Standing tall with pagoda candy

Easy does it: Bee Huat removing the freshly made pagoda candy from its mould at his confectionery factory. — KK SHAM/The Star

PORT KLANG: While many prayer items to usher in the Chinese New Year have been simplified, there is a family here who still make pagoda candy the traditional way.

Known as tang ta (literally meaning pagoda candy) in Mandarin or ngor siew th’ng in Hokkien, it has been an integral item of the prayer altar, especially among Hokkiens.

This Chinese New Year, the Low siblings have been busy delivering orders of the unique red pagoda-shaped candy at their confectionery factory in Pandamaran.

“A tang ta is made up of a set of five comprising a pagoda, dragon, phoenix, lion and elephant.

“It is made by heating sugar before pouring it into a wooden mould to be hardened.

“It is commonly used as an offering to deities during important prayers, such as during the Chinese New Year, Jade Emperor’s birthday and that of other deities, business openings, weddings and temple celebrations,” said elder sister Bee Bee, 50, when met at her shop yesterday.

Other than being used as an offering, Bee Huat, 49, who learnt the art from his father during the 1980s, said a tang ta was a unique piece of art.

The wooden moulds, said Bee Bee, were made from high-quality wood carved with intricate details.

“The five pieces of pagoda candy are made using three moulds, which are first soaked in cold water. The pagoda mould is the most challenging as it is formed using pieces of wood.

“If not properly tied together, the shape would not form and the finished product will break easily.

“The temperature of the sugar syrup is also important to ensure a beautiful finish,” Bee Huat said.

From cooking the sugar to unmoulding the finished product, he said a set of tang ta would take about 30 minutes to make.

“The entire process is handmade and there is no short cut,” he said, adding that his factory could produce up to 60 sets of tang ta a day.

“Since it is made of sugar, some people will break the candy into smaller pieces after prayers and add it into their coffee or desserts.”

He said the tang ta is a rare offering as not many confectioneries produced it these days.

“We keep it in our shop for our regular patrons to order.

“Most of the young know little about this tradition and it is a pity. We are doing our part to pass on the colourful and significant tradition,” Bee Huat said.

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