PETALING JAYA. July 16 — Usually first-time F&B entrepreneurs are young upstarts, probably fresh from culinary college.
It takes a brave person like Catherine Chan, 65, to start her own business selling Nyonya kuih at such a late age.
After much prompting from her friends who enjoy her delicious delicacies, the youthful-looking Chan debuted her repertoire of homemade kuih to the public after Chinese New Year.
The housewife who has never worked before decided to start the business as a way to earn additional income for her family.
After making cold calls to a few food stalls, she now distributes her handmade goodies around Petaling Jaya.
She offers five varieties of kuih daily. These are kuih dadar, onde onde, pulut inti, kuih angku and lor mai chee. There are also curry puffs.
Occasionally she offers chai tow kuih or fried radish cake and lor bak guo or steamed radish cake.
The bubbly Catherine who grew up in Terengganu makes these tiny treats using recipes she had inherited from her Nyonya stepmother.
From her late mother who came from China, she learnt how to make traditional kuih like chai tow kuih. As a middle child of three girls, Catherine had learnt to cook from young.
One of her most vivid memories growing up was the dreaded task of slaughtering the duck to celebrate the Chinese festival. “If you don’t do it, you get scolded,” she said.
Her first solo job was to handle a big white duck. She recalls that since she couldn’t slit the throat properly, the poor animal started to walk around and she had to chase it while it spilled blood all over the place.
Needless to say, she was reprimanded since duck blood was a precious delicacy. Those days they will drip the blood and mix it with salt and water to coagulate. It will then be cut into cubes and fried with vegetables.
That was just a slight hiccup for Catherine as later in life she became an excellent cook catering to her husband’s fussy tastebuds. One of her specialties is the Hakka kaw yoke (pork belly) with yam and braised pork trotters.
Every day, work starts as early as 4.30am before deliveries are made. On the spot preparations include frying the curry puffs or even boiling the onde onde.
Her retired husband helps out by making the deliveries and picking up the supplies for her. Later in the morning, Catherine will be sitting at her work station preparing the various kuih; her long work day stretches up to midnight.
Making Nyonya kuih is a tedious affair. A lot of effort goes into the process. Case in point: the simple looking pulut inti that needs multiple steps.
Catherine tells us that the glutinous rice grains are soaked, rinsed and steamed straight away. Most people tend to soak the grains overnight but she believes it releases toxins.
It’s also important that the grains remain whole and shiny. She relates to us that how you wash and steam it affects the appearance and bite, as the rice can turn brittle and break easily.
Once that is ready, she makes the gula Melaka-soaked coconut topping. Catherine tells us that traditionally in Terengganu, the rice is tinged yellow with a pinch of turmeric. However as most customers cannot accept this, she prefers to leave it plain and uncoloured.
As we interviewed her, Catherine was busy rolling out the dough for her kuih angku. With precise motions, she cuts the dough and weighs it to ensure everything is equally divided.
Rather than using plastic gloves to flatten out the dough, she prefers using plastic bags since the gloves are too loose. The filling is made from steamed mung beans that are smashed and fried with shallot oil.
She starts making the filling a day before since it needs to harden a little before she rolls them into balls. Unlike the measly commercial versions, her version is incredibly loaded with the mung bean filling as she herself believes that this is the best part of the snack.
“You pay money to eat skin?” she retorts. According to her, previously the skin was even thinner but the stall owners would complain that this made the appearance of the kuih rather unattractive.
She also makes the kuih angku with various fillings like red bean paste or coconut but this depend on whether she has time.
If you see her plump curry puffs, grab one or more as they make such delicious snacks. These handmade beauties have a nice flaky pastry that is even delicious on its own.
The filling is a mixture of diced potatoes and onions. Unlike other places that tend to be stingy with the chopped onions, Catherine’s formula is an equal portion of potatoes and onions. This gives the filling a slightly sweeter taste.
It’s also incredibly fragrant as she mixes it with her own-made sambal, Baba’s curry powder and organic fresh curry leaves from her garden.
Equally tasty are the delicate kuih dadar, pandan flavoured crepes filled with fragrant gula Melaka infused grated coconut.
The skin of the crepes made with beaten egg has a soft and slight elasticity that makes us savour every bite. On the same delicious level are the pop-in-your-mouth onde onde made from mashed sweet potatoes.
Each one has a melted gula Melaka centre that oozes out rather than chunky pieces of the palm sugar, which Catherine hates. She’ll finely chop the palm sugar into shreds before gathering them into a ball to insert inside the kuih. As she is short handed, her husband will help her wrap the onde onde.
When it comes to making the kuih, she prefers to not use any shortcuts since she knows that makes them exceptional. “This is called homemade,” she said.
For instance, the filling for her lor mai chee is made with toasted peanuts and sesame seeds. Rather than blending them in an electric blender, she’ll painstakingly crush them with a rolling pin to get the right consistency.
It’s also got to be made every two to three days, otherwise it’s not so fresh. With all that hard work and long hours, we applaud Catherine’s dedication as that is the taste of home we miss the most.
You can purchase the Nyonya kuih at:
Restoran Do Re Mi
C.G.21, Jalan PJU 1A/20E, Ara Damansara, PJ
Nasi Lemak/Nasi Kunyit Stall
Kedai Makanan & Minuman New Grand View, 44, Jalan SS23/11, Taman SEA, PJ
Restoran 1st Station Cafe
Lot A-G-01, Block A, Plaza Kelana Jaya, Jalan SS7/13A, PJ
Bai Jia Xiang Kopitiam
No. 496, Jalan PJU 1/6, Kampung Cempaka, PJ
Orders for the kuih can be placed at least two days in advance via WhatsApp to Catherine at Tel:012-2205509