Ho Yoke Kee : Traditional Cantonese Candies

Traditional Cantonese candies embody ancient wisdom. They preserve the shape and taste of the original fruit, albeit more exquisite. Before the invention of the refrigerator, slicing fruits and vegetables to boil with sugar and then air-dry could extend their shelf life without causing wastage and make them more delicious. The Cantonese use homophones to give candies auspicious meanings, making them a must-have festive snack during Chinese New Year. Candied coconuts mean three generations living together; candied ginger slices mean longevity; candied green peppers mean attracting wealth; candied carrots mean a house full of gold and jade; candied lotus seeds mean having children; and candied horseshoes mean getting things done successfully. Traditional Cantonese candies are also used in worship as offerings to welcome wealth and blessings, hence also known as fortune candies or five-color candies.

In Petaling Street, ​​Kuala Lumpur, which used to be a dominant Chinese settlement, only Ho Yoke Kee, a long-established street vendor that has been operating for decades, is still manually making and selling traditional Cantonese candies. On one side of the stall is a steamer filled with a hill-like pile of various rice dumplings, whereas on the other side is a wide selection of traditional Cantonese candies. From 6AM to 6PM, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law duo Yap Nyat Foong and Chong Yoke Yean take turns looking after the stall, while the third-generation successor Ho Chee Keong is in charge of preparations.

Ho Yoke Kee was originally named Ho Dui Kee. The founder, Ho Dui, came to Petaling Street from Dongguan, Guangdong, China in the first half of the 20th century and settled down in Petaling Street, selling lotus roots and other fruits and vegetables to make a living. Facing the unsold lotus roots, fruits and vegetables, he came up with the idea of making them into candies according to the traditional method of his hometown. Later, his son Ho Yoke and his daughter-in-law Yap Nyat Foong inherited this skill and worked together. When the stall had enough manpower, they expanded goods variety and started selling dessert soups and rice dumplings.

Although they have been street vendors in the same location for many years, they were unlicensed and had to evade the city council’s frequent crackdowns. They successfully obtained a license in the 1980s, and the stall was renamed Ho Yoke Kee, still in use today.They mainly sell rice dumplings and only a few types of candies. As Chinese New Year approaches, the variety of candies increased to more than a dozen types. During peak business period, the original stall sells rice dumplings, and they set up another stall selling in Cantonese candies for customers to buy by catties. Preparations must be done one to two months in advance in order to have sufficient supply.

Upon entering the kitchen, all the steps, from preparing the ingredients, such as peeling and splitting the coconut, grating and cutting the coconut meat, are all done by hand. The prepared ingredients need to be blanched to sterilize and remove impurities. Sugar is poured into the heated copper wok to boil into syrup to coat the ingredients. The most difficult variable to control during the cooking process is the heat. The viscosity of the syrup needs to be checked from time to time, as well as stirring constantly to avoid burning. Finally, the sugar-coated ingredients are placed in a bamboo tray and allowed to dry naturally until crystallization forms on the surface, which takes three days to complete.

Ho Chee Keong grew up living in Petaling Street, helping his parents at the stall, and was nicknamed “Rice Dumpling Keong” by the neighbours. After his father passed away, his mother struggled to take care of the family livelihood single-handedly. He made good use of the skills he had learned from childhood to help shoulder the burden of supporting the family, and gradually found an interest in his daily work. His grandfather Ho Dui passed away a few years before he was born, but the art of making Cantonese candies has been passed down from generation to generation. Only in recent years he made some adjustments to reduce sugar, in line with the modern concept of healthy eating.

The process of making rice dumplings and Cantonese-style candies is cumbersome, time-consuming and labor-intensive, but Mr Ho does not feel that life is hard, because the entire family work together and the days are filled with the fragrance of rice dumplings and the sweetness of candies.

有你 UNI Production
Producer : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Michael Lerk
Drone : Daniel Lim
Video Editor : Amelia Lim
Copywriter : Pua Hui Wen


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