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Hunting For The Flavors & Texture Of Yesteryears'

Old Ways of Life: Handmade Mee Koo at Hoe Peng

Posted by Jason Wong On July - 7 - 2009 |

We all talk about preserving the historical building, endangered animals, etc. But why don’t we also put in more effort to promote and support our locally unique heritage hand-made products and traditional trades. In this competitive world many trades have turn to mass production through new technology, but through this change we have loss the rich character of hand-made products that was once the pride of our country and culture.

Hand made “Mee Koo” (in Hokkien) or “Steamed Turtle Buns”  are one of the example of these dying trades in Malaysia. The Mee Koo are linked and used in Chinese festive celebrations and cultural ceremonies. Now a day, many have turn the age old manufacturing process by hand to mechanised manufacturing lines. But then who am I to say they are wrong to change, they still need to put rice on the table at this competitive times. As a marketing consultant, I advocate change to create a competitive edge to overcome obstacles and competition. But sometimes a total change would have created more harm than good. Therefore, we would need to consider the many angles that affect our change. Sometimes, partial change or improvements can do more good and than full conversions.

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Hoe Peng & Co. is one of the examples of partial change that help them survive through the test of time. In the old days when one thinks of Mee Koo in Penang, Hoe Peng’s buns would be the first to come to mine. They not only churn out their famous Mee Koo but also “Siew Thou” (in Hokkien) or “Longevity Buns”, “Thou Sar Pheah” or “Green Bean Biscuits” and some Chinese folk lore prayer items that are used in Taoist ceremonies.

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“Siew Thou” or Longevity Buns

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“Tho Sar Pheah” or Green Bean Biscuit

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Assorted Taoist Ceremonies Prayers Items

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As our society, is ever influenced by the western culture and its dining practice, many have forgotten about the versatile Mee Koo. We have forgotten one could the Mee Koo as it is, with butter and kaya, dunk in a cup of hot Kopi ‘O’, made into French toast, or even used as a coating for fish n’ chips (that is my own recipe). Thus, it is due time to give our traditionally unique Mee Koo recognition and respect.

Some weeks ago we were honoured to be given the opportunity to visit and have a peek into the Mee Koo making process at Hoe Peng & Co.’s kitchen. Hoe Peng & Co. was previously located in a corner shop lot just beside “Ong Kongsi” and opposite the once tallest building in Malaysia, Komtar. Currently they have moved to a new location on Lorong Selamat where just opposite the famous “Lorong Selamat Char Koay Teow”. It is now under the umbrella of Cheong Kim Chuan, who has been a household name in Penang and also Malaysia since 1937. They are one of the producers and retailers of our famous and much sort after nutmeg products, “belacan”, “Rojak” sauce, Tambun Biscuit (Tau Sar Pneah) and other traditional Malaysian food and non-food products.

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Our visit started with a tour of their Mee Koo making kitchen where we were introduced to its production executive and food tech, and then we were briefed on the Mee Koo making process. The process from flour to Mee Koo has in all 5 stages, fermenting, kneading, and moulding, proofing and finally steaming. All of these were used to be done by hand, but as technology touch down our shore of Malaysia many years ago, they have converted the mixing and kneading to a mechanical process by introducing mixing, kneading and press machines.

The initial stage of flour mixing and fermenting is a business secret which we did not cover. We begun on the the kneading process, the objective is to churn out dough that has a consistent and equal composition.

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After the dough has reached the right consistency, it is then transferred to another machine where the dough is repeatedly passed through rollers to press the dough. This machine compresses the dough so that they reach a specific elasticity before it is sent to the human hands for moulding.

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The common Mee Koo has two layers, the inner one is the main white bun and the outer pink or yellow layer is the skin that encases the white fluffy bun. At Hoe Peng & Co. the outer coloured layer is edible due to the food grade colouring used to churn out the dough.

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At Hoe Peng, the tradition of hand moulding of the dough to the specific weight and shape are kept like when it was done many years ago. The dough is hand cut down to size and weighed, wrapped, moulded, and placed on the base paper which also serves as the branding of the Mee Koo.

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After the Mee Koo dough is all prepped up, it is placed on a bamboo tray and left to proof or set before they are sent for steaming.  The proofing stage is a important stage where it also determines the texture of the end product. There is set time for proofing, but it mainly relies on the experience nad touch of the food tech to determine the duration required. The uncooked doughs are touch and squeezed to determine the ripeness because due to the ever floating temperature and humidity of our Malaysian climate, the Mee Koo proofing time would fluctuate.

