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Ang Ku Kueh gets an update at Ji Xiang Confectionery

Change is afoot at this confectionery selling ang ku kueh, but its owners promise to keep the snack authentic.

On the ground floor of Block 1 in the quiet neighbourhood of Everton Park, queues periodically form throughout the day. People come from all corners of the island to buy boxes of ang ku kueh (literally “red tortoise cake” in Chinese) from Ji Xiang Confectionery.

Tucked away in the quiet corner of Everton Park, Ji Xiang Confectionary continues their authentic traditions.

Established in 1988, the shop underwent renovation in October 2015, before 67-year-old owner Toh Poh Seek handed it over to his two sons, Jack and Kelvin, who run the show with their mother, Bong Yeo. Ang ku kueh in seven flavours, of which more than 4,000 are sold daily, are made on its premises. The most popular varieties are the peanut and sweet bean (made from mung beans), which make up 80 per cent of sales and are also the most traditional. Nonetheless, its other flavours, such as corn and durian, hold their own too – all added by Poh Seek through the years.

“I wanted to change the perception of ang ku kueh from being a prayer item to a snack,” he says. What hasn’t changed is the labour-intensive process. Everything, from folding the dough around the filling at the ideal rate of four a minute, to monitoring the steaming, is done by a team of 13. Poh Seek is adamant about keeping the production processes manual.

Entirely Handmade: The Ji Xiang Ang Ku Kueh Process

He says: “We want to retain our traditions so that the ang ku kueh skin will remain thin and soft, and each has a generous amount of filling. You won’t achieve these with machines.”

The entire production is done on-site, with Bong Yeo keeping a close eye on things. After all, the recipe is hers alone, painstakingly tweaked through the years to accommodate changing palates. “We’ve reduced the amount of sugar used three times in the past 28 years. We have also added sesame to the peanut filling,” explains younger son, Kelvin.

Family-circle

Toh Poh Seek and his family who are at Ji Xiang every day to run the show.

Another element that has not changed: the belief in keeping things simple. This they do to bring out the taste of the raw ingredients, such as Camel brand peanuts, and the 101 variety of durian from Segamat district in Johor, Malaysia.

Since 2014, Kelvin – who has a decade of experience in the F&B sector – has been with Ji Xiang full time, overseeing its marketing to raise the company profile. A Facebook page has been started and a website for e-commerce has been made.

But even as they bring Ji Xiang forward into the 21st century, Poh Seek hopes his words will remain with them. “I had three conditions for my sons before I allowed them to run the business,” he reveals. “Be honest to our customers, maintain good hygiene within the shop, and treat your employees well.”

1 Everton Park.
www.jixiangconfectionery.com

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

The specialised equipment used to make ang ku kueh at Ji Xiang.

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CHURN AND BLEND

A mix of glutinous rice and rice flour is used to make the dough. Each 45kg batch is blended in the mixer for 15 minutes and yields 2,400 pieces of kueh. 

BOWLED OVER

Part of the process of preparing the mung bean, coconut and yam fillings is to fry them in an industrial-size wok. Each batch can weigh up to 20kg and is stirred with an anchor-like device.

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MAKING THEIR MARK

A friend of Poh Seek helped create a small batch of “Ji Xiang” moulds at the outset. Thus, while the kueh is typically stamped with the Chinese word for “longevity”, the snack here bears the company name.

 

THE HEAT IS ON

Three four-layer steamers are put to work from 8am to 5pm, cooking batches of 72 ang ku kueh for seven minutes each time. Immediately after, they are cooled for 10 minutes before a large standing fan.

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GROUND UP

Meat grinders are employed to crush ingredients such as mung beans into a paste – usually
35kg at a go.

SIZE MATTERS

Designed by Poh Seek, who had it made at the shipyard at which he used to work. This machine can slice through one stack of 50 banana leaves, operated with a jack, to yield approximately 400 pieces.