Monday 16 February 2015

Love letters, made the good old way

By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2015

A SWEET, slightly singed fragrance lingered in the air as rows of young students and seniors stood hunched over charcoal stoves at a void deck in Marine Parade yesterday.

Curious onlookers who paused for a second look saw young and old standing shoulder to shoulder making love letters the traditional way - pouring batter into cast iron moulds and flipping them intermittently over a smoky fire.

Love letters, or kueh kapit, is a popular Chinese New Year snack.

"You've got to roll it fast and tightly before it cools down and becomes brittle," said Madam Mah Yeok Hin, 77, in Mandarin to her disciple of the day, Jason Tedjasasmita, 16, of Victoria School.

Several of his attempts failed and the egg rolls turned out as fat as his thumbs.

Montfort Care, a charity, had organised this gathering in a bid to bring back the community spirit, encourage bonding between generations, and pass down traditional skills.

When residents heard about the project, neighbourhood hawkers pitched in to donate flour and sugar for the rolls. Elderly residents took out antique moulds long relegated to the storerooms and lent them to the charity.

About 60 senior citizens taught 80 secondary school and junior college students to make the light, crispy rolls, which were later delivered to 300 elderly residents who live alone in rental flats in the area.

Madam Mah said she volunteered to help because she hopes to keep the skill alive among the young. She recalled that every festive season since she was eight, she would squat by the charcoal stove with her mother and seven siblings in their kampung backyard to make the snack.

"I want to pass down this legacy and let the young enjoy the satisfaction of making them, which could be rare in today's culture of consuming ready-made products," said the former hawker.

Said Jason: "These traditions are inspiring and I could see how they are closely linked to individual and community identity through the kind of pride the elderly show when they painstakingly make them."

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