut to the chase, I’ll let you taste it.’ Their faces immediately lit up. One of the judges actually said, ‘Can we keep the rest of the box?’”

Moreish was the only food brand selected, and its products, including an exclusive new flavour, will be available at the department store over the Christmas season.

For now, the pineapple tarts are available at various fairs around town, such as Tong Chong Street Market, in Quarry Bay, and through moreishhk.com.