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Still making ‘cha kui’ 60 years on
Published on: Sunday, January 01, 2017

By Lorena Binisol
CHA Kui, a delicacy brought over by the Chinese immigrants centuries ago, has become one of the most popular comfort food in Asia.

It is commonly found sold among other street food, therefore it is dubbed the easy-to-eat street food.

If one travels to Indo-China like Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and other parts of Asian countries, Cha Kui can be easily identified and goes by the same name, ‘Cha Kui’.

A family in Kajang, Selangor, had been producing Cha Kui for the past six decades and is still going strong today.

Lim Beng Huat or Uncle Lim. an 80-year old Cha Kui maker, is one of the earliest vendors in Sg Chua Wet market located near one of the residential areas in Kajang. He is helped by his wife Lai Koon Thai, 70.

They have been loyally making this delicacy since 60 years ago.

Asked whether they want to take a good rest after making it for a long stretch of time, they said, no reason for them to retire especially when their finger food is still sought-after by the residents near Sg. Chua residential area.

Their second daughter Rachel, in her late thirties, is the only one from six siblings to help her parents manning their Cha Kui stall.

She said her parents are old now and need more assistance than before in handling their stall.

“I am worried for them actually. They are no longer energetic like before. I know they love doing all this preparation but they somehow need to take a good break from all this. But it looks like it may not happen anytime soon.

They are still pretty much active although they have slowed down due to their physical states (age),” said Rachel.

She said her other siblings have their own career and families of their own therefore, they could not be around to help their parents all the time.

Rachel, who is still single, said soon she would leave for UK to be united with her British boyfriend but meanwhile she would assist in whatever way she could.

“My parents don’t like to be at home doing nothing. They feel ‘handicapped’ if they don’t make Cha Kui.

I guess, it is already in their blood and nothing could change that.

Many years ago, the situation was worst. They would only rest once in a year during Chinese New Year.

This time around they rest once a month. In fact they never stop working, one full stretch seven days week.”

She said her parents would take whole day rest when the Sg Chua wet market is close for cleaning.

“They are too hard working. I have been advising them to take it easy due to their advanced age, they seem to be happier spending their life in the market and when they see people buying their stuff,” laughed Rachel.

She said that there are four types of Cha Kui they always make. They are Kap Chung, Hamchimpiang, Mah Jiau and Yu Thiau.

She said of the four, the most sought-after is the Kap Chung. It is Cha Kui with glutinous rice on the surface.

It is really a comfort food and it can be consumed at any time of the day, however, people eat them usually in the morning when it is freshly produced.

“Kap Chung is one of the best my parents could produce. It is eaten with coffee, so nice and comforting.

It is fast moving item.

“I notice the residents around here like Kap Chung more than other type, but all of the other types are equally nice with some different flavours. Yu Thiau is the original Cha Kui (longish shape) and over the years my dad used his creativity to make modification by adding some ingredients such as sesame seeds or five spiced powder, and so on.

I am proud of my parents for their hardwork,” said Rachel.

Uncle Lim who was busy flattening and kneading the dough was amused with the presence of the writer in their humble stall, saying his way is the best as he applied traditional way and never changed his method despite having modern tools.

“I use glass bottle to flatten my dough since day one, no problem,” laughed uncle Lim who communicated only in Mandarin with the writer. He was still amused saying no one bothers what he does or asked about his ‘secret recipe’, but was proud finally a stranger took interest in his activity.

“There is nothing special with the ingredients I use as they are all the same anywhere people make it.

It is flour, yeast, water a bit of sugar and salt, these are basic ingredients, then you add other ingredients to create new type of Cha Kui.

“The recipe is no secret at all, everyone knows it. The most important thing is the technique.

I cannot tell you much but by observing me doing it, you will be able to pick up and learn.

Just look at how I do,” said Uncle Lim.

Both Uncle Lim and his wife showed no sign of retiring despite being in their advanced age.

He said he enjoys making himself busy and earning money for livelihood.

Rachel on the other hand was concerned over their safety and shared that a few years ago, her father had to pause making Cha Kui temporarily after he was contacted with hot boiling oil which hit his leg.

“That worried me so much so, I suggested to them to just rest at home and not to continue with their little business.

We, the children can give them money. They stopped for a stint period of time, and soon after they hit the road again.

“Their drive to do something is so strong, nobody could stop them. I guess they are enjoying their life better when they are on their hands with making, kneading flattening work.

“As for me, I just do the selling. I don’t even help count the profit end of the day, as that is my dad’s part.

“Playing with his hands with the flour is best skills, I won’t want to interfere,” Rachel said, laughing.

The Cha Kui was sold at 5 sen in the early years, said uncle Lim. Today they are sold at 80 sen.

Apart from them, there are also others who have similar products in the area. There are many Cha Kui makers in the area having their ‘specialty’.

Cha Kui is a common comfort food anywhere. Many people from other parts of the world have also acquired it.

Thanks to the Chinese people from the mainland China who were believed to be the ones introduced Cha Kui delicacy to the world.

When ones go to Europe, the closest comparison of Cha Kui would be the pretzel as it is also available in the streets of the Europe countries.

Rachel said her dad’s wish was one of his sons would take over the business but it is unlikely so as they prefer to venture into something else.

“My dad prefers one of his children especially the boys to carry on with the legacy, but it seems none of them are keen to do. My eldest sister is 46 years old and has a career of her own. So only time will tell us what the future holds,” she claimed.

Rachel’s mother, who also does not speak other language apart from their dialect, related that she enjoyed making herself busy by helping her husband everyday in the market. They can meet up their friends, talking to customers, and so on, she said.

Uncle Lim related that why would one need to stop doing what one enjoys. He said, if you enjoy it, just carry on.

“Carry on doing it, either in fast pace or slow pace, do it according to your speed. When you enjoy the moment, nothing stops you,” he opined.

He is proud of showing the glass bottle on his hand ready to mould and to knead his way onto the surface of the table.

Hoping one day one of his sons would carry out his legacy, Uncle Lim, meanwhile, would continue providing his specialty to the people living in the area.

Apart from Cha Kui, there are many other kinds of food items available in the Sg. Chua wet market in the morning.

Uncle Lim’s next stall is a Taufu (beancurd) maker. They sold many types of Taufu. One of the popular products was called Tau Fu Fah which is the fastest to finish in the morning.

“If you come too late in the morning, there won’t be anymore Tau Fu Fah,” claimed the vendor.

She is being assisted by an Indonesian Chinese who is expert in making variety of items with soybeans as the main ingredient.

Apart from Tau Fu Fah they are also selling, square white and brown beancurd (for cooking dish), square but flattened beancurd (a dessert), dried beancurd (for dishes) and a few others.

People of all walks of life buy them as they are a healthy food and rich in protein. Some even outside the district, said the vendor.

One of the regular customers, Nina Hsieh said that she always buys the Tau Fah early in the morning to avoid disappointment, if you come 10 minutes late from the usual time, nothing is left.

“The Tau Fu Fah is freshly made everyday. It is so good to eat. Apart from its deliciousness, it is rich in protein too,” Nina said.

Sg. Chua Wet Market is always lively with vendors, buyers coming together and be part of the active contributors in the neighbourhood. Some of the customers had been around for decades buying their stuff there as they find it everything they needed (food items) is available in the market.

The place is indeed a meeting place among the neighbourhood aside from fulfilling their everyday duty and completing the family’s needs.

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