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Learning history through pastry

SINGAPORE - A hawker's account of how she wakes up at 1am to painstakingly handmake traditional Hainanese kueh so they can be ready by 5am moved a student working on a heritage project to tears
The Straits Times - August 12, 2013
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Learning history through pastry

Tian Yu, 18, said of the hawker: "She brought up her children by herself. The whole family depended on the kueh stall for their livelihood. It's very hard for her."

The student was one of 20 Secondary 2 and 3 students from CHIJ Katong Convent who, since February, have been researching traditional cakes and kueh to put together an exhibition on Singapore's food heritage.

The students spoke to owners of eight shops, including the Hainan Cuisine & Snacks stall at Toa Payoh Lorong 7 hawker centre; Deli Maslina at Bedok Reservoir, which sells traditional Malay kueh; and Thye Moh Chan, which specialises in Teochew tau sar piah (bean paste pastries).

The traditional Teochew bakery shuttered in September 2011, but was revived by the BreadTalk Group.

CHIJ Katong Convent's head of department for mother tongue language Ho Su Siew said the research project was a meaningful one for the students.

"When they use their mother tongue language to ask stallholders about their life stories, this training helps them in their questioning and oracy skills, and to learn about their own heritage and roots," said Madam Ho.

Some of the students also rolled up their sleeves to try their hand at traditional pastry-making last month under the guidance of a senior chef at Thye Moh Chan's Parkway Parade store.

Sec 3 student Chan Xiang Yun, 15, said the experience made her realise that each pastry required a lot of hard work.

Through her role in the research project, she hopes that young people can connect with the older generation when they sample traditional snacks.

Xiang Yun said: "Young people like us enjoy fast food and Japanese restaurants and we're not really open to trying traditional kueh.

These are the snacks our grandparents ate and are part of their childhood memories and Singapore's history."

Schoolmate Tian Yu added: "These are things people take for granted, but when it's gone, we will miss it."

As part of the Singapore HeritageFest, an annual event by the National Heritage Board, the students' project can be viewed online at



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