MENTION the Nine Emperor Gods (Kew Ong Yeah) festival and one will instantly think of tortoise buns.
Besides the downpour that occurs during the festival each year, the colourful tortoise buns are arguably one of the most recognisable symbols of the festival.
At the Tow Bow Keong Temple, tens of thousands of the buns can be snatched up from the stalls lining the temple’s entrance throughout the nine-day festival.
Despite the pull of tradition and the ease of sticking to familiar formulas, tortoise bun maker Lew Kok Foong insists on bring-ing something new to his customers every year.
Last year, the red bean paste filling he introduced received acclaim.
However, this year, he aims to provide a more aesthetic appeal.
“I am coming up with interesting packaging ideas to market the buns,” he told reporters when met on the eve of the festival last Friday.
This year, one of Lew’s creations include nine pairs of yellow tortoise buns arranged neatly in a large basket, covered with clear wrappers.
“The package is called kau sing pou hei, which is a Chinese saying that means ‘the coming of good news and tidings’.
“Many customers have enquired about the basket we displayed, and their response was so positive that I believe I will sell hundreds of them,” he said.
Even so, Lew is not letting himself relax, and is hard at work coming up with two more tortoise bun concepts that will be available at his stall during the nine-day festival.
Tortoise bun maker David See was also being kept busy.
He could be seen hard at work at his stall, kneading and shaping the tortoise buns into different sizes, with his arms and apron covered in flour.
“We get a lot of custom orders which involve inscribing the names of family members on the buns, which are then used for prayers.
“This is the extent of customisation customers ask for as in the end, the shape of the bun must still be a tortoise, in tribute to the giant tortoise in the Nine Emperor Gods legend,” he said.
This year, See took a leap of faith and bought 850 bags of flour for the whole festival, which is 150 more than he needed last year.
“The demand for tortoise buns has always been pretty stable, but since we almost sold out last year, I bought extra flour, just in case. I am hoping for the best,” he said.