Drive-thru for Yummy Snacks at Cintra

By Sherra Yeong

August 2021 A DAY IN THE LIFE
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Pre-pandemic, the trick to avoid traffic build-up was to ensure service was swift but efficient.
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A CAR ROLLS to a stop in front of a push cart along Lebuh Cintra. The driver places his order, “Two ham chim peng and two pak tong kou, please.” It’s teatime and nothing quite hits the spot like a traditional street snack, straight out of the wok.

Yee Kok Heng happily complies. He is a third-generation pastry maker, specialising in delectable ham chim peng (deep-fried spiced bread) and pak tong kou (steamed rice cake). The family-run business was founded by his paternal grandfather and is currently managed by Yee, his wife and children, and brother Yee Kok Fai.

Layers of pak tong kou in a steaming tray.

Yee’s day typically starts at 7am. Unlocking the door to his shop, Yee proceeds to heat up the steamer, making sure it comes to a rolling boil before he places in aluminium trays of pak tong kou. Next, he starts making the dough for the ham chim peng and sesame balls.

After lunch, Yee is joined by the rest of his family and together, they set about separating and flattening the dough into disks for the ham chim peng or rolling it for the sesame balls. The pak tong kou are also cut into triangles.

Preparing the Chinese five-spice to flavour the ham chim peng dough.

Yee’s ham chim peng comes in three different flavours, sweet red bean filling, glutinous rice and Chinese five-spice. Deep-fried to a caramel brown, the bread is air-light in texture and pulls apart easily, like freshly-baked white bread.

Selling for RM1 each, the sesame seed-coated glutinous rice balls are also filled, but with a choice of peanut, lotus paste and grated coconut, and fried until the exterior is crisp-like, and the centre still soft and chewy.

Frying the ham chim peng to a caramel brown.

In turn, the pak tong kou with its honeycomb-like structure, the result from letting the batter ferment overnight before steaming for 30 minutes, pairs well with a steaming cup of coffee or tea.

Sharp at 4:30pm, the cart is pushed out and set up near the corner where Lebuh Campbell and Lebuh Cintra intersects. Before the pandemic, customers on motorcycles would stop by and cars would pull up. The trick to avoid traffic build-up was to ensure service was swift but efficient. Yee’s sons and daughter took orders, packed the snacks, collected payment, thanked their customer and then they moved on to serve the next order.

This ham chim peng has a glutinous rice filling.

But these days, Yee says, it’s taking longer for the snacks to sell out. “There is a marked decrease in the number of customers; most are locals who either still visit our stall or they’d place their orders via Foodpanda and DeliverEat. We’ve been able to sustain ourselves from the latter, even having orders come in before business opens for the day.”

The sesame balls come in three different flavours of peanut, lotus paste and grated coconut.

And so, there is hope yet that Yee’s traditional street snacks will stay – in our hearts, in our minds and in our nostalgic childhood memories.

Sherra Yeong

is an aspiring author with a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science and a passion for good food and wine. She writes at sherrayeong.com.