Swift sales for ‘tortoise buns’

Whimsical treats: Lee and her mother Lim Bee Lay showing the mi ku made at their shop on Noordin Street. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: The Nine Emperor Gods Festival typically brings a surge in demand for Lee Wooi Ching and her family’s mi ku (tortoise-shaped buns), nearly doubling their usual orders.

“Normally, we would make only between 300 to 400 of these steamed buns, but during this nine-day festival, which started last Sunday, orders would increase to about 600 or 700.

“Orders started coming in two days before the start of the festival and we have been busy since then. Our day would start at 8am and only end at about 5pm,” she said when met at her shop on Noordin Street

Lee, 50, said when her father was operating the business in the 1980s, the raising agent used for the bun was tuak (rice wine) or toddy (palm wine) but nowadays, yeast is used as a substitute.

“Mi ku is traditionally red in colour but the orders we get for the Kew Ong Yeah (in Penang Hokkien) are yellow. We also get orders for the buns (but not in tortoise shape) in blue which are used in funerals. We can actually make them in any colour, based on what customers want.

“A pair of mi ku used to cost RM7 two years ago, but we had to raise the price to RM8 due to the rising cost of ingredients,” she said.

Lee said other than mi ku, she and her husband, mother, younger brother and two workers also make kuih kapit during Chinese New Year, as well as koh wah (a sweet vegetarian delicacy).

“My sister will help out part time in the business, which I took over when my father retired about eight years ago,” said the former insurance company employee.

She revealed that sadly, her generation may be the last to make these buns as her two daughters, aged 15 and 18, have firmly told her that they want to do something else.

On the eve of the ninth lunar month, Taoist temples dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods hold a ceremony to invoke and welcome them. The Gods are believed to descend via the waterways, so processions are held from temples to the seashore or river to symbolise this belief.

A carnival-like atmosphere pervades the temple throughout the nine-day festival which will end on Oct 23, while devotees pray and eat vegetarian meals.

On the final day of the festival, a grand procession is held to send the Nine Emperor Gods back, with elaborate floats carrying the statues of the Gods winding through the streets before ending at the shore.

The statues of the Nine Emperor Gods are then placed on a boat and set adrift, symbolising the Gods’ return to the heavens.

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