TEH Geok Bee’s kitchen was filled with laughter as family members gathered to make dumplings or bak chang over the weekend.
They were at her house in Kepong to prepare for Duan Wu Jie, also known as Dumpling or Dragon Boat Festival, which is celebrated today.
Duan Wu Jie is observed on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
The festival is in honour of poet and court official Qu Yuan in the ancient state of Chu who was wrongfully accused of treason. When the kingdom later fell into enemy hands, Qu Yuan committed suicide by jumping into a river.
The locals who had great respect for him, threw dumplings into the river so that the fish would not eat Qu Yuan’s body.
They also rushed to the river to try and retrieve his body, marking the start of annual dragon boat races in commemoration of Qu Yuan.
Unlike some families who only make dumplings for the festival, Teh makes them for other occasions too, and as offerings to ancestors.
The amount she makes each time depends on demand from family and friends.
For the dumpling festival, she made 60 bak chang packs.
The ingredients for the traditional Hokkien delicacy include bamboo leaves which are used to wrap the sticky yet appetising filing comprising glutinous rice, dried shrimp, chestnuts, salted egg yolk, dried oysters, braised mushrooms and pork.
The ingredients need to be prepared a day or two before the dumplings are assembled.
“I wash every leaf (used for wrapping the dumplings).
“Frankly, I prefer to do everything myself,” the 70-year-old said.
Teh said older folk and people with digestion problems like her daughter should not eat too many dumplings as the glutinous rice could be difficult to digest, for some.
Teh’s granddaughter Renee Yen, 13, was seen picking her favourite ingredients for the dumpling.
It was her first time making bak chang.
“Turns out wrapping dumplings is not as simple as it seems.
“But it was fun to customise my own dumplings as I only like certain ingredients,” she said.
Teh heads the kitchen whenever it is time to make the dumplings.
During the Hokkien New Year which takes place on the ninth day of the first month of the lunar calendar, Teh prepares about 70% of the food. She also makes various types of kuih for her family and relatives.
“I love seeing people enjoy the food I make. In fact, my daughters-in-law and son-in-law are bigger fans of my cooking compared to my children,” she said.
Food is indeed the key ingredient to bonding for this family.
Her children and grandchildren used to gather at Teh’s house for dinner almost every day. However, they were unable to do so during the movement control order (MCO) period.
During that time, her daughters-in-law would often seek Teh’s advice on cooking over the telephone and send over photos of the final result.
Teh’s daughter-in-law YC Cheah, 47, said it was a blessing that three generations were able to gather to celebrate a festival together.
“We should give our children the opportunity to take part in kitchen activities.
“Sometimes, it is not that the younger generation do not want to learn but the older generation do not give them a chance,” she said.
Renee eagerly added, “I would like to learn from grandma how to cook my favourite dishes.”