KOTA KINABALU: Nian gao or rice cake can be turned into an all year round product with innovative packaging instead of only make available during Chinese New Year.
“In doing so, we can create job opportunities for the locals and income for our suppliers in Kudat,” said Tok Kelapa, Director Koh Kok Cheng who is a manufacturer of coconut-based products.
Making nian gao has always been a dream for Koh to pursue since he was young after watching his grandmother Tan Ching Bee prepare the traditional delicacy during Lunar New Year.
Now Koh is looking for a new way to package the nian gao into mini packets for the convenience of tourists to bring home as souvenirs instead of just given as gifts when visiting family and friends during Chinese New Year.
And the nian gao he produced was considered modern because it is not sticky, can be cut and eaten immediately during the festive season which symbolises progress, advancement and growth.
“We used the oven to prepare the nian gao unlike the traditional-version which used the steamer and this would make the nian gao sticky,” said Koh from Luyang here.
However, Koh said he only started to get serious in making nian gao when a customer approached him for authentic Sabah-made souvenirs for their overseas friends.
Koh said the basic ingredients that he used are similar to others in the market-glutinous rice, flour, sugar and water.
“What sets my nian gao apart from others are that, we add coconut milk and packed with an eye-catching designed box complete with a packet of oolong tea, glove and knife to cut the cake,” said Koh.
Koh said they had placed a lot of efforts to design the package box and the stylish mini handbag as he aspired to create a product that represents Sabah’s identity.
“We used the orang utan logo which is synonymous to Sabah and the headgear he was wearing represents the Rungus community in Kudat, who is the first indigenous people to plant coconuts in Sabah,” said Koh.
Koh dedicated his venture into making nian gao to his grandmother strong support and encouragement.
“It took me countless time to get the formula right and my grandmother would be the taster.
“I always admired my grandmother determination to explore the world of culinary, even in her 70s, she still learn how to make yu char kway (a long golden-brown deep-fried strip).
“And I would always keep my grandmother words in my heart as spiritually she is always there to guide me,” said Koh whose beloved grandmother popularly known as O-Tiam-So in Papar passed away at aged 103 a few years back.
Koh said his grandmother words “don’t be afraid to try and fail…grandma had failed many times before got it right” was printed on the package box to serve as an encouragement for the young generation.