Of Nyonya Cakes and Chinese New Year

15 FebAnother Chinese New Year passed but I do not feel the festivities of the Chinese New Year anymore. Maybe it is because I have outgrown the innocence of youth like a kid outgrowing Christmas. Maybe it is because I have stopped practising the Taoist traditional prayers ever since I believed in Christ. Maybe it is because I have grown skeptical and neurotic over the years. Maybe it is not me.

Maybe it is time. Time changes things. Time changes everything.

So exactly what do I miss most about the Chinese New Year?

My fondest memories were actually the period before the Chinese New Year.


I was truly a kid then.

Gone were these childhood days when my aunts, GK from Gombak, AC from Pudu, SE from Mersing and KK from Bukit Rasah would congregate at my house in Temiang to join my aunts OC. CK and NK a month before the new year to bake new year cakes. My cousins, AL and SK would also join the work party.

I was the only child around then and I would join the women folks in the cooking task which the men folks, my father and my uncles considered unmanly.

I have no regrets at all as I underwent an experience of a lifetime. I was an understudy to two great Nyonya chefs, my aunts, NK and GK. We made a wide variety of traditional cakes.

  • Kueh Kapit or love letters – I could managed only baking two at a time over coal fire but my aunt NK could managed five at a time by herself.
  • Kueh Bangkit – One of the easiest to do and it was like play dough. I loved using the combs to make the patterns on the white cookies.
  • Kueh Thye or pineapple tarts – My favourite cookie for the new year and I have not tasted better tasting tarts ever since my Aunt NK’s Kueh Thye.
  • Kueh Bahulu – The least favoured cakes during my childhood but I only realized how good they were when I started buying commercialized ones and found them to be nothing close to what my aunt NK used to bake.
  • Kueh Bakul or Nian Gao – We made all sizes and they were always wrapped in banana leaves. Just can’t stand the plastic wrapped ones you find in the market these days.
  • Agar-Agar – We made the real Nyonya stuff from real raw seaweed and the jelly which we made would last for months.

We were like a production line. We start off early in the morning and work till sundown. Of course, the work party consist mainly of my aunts. I had to go to school so I would work only half the day. I remember rushing home in the afternoon to join the work crew.

After two weeks of working together, we will end up with about a hundred large and small ‘milo’ tins of different cakes. These would then be divided amongst the families who had contributed in making them. The cakes would serve both to greet the visitors to your homes and as gifts when you visit someone.

Nothing is ever bought. Everything is made in my house.

Now those days are gone
All my aunts are gone as well.
The new generation does not carry on with the tradition.
All the camaraderie of working together is lost.
All the great recipes are lost.

We now buy awful tasting cakes or cookies at exorbitant prices off the supermarket shelves.

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5 Responses to Of Nyonya Cakes and Chinese New Year

  1. Pink Jeans says:

    Waah, you very handsome boy, man! But seriously, CNY is definitely a time for children to build fond memories, a time for us Roaring Forties to revisit our childhood, and if we have the energy and the inclination, a time for carrying on the traditions of a generation passed. Malaysian Chinese traditions are different from any other in the world, so let’s not let them become extinct!

  2. shorthorse says:

    ……… Well I agree that traditions build character for a race but I think it is important to delineate the cultural traditions from the religious traditions. I dunno if you realise it but we often take tradition for granted in M’sia. Remember when we lived overseas, we always ate with forks, spoons & plates. Yet when we away, we made sure to eat with chopsticks & bowls at home………

  3. asme says:

    Pink Jeans, thanks for the the double edged sword compliment. You meant that I looked so handsome when I was a kid but truly the opposite now??!! ROTFL.

    I believe that traditions will never be extinct. They mere evolve.

    SH – It is human nature to miss something only when you don’t have it just like I think of the childhood times of making cookies with my aunts.

  4. shorthorse says:

    Ahahaah….I don’t think there was any double edged sword in her compliment at all!!! I think if you juxtaposed your kiddo pic & the pic on top of your blog… it’s the same except that the adult face is a ‘little’ more ummm…’bloated’ ahahaahahahah!!!

  5. asme says:

    I know pink jeans meant well but it is nice to jibe at her. U know me.

    Thanks for your bloated compliment.

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