As kids, the one thing that we looked for, other than new clothings and Ang-Pows (red packets stuffed with money), it was the drinks and cookies. In those days, it was not soft drinks at any time as we would these days. Main reason was probably that it was something we could not afford and could afford to do without.
It was and still is customary to have some kueh-kueh (cakes) and cookies during Chinese New Year time so that we could entertain visiting relatives and friends with them and soft drinks.My favourite drink then was F&N's Sarsaparilla, which has been shortened to Sarsi these days. Ah, somehow, the taste has changed too. Or was it just my tastebud?
And for prayers, Mum would also start preparing to steam the Chinese kueh-kueh. One was the Kueh-Nern-Koh (Kai Dang Kohl in Cantonese or literally read as Qi Dan Gao in Mandarin). We youngsters, full of energies would be the best candidate to help beat the eggs. Often, we would use a big glazed earthen pot, which looked more like a garden pot without the holes. With a beater (that looks like a spring with a handle), we would have to beat the number of eggs cracked into the pot - gosh how many were there - until it seemed to grow in volume. We could not stop until Mum said so.
The other was the Huat Kueh (Fa Gao) which most of the aunties and grannies would be very superstitious about. No unnecessary comments, lest the Huat Kueh (which has yeast included) does not "huat" - "grow" up evenly like a flower just bloomed. Ah, here, we were warned not to say anything, just beat! For this Huat Kueh, we had to have the yeast with the dough overnight.
When these were ready, the special baskets (weaved with bamboos?) with the "glass papers" laid in the baskets would be prepared for the beaten eggs or dough into, and then, placed into a huge kuali (wok) already steaming hot with boiling water and a bamboo tray sitting on the wok. The baskets were placed onto the bamboo tray that was way above the reach of the boiling water. And a huge cyclindrical cover was placed over these dough on the wok. Wet towels (like those used as face towels) were place around the cover to prevent excessive escape of the steam.
Home-steamed kueh kueh are probably the best, with the best ingredients and no preservatives and well, there could be secret methods of preparing them. Alas, I think much of the arts could have been lost. Grandma's legacy.
In making the other cookies, there seemed to be a mix of Chinese and Malay (or was it Peranakan) cookies. I only had the experience of making "love-letters". Well, that was no fun when you have to roll the flat pancake into a roll, like a cigar. In our days, we used to love to emulate our grandpa by "smoking" these love letters. Imagine in those days, they even has candies made to look like cigarettes!
These days, one could almost get most of the common kueh-kueh in the shops. Ah, but, it will never be the same as those made by Mum, Grandma or Auntie.