By Ashley Sim
KUCHING, Dec 5: The mere mention of Lek Tau Suan transported me back to a time when life was simpler, and joy could be found in the smallest of treats.
Lek Tau Suan (mung bean dessert) is a traditional Teochew dessert that is commonly enjoyed alongside Chinese crullers, also known as ‘youtiao’.
Mung beans are believed to have a cooling effect on the body and can help reduce heatiness. Regardless of its nature, this delightful combination of starch and gooeyness is incredibly delicious, capable of providing warmth to both your stomach and your heart.
Today, I was suddenly overcome by an unexpected craving for mung bean dessert, which led me to make a spontaneous decision to visit Carpenter Street, where there is a stall known for selling Lek Tau Suan that still retains an ancient taste. Located on No 47, Upper China Street, the ‘Traditional Lek Tau Suan’ stall is run by an elderly Teochew couple — Mr and Mrs Kho.
“I have been selling Lek Tau Suan for over 40 years. I inherited my father’s business, which originally involved selling almond tea and snacks in the Old Bazaar. He used to carry the goods on a shoulder yoke while conducting his sales.
“In the 1960s, my father acquired a cart and set up a stall at the Gambier Street market. When he abruptly passed away at the age of 55, my mother took over the business, selling herbal tea instead of almond tea.
“I started working when I was 14-years-old. When I was young, I didn’t envision a future for myself as a vendor. Therefore, I decided to explore other options and pursued a trade. I have experience working at various establishments, including a noodle stall, a biscuit shop, a sundry shop and an electronics store,” Mr Kho recalls.
As the only child, Mr Kho bore the responsibility of continuing the family business, as expected by his ageing mother.
He agreed to run the stall on Sundays, albeit reluctantly. The business unexpectedly thrived, leading him to gain confidence and develop a stronger passion for his job.
In due course, he assumed control of the stall while his mother remained at home, diligently preparing kuih for sale.
He fondly remembers how his mother’s ‘Huat Kueh’, also known as prosperity cakes, and ‘Keh Neng Ko’ (steamed egg cupcakes), were incredibly popular, particularly during Chinese New Year and other festive occasions.
Now aged 75, Kho shared that it was his mother who initially conceived the idea of selling Lek Tau Suan and also taught him how to prepare it. He introduced this signature dish to the public in 1998.
“Back in the 90s, one bowl of Lek Tau Suan only cost 50 sen,” he added.
In 2019, Mr Kho and his wife relocated their stall to the five-foot way of their own shophouse, which is now on No 47, Upper China Street.
“We are now older and find it challenging to consistently move the cart in and out on a daily basis. However, despite the passage of time, loyal customers and tourists continue to make the journey to Upper China Street solely to savour a bowl of our renowned Lek Tau Suan.”
Mr Kho, a soft-spoken man with a weather-beaten face and wise eyes, took great pride in the authenticity of his dessert.
He sourced the finest mung beans, soaked them overnight, and skillfully prepared the sweet soup with a secret blend of ingredients passed down through generations. The result was a velvety, fragrant concoction that transported one’s taste buds to a bygone era.
“The quality of a delicious Lek Tau Suan depends on the precise balance of ingredients, which is achieved through experience and skill. It is also essential to pair Lek Tau Suan with traditional youtiao in order to achieve a harmonious balance between sweetness and savoriness.”
Mr Kho has resided in the Kuching Old Bazaar for the past 75 years, and similar to a bowl of Lek Tau Suan, his memories of the Old Bazaar are rich and profound.
“It is increasingly difficult to find dishes that capture the authentic flavours of ancient times in today’s culinary landscape. In order to ensure that the dishes you prepare are both delicious and retain their authentic flavour, it is important to approach cooking with a combination of passion and patience.
“This principle applies not only to cooking but to any endeavour – you must approach it with passion and patience,” he remarked.
Apart from Lek Tau Suan, Mr Kho also sells Black Rice Porridge which is available every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Mr Kho’s stall is open from Monday to Saturday, operating from 9.30am to 4pm, or until they sell out. The stall is closed on Sundays. — DayakDaily