Meet The Maker Of Rempapa: Southeast Asian Spice Pastes
The Mahalo team caught up with Shu Han Lee, founder of Rempapa. After growing up in Singapore, she moved to London for her studies and has since spent her career making food look and taste beautiful for other brands. Shu is also the author of cookbook ‘Chicken & Rice: Southeast Asian Recipes from a London Kitchen’ and is working on her next Singaporean cookbook. Right now though, we’re delving into the world of Rempapa, her range of fresh artisanal spice pastes, developed in her London kitchen, for easy and authentic Southeast Asian cooking in minutes.
What's behind the name Rempapa?
Rempapa is born from the word ‘rempah’, or spice pastes in Malay. A long list of aromatic herbs and spices go into each jar – but once you’ve got a banging rempah, you’ve got a banging start to a great curry, marinade or stir-fry.
Rempah is something I started making myself in my London kitchen after I found it impossible to find ready-made ones in the UK. As a homesick Singaporean, they were a total lifesaver on busy weeknights when I wanted the taste of home and when I started using them for dinner parties and supperclubs, everyone loved them as much as I did.
What made you decide to turn your homemade rempah into a small business?
One day, over a pot of curry, I met Olly - a chef turned food buyer turned spice partner in crime. Together we hatched a plan to grow Rempapa into what it is today - a small batch, artisan curry paste company making quick, authentic Southeast Asian meals effortless for people across the UK. We’re on a mission to make rempah as essential and well-loved as pesto in British kitchens today!
Where can you find Rempapa?
You can find Rempapa in hundreds of independent delis, grocers, farm shops, butchers and fishmongers across the UK. I always get a little thrill when I see our spice pastes and sambals on the shelves of my favourite independent shops. I think back on my earliest days making them from my home kitchen, touting them at supper clubs and farmers markets and I feel so lucky and proud about how far along we’ve come.
Why do independents stock Rempapa?
As well as looking great, Rempapa tastes very different to the usual Indian curry pastes and inspires people to recreate flavours that they might have tasted on holiday. It’s great for delis and farm shops looking for something authentic that’s still really easy to explain to customers - all you need is coconut milk and your vegetables/ protein of choice. Even though we’re a fully vegan curry paste business, Rempapa does really well with butchers too because the jars look smart on the counter and they pair beautifully with lots of different meats. Rempapa is also a chance for independents to support another local, small business because we’re based in the UK and still make everything in small batches.
Do vegans enjoy Rempapa? What about people with allergies?
While many traditional Southeast Asian pastes make use of shrimp paste, we’ve carefully adapted the recipes to be completely plant-based. Every one of them packs a punch instead with quality spices and herbs like lemongrass – no unnecessary fillers are added. The blends are also free from gluten, dairy and nuts. We wanted to create something that was inclusive for all diets, so it can really become a staple in the household.
How do you use your spice pastes?
Fry two heaped tablespoons of the paste for 5 min till fragrant, then stir in 200ml coconut milk plus a splash more water, a big pinch of salt and let simmer for a minute. At this stage, you would add your favourite protein - meat, tofu or veggies - to cook.
But there’s so much you can do! Here are a few classic dishes I grew up with:
Mamak Ayam Bakar. A marinated barbecued chicken using the Mamak Curry Leaf & Cumin spice paste. This is a recipe that works just as well with the other pastes, in particular the Peranakan one on cubed chicken thighs makes for excellent ‘cheat’ satays.
How did you come up with the spice pastes by Rempapa?
Our spice pastes and sambals are developed from time-tested family recipes, with flavour first in mind. Getting taste right is very important to me, not just as a cookery writer, but as a born-and-bred Singaporean who’s grown up in a food-obsessed household. I’m glad to say all our products have had a stamp of approval from Mama Lee, customers up and down the country and Great Taste Award judges too.
How does Rempapa compare with other spice pastes on the market?
Rempapa is made with all natural ingredients in the UK. Each jar is carefully packed with aromatic herbs and spices and we use zero additives. There’s no dilution with water or unnecessary fillers - it’s as good as how my family would make it at home.
Rempapa is also plastic free, plant based, gluten free, dairy free and nut free, making it super accessible and diet friendly.
When is the best time to use Rempapa?
The whole reason I started Rempapa is because I wanted to create a foundation for people to be confident and creative in the kitchen whenever they wanted to. A lot of spice pastes out there are for creating specific dishes but we’ve carefully developed spice pastes that can be used to create something totally new and classic dishes too; all-year round, whether you want to huddle up with a curry in the winter or marinate things for the barbecue in the summer.
What does the future hold for Rempapa?
As more and more independent retailers discover how easy it is for Rempapa to impress their customers, I’m really excited to see us in the world food aisles in more shops across the country.
We’re also working in the background on a few more exciting products, so if you’re already a Rempapa ambassador, watch this space!