Jan 21, 2010

Traditions and Symbolic Chinese Food

My mom used to tell me that every chinese food has a story or a tradition that goes with it. Its not just food on the table for the hungry tummy or an elaborate feast for the Emperor. Chinese food is very symbolic in its nature. If anyone can write about chinese cuisine, it would be my friend Dr Pauline D Loh. She is well travelled to many countries, ate all kinds of food and savour the best. She is still trying to cover all of China's culinary delicacies and documenting it. I go to Facebook to read the short stories she writes alongside with the beautiful photographs she took.

But this post today, is my mom's story. Of how and why the older generations must eat Fatt Kao or Huat Kueh every start of the New Year. I haven't found the truth behind all these. But my mom heard it from her mom. Like a tradition passed down the ages, I think this story is worth re-telling.

She says in the old China where farmers harvest their rice crops, a portion of the last crop was used to make Fermented Rice wine. The fermented rice dregs are then used to make Huat Kueh. Huat Kueh literally means "Prosperity Cakes". Huat means to prosper. Kueh is Cake. Its mixed with rice that has been blended into powder, mixed with water, yeast, sugar and left to ferment for 3 days. And pour into little tea cups, steamed at very high heat. When its cooked, the cakes 'sprouted' out from the cups and has a slight eruption in the centre of the cake. This 'eruption' is a good sign, it means "Huat" or Prosper. If the cake didn't have this effect, it means the year ahead is going to be a tough year for the family. It could mean a year of bad crops, droughts, etc.

It is also rumoured that making Huat kueh must be done in closed doors. There shouldn't be more than one person making it. And when you make this cake, you must be cheerful and happy. If you are in doubt or frustrated or angry with someone, the Huat Kueh will not "Huat".

It is one of the most well guarded recipes that passed down from generation to generation. I remembered fondly as a young kid, my late granny had her own rice mill that was made in stone. It sits upright on a wooden stand. She would teach me to add rice and gradually pour in sips of water and turn the mill and collect the "wet rice flour" in a pot under it. This is to be used to make steamed cakes.

In case you are wondering what on earth is a rice mill, here's one I found from the NET. Its similar to the one ah ma used to have. When we moved from kampong to HDB flats, my late ah ma junked the old mill.

Years later, my mom still reminscing about the old Huat Kueh she used to eat as a child and of her mom, I decided to learn how to make this cake. Then I found out many recipes out there. I tried many, and each time my mom would tell me it doesn't taste right. Only to find out the most important ingredient used was the Fermented Rice Dregs and wet rice flour. After a couple of experiments and many huat kueh thrown away, I managed to make Huat Kueh for my mom the way she likes it.

Sorry for my long winded story...here's my reward to you who read through the entire page:

This is my home made Rice Wine Residue. It has gone mushy because its way over 3 months old. And its kept in the fridge. If you made fresh ones, the rice grains are more firm. It should smell like a good Rice Wine..that is very rich in alcohol.

3 Day Huat Kueh
Recipe by Agnes Chang(Malaysia)

I got my inspiration from her. Just modified it to suit my tastes.

Ingredients for Starter Dough
125g cooked cold rice
1/2 tsp wine yeast powder
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tbsp of water

Method for Starter Dough
1. Add all the ingredients into a small bowl, stir to mix.
2. Leave it covered with a cling wrap and poke holes on top.
3. Leave it aside, away from direct heat(stove or window) for 48 hours or 2 days.
4. By the end of 48 hours, its ready for use.
5. It should smell like wine, not mouldy smell. If its mouldy, discard and try again.

Ingredients for 2nd day Dough
300g rice flour(sifted)
150g sugar
500ml hot water
1 tsp ENO Salt**
1 tsp Double Action Baking Powder
1 drop each of food colouring(red, yellow, green)

Method for 3rd day
1. Stir hot water with sugar till it melts. Leave it aside till it completely cools.
2. Using a blender, add Starter dough and 200ml of sugar syrup to blend till liquidy.
3. Add sifted rice flour and remaining sugar syrup to blend till its well mixed.
4. Remove and pour thru a sieve to collect any lumps..into a big bowl, cover with a dry cloth and leave it aside to ferment for at least 8 hours.

Method to assemble
1. Add baking powder and ENO salt to mix with the liquid dough.

2. Stir and divide into 3 portions.
3. Add each food colouring to stir with each portion.
4. Heat up steamer and steam the EMPTY cups for at least 3 to 5 mins. till the cups are warm.
5. Pour batter till 80% full.
6. Steam over medium heat for 10 mins.
7. Remove to cool completely before removing the huat kueh from the cups.

Serve on its own or with orange sugar(sometimes called Brown sugar)

About ENO Salt
found a link on it.

if you cannot get ENO Fruit salt, just substitute it with Baking Powder. Enough amount.


lilyng said...


happy chinese new year, you will be having a very 'huat' year

Gina Choong said...

Aunty Lily, Thank you! My mom is teaching my elder sis to make my ah ma's kueh bangkit. Another 'pan-tang' recipe.

teen girl said...

it look so delicious.. mmmmmm. I think I like it