When her grandmother passed away, this young woman quit her hotel job to sell Hainanese kueh.
In the latest installment of CNA Women’s series on people who have made extreme career shifts, All Things Hainanese’s Jocelyn Loi shares how losing her grandmother prompted her to become a third-generation Hainanese kueh maker.
Every morning, Jocelyn Loi starts making yi bua kueh, preparing the “skin” with glutinous rice flour and hand-kneading it.
After adding peanut, sesame, ginger, shredded coconut, brown sugar, gula melaka, and two secret ingredients, she wraps the kueh in banana leaves and steams it until it is soft and fragrant. At All Things Hainanese, she sells this traditional Hainanese kueh.
Despite the fact that it is a labour-intensive process, Loi has watched her mother and grandmother make kueh every single day of their lives as first- and second-generation Hainanese kueh-makers. Loi was a former hotelier who worked at InterContinental Singapore for a decade. It was not her intention to make kueh for a living.
She decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps as a kueh maker when her grandmother suddenly passed away in her sleep one day. “When my grandmother passed away, it changed me,” she said.
For Loi’s grandmother, making and selling Hainanese kueh was more than just a family business.
My grandfather passed away in 1977, while my uncles and aunties were still young. My youngest uncle was only five, and my mother was 12,” the 30-year-old recalled.
As a child, Loi’s grandmother Yeoh Min Lin worked odd jobs like washing dishes and doing laundry. As she knew she couldn’t raise her family on her own, she appealed to Singapore’s late president Mr Ong Teng Cheong. He was then a Member of Parliament for Kim Keat. When he became aware of her plight, he assisted her in finding a small shop in Toa Payoh with an affordable rental.
She did what she knew best with this shop space. She opened Hainan Cuisine & Snacks in 1978, selling yi bua, a Hainanese glutinuous rice flour kueh filled with grated coconut, peanut, sesame, and ginger; ang ku kueh, a Hokkien glutinous rice flour snack filled with mung beans or peanuts; and buns filled with butter and kaya.
Her entire family was supported by her tireless work.