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After the Mee Koo is steamed and cooked, it is place on sale at the counter out side the retail outlet. As you are wondering how do they write the Chinese characters on the Mee Koo for the festive and cultural ceremonies? They are all hand ‘written’ upon request or order. This part of the mee koo is not edible because the dough used in writing the Chinese characters have not been cooked or steamed. They are actually raw dough with added colouring. The process of preparing the coloured dough is also hand-worked to the right texture and elasticity.

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All the characters on every Mee Koo are hand ‘written’ using the traditional method that has been used since Hoe Peng & Co. opened it is doors for business years ago. The writing process is very laboured intensive and tedious. Imagine during the festive seasons and hundreds or thousands of orders that require specified Chinese characters to suit the occasion, I pity the person who has to ‘write’ all those characters. But I also admire the person for keeping the tradition alive for our future generations to experience and see.

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Thus, as a Penangite I would like ask my fellow Malaysians regardless of the race and religion to put in support for our heritage products, trades, etc in the form of consuming and patronising them. Give the support in terms business so that they can get to survive the test of time and leave a piece of history, culture and character for our future generation that they will be proud of. Heritage is not only in the form of buildings and artefacts, but also the way of life, cuisines that were savoured by our forefathers, etc.

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14 Responses to “Old Ways of Life: Handmade Mee Koo at Hoe Peng”

  1. Wah!!!!!! Thanks for sharing

    [Reply]

  2. allenooi says:

    wah… nice nice… can go visit the factory…. i loved miku! especially dip with egg and fried it. yummy yummy.

    [Reply]

  3. food-4tots says:

    Mee Koo is my all-time favourite. It brings back lots of fond memories. I luv to spread some kaya to eat with it. 😉

    [Reply]

  4. It’s a good sharing for us 🙂
    Thinking of it, I haven’t eat it for a long time, now that we’ve breads as the replacement.

    [Reply]

  5. ohhh… i luv mee koo!! steamed, hot for breakfast. with chic curry, siew bak fried with soy sauce. My god..so long havent eaten those!
    do u knw, whn i come back Pg I will tapau 2min to go back KL!!
    I cant find mee koo in KL!!
    nd the best, fried with egg!! yum yum yum…
    this is one food tht will alws be my fav!

    And of all times u post on mee koo.. the last few weeks i been huntin n askin everyone i knw in KL but no one actually knw where to buy! lol. crazy isnt? Pudu no, PJ no, OUG no, klang no..

    And it is amazing, it is written by hand? LOL, i alws tot it used piping bags!

    And its so “surprising” to c old aunties makin them..u knw la here in KL, all myanmars and etc in the kitchen..

    [Reply]

  6. ck lam says:

    Nice mee koo post!

    [Reply]

  7. gill gill says:

    NKOTB: no pro, we are happy to share with you all, especially the heritage trades!

    allenooi: ya, the factory is there but you must have luck to catch them because they would not make it everyday, as and when they received the order only.

    food-4tots: agree! soft and yummy!

    foodpromotions: yea, go support heritage trade!

    thenomandgomand: aiyoyo, luckily we post it on time?! makes you craving for more! lol. that is why mee koo become the dying trade la, sigh. when people’s look forward, always forgotten their tradition and culture. what a waste.

    cklam: thanks! well done for your leong chee kee review too. lets bring the heritage trade to the world 🙂

    [Reply]

  8. […] Selamat.  We decided to talk or write about Char Koay Teow becasue we have just posted about Hoe Peng which was also located on Lorong […]

  9. Thanks for the review! I want to say – thank you for this!

    [Reply]

  10. katie says:

    May I have the recipe for sau toh?

    [Reply]

    Jason Wong Reply:

    Give me some time, I will get it for you.

    [Reply]

  11. Lina says:

    Hi. I’m from KL and I LOVE Mee Koo. My late granny’s recipe is to slice it thin and coat it with thick dark soy sauce and pan-fry it. Yummy!!!

    We hardly go to Penang now and I’m wondering if they sell it here in KL. Would love to here a feedback from you at [ lina26435 (at) yahoo.com ]

    thanx!

    [Reply]

  12. gill gill says:

    Lina, “slice it thin and coat it with thick dark soy sauce and pan-fry it”? thats great idea! just fry it without an egg coating? going to try this if got the miku. 😀

    sorry, we are not sure about the KL side.

    [Reply]

  13. Pauline says:

    Hi,
    I go penang next 2 weeks, I wanna order the turtle shape(mee koo) I be stay near gurney plaza is there shop near there that I can order or buy direct from.

    [Reply]

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