By Joan D.
Big, bold, brave and business-minded… these are the 4 ‘B’s that best describe Vasukee Sivanesan – a full-sized woman who is also known as the ‘Spice Lady of Bentong” for the wide range of aromatic, organic herbs and pure, blended spices she sells from her home in the picturesque town of Bentong in Pahang Darul Makmur.
The 52 year-old mother made her bold and brave leap to the venture of selling her special blend of spices and herbs after a being small-time caterer and a quiet homemaker for many years.
When I first met her, in 2022, it was not to purchase any products. It was at a sad occasion when she was at the funeral rites for her departed mother. The ceremony was held at her brother’s home in Seremban.
I was among a few lucky family members and close friends who were literally fed by Vasukee some of the most flavoursome concoctions of gravy, rice, vegetables and pulses on that day. As cooking is not allowed during funerals, Vasukee had brought some food that she had cooked from Bentong to serve few people at the wake. The taste was so memorable and the gesture so comforting amid the nature of the event, that until today, I am convinced nothing could beat that exquisite blend of different tastes!
Fast forward to a year later, I was at a gathering again with Vasukee, this time to attend her departed mother’s one-year anniversary.
As we spoke about her spice business, Vasukee said how the business has been growing – slowly – via the word of mouth from highly-satisfied customers, postings on social media including videos on You Tube with market reach for her offerings going beyond Bentong. But more still needs to be done, she added.
Vasukee represents the many thousands of new start-ups and SMEs whose advertising means remain limited and their prowess at reaching out via the social media untapped and their stories remain untold.
How then did she get started in the business? She had been a stay-at-home mum, wife and homemaker from 2007 till she got a break through a staff nurse based at the Bentong General Hospital’s Blood Bank. The break came with an initial order for some rasam powder. That became the catalyst for her spice business venture.
“Besides my passion for baking, cooking and catering for small numbers and trying out new recipes, I saw the timing as perfect to venture into a business of my own, delving in the spice trade and taking it to a whole new level. This was in February 2020,” she recalled.
“My inspiration has always been my late mother, having observed how she intricately handled the blends for different recipes, paying so much care into her own spice masala for the household’s daily needs. In fact, she had a treasure trove of recipes to turn to that had been handed down from my late grandfather’s mother.
“With an initial outlay of RM5,000, I started ‘The Spice Lady Enterprise’ to purchase raw ingredients from reputable wholesalers, invested in dedicated equipment like heavy-duty blenders, dehydrators and also special packaging to ensure the utmost freshness of the spices is retained when couriered to customers,” she adds.
Vasukee says she will only prepare the different spice batches after orders have been received to ensure the ultimate freshness of each package.
Her range of products are extensive — from masala and spices that include meat curry powder, fish curry powder, mushroom powder for flavouring, to pure chilli powder, turmeric powder, murungai powder and neem powder sourced from trees in her garden and ginger powder from Bentong’s well-established ginger farms.
She reveals that it takes her about seven days to prepare the spices. “Once an order is received only then do I attend to the quantity needed. Nothing is rushed and the spices are dried carefully, either in the sun or in the dehydrator to ensure a longer shelf life and for its freshness to be retained.”
The whole family is involved in her venture — her three adult children and even husband Ganeshwaran, who works interstate, who chips in whenever he is back for his break. Her eldest son, Arunesh, 24, was responsible for the brand’s unique logo and labels while Rohinesh, 22, and Shivashini, 17, also play important roles in one way or the other.
And where does she want to take her business to? Being a practical person that she is, Vasukee says:“I do not want to take it to a large scale as it would entail having to employ more ‘hands’ to help out. I am a very precise person, so every step of the process must be done perfectly. Even the slightest variation in the whole mixture can ruin the taste of the product and the cooked dish.”
Vasukee can be contacted at +6012-956 5662 or check her out on Facebook or Instagram at The Spice Lady Enterprise.