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Chhau-a-koe: history, ingredients, preparation and when to enjoy it

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Keelung’s Bakery and Traditional Sweets

Mrs Kang and her Zhongqi Western Bread

Upon entering Mrs Kang shop in Keelung’s Yiqi Road, the smell of fresh bakery entices my nostrils. Then, I notice the shiny wide ovens, the steaming pots and other traditional tools, I know I’ve found the right spot to taste some Taiwanese traditional sweets. Even though Mrs Kang shop is called Zhongqi Western Bread, she still prepares some of the glutinous rice flour kuih (small-bites desserts) that her grandfather used to make when she was a child.

She has opened the bakery back in the 1990s and, 15 years ago, she decided to renew the family tradition by reviving the recipe learnt from her grandfather when observing him making them as she was little. The help lent to her grandpa proved invaluable when decades later the historical recipes were brought back in a personal way.

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Traditional sweets are losing their appeal

‘In the early days, every traditional family would make these sweets, across the 4 seasons, throughout the year’ she tells us.

However, in early spring the Chinese mugwort is at its peak and some herbs can only be harvested in March and April.

‘Younger generations are not interested in making these sweets, they don’t like this job’ she continues.

Her younger relatives only help her when during the Chinese New Year everyone wants the traditional sweets so it’s a very busy time.

 

Chhau-a-koe in Tomb Sweeping Festival

It is April, time of the Qing Ming or Tomb Sweeping festival. Traditional sweets have a special significance in this time of the year as their colour (dark green, pink or red) is said to bring good fortune and wealth. The ones shaped as a turtle Chhau-a-koe 1, carry a traditional design, with a seal on the top and can be offered to the shrines during the tomb sweeping celebrations.

We see the multi-coloured turtle-shaped snacks in a big round wicked basket at the entrance.

Mrs Kang is happy to show us how they are made and even make us participate in the process, so kind!

 

How to make Chhau-a-koe?

  • Prepare the Ingredients

Traditionally, the glutinous rice dough is mixed with mugwort paste and bromegrass juice. Mrs Kang skilfully cuts the right amount from a big mass and works it in a small ball which she stuffs with either shredded white carrots 2, red beans, mug beans or dates paste. All of the ingredients grow locally in Taiwan’s fertile soil.

Mrs Kang tells us that her brother picks up the mugwort and bromegrass from the fields, they are abundant there still.

  • Process the Ingredients: Rice and Herbs

Firstly, she grinds and dries the rice, then two dried herbs are made into a powder, another herb is juiced.

  • Steam and Enjoy it

After, the rice flour is mixed with the dried herbs and juice. The dough is boiled or steamed.

When asked if getting the ingredients is hard, she confirms that all is easily produced in Taiwan.

She offers us a Chhau-a-koe to try: it is delicious with a very unique consistency and taste.

 

I hope the next generations will continue Mrs Kang’s tradition and that next time in Keelung I will be tasting again these delicious old flavours.

 

Editor’s Note: Chhau-a-koe is pronounced tsháu-á-kué in Taiwanese Hokkien and is written as 草仔粿. Shredded white carrots is pronounced tshài-póo-bí in Taiwanese Hokkien and is written as 菜脯米.

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Mrs. Kang and me

 

Editor: Kuan-Hsuan

More about Traditional Bakeries in Keelung:
Uncovering the Warmth of Koufu Food in Huilong Market
Keelung Locals: Keelung Heartbeats #1
Follow Eli:
After graduating in Anthropology, Eli started travelling for work and leisure. She writes about cultural differences, food, fitness and mindfulness.

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