Lost “Kuih” of Yesteryear

Growing up, I always looked forward to Hari Raya for a few reasons, one of which was the yummy ‘kuih’ or cookies only available during this festive season. My favourites included cashew cookies, peanut cookies, ‘bahulu’, makmur cookies, batang buruk and putu kacang, to name just a few.

‘Bahulu’ and makmur cookies were an extra favourite because these were made by my great-aunts who made these the traditional way, and each year they had orders by the thousands from their regular customers.

Bahulu, as I remember, was soft and fluffy, and would disappear into our mouths in two bites! My great-aunt who made them will start by manually beating the eggs and sugar in a huge ceramic bowl, using very large wire beaters, and eventually adding flour to the mixture. And someone will always, always be beating the mixture, hence the delicate, fluffy cakes that is the end product. Baked in a traditional oven using hot coals and coconut husks, the cakes will ‘carry’ the unique flavours within.

Makmur, is also a cookie made purely out of love in the old days. The ingredients include pure clarified butter, flour that had been dried out in the sun or dry-fried in a wok, and sugar that is pounded finely by hand using a pestle and mortar to achieve the unique fine texture. Peanuts pounded coarsely, then mixed with some sugar to create the filling, all done by hand. No blenders; no mixers. And of course, the use of the traditional oven just make these cookies extra special!

Another old-time favourite is the batang buruk biscuit which is made out of thinly rolled flour, filled with a mixture of pounded green beans and sugar. The result is a delicate biscuit which will melt in your mouth. While eating this, one will have to keep their mouth closed to avoid ‘dusting’ the other person with the fine, sweet filling.

As time went by, most of these cookies are now easily and readily available, but after tasting one or two, the quality of the cookies sold now are a far cry from the traditional ones from yesteryear.

One of the reasons may be due to the fact that the ingredients used have changed and been altered to suit the nature of the business these days where it is required for the cookies to have an extended shelf-life, and of course, cost.

While this is all good, and it helps create some awareness of some of the long-forgotten cookies, we can’t help but yearn and mourn for the loss of the tradition of baking cookies just a few days before Eid, while families come together and gather for the big celebration.

Perhaps in this fast-paced world, we compromise on tradition in favour of speed and convenience. However, of late, there are still a few people who try and uphold the old traditions, and hopefully this practice will catch on and be a ‘trend’ amongst the newer generation who might be interested in reviving and maintaining a bit of their cultural heritage.


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