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Famous Penang tau sar pneah maker retires after 60 years

 | August 22, 2017

Uncle Soon, 80, the poster boy of the famous Ghee Hiang green bean biscuits, retires after spending decades training 70-odd apprentices in pastry making.

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Uncle Soon is literally the poster boy of Penang’s famous tau sar pneah as advertised all over Penang, reminding people of the mouthwatering treats.

GEORGE TOWN: Retiring from making Penang’s famous tau sar pneah (piahs) or green bean biscuits after 60 years is a bitter-sweet experience for pastry maker Koay Teow Soon since it has been his calling in life.

More popularly known as Uncle Soon, the 80-year-old is literally the “poster boy” of tau sar pneahs around town, being the face that appears in posters advertising Ghee Hiang’s green bean biscuits.

The company, colloquially known as “baby brand” is a Penang institution, and was founded in 1856 by Chinese migrants who made sesame seed oil and biscuits.

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Koay Teow Soon, also known as Uncle Soon with Ghee Hiang boss Ch’ng Huck Theng. Ch’ng presented a portrait of the 80-year-old to his family over the weekend.

Although the company has become like family to him, Uncle Soon said he had no choice but to hang up his apron when the high uric acid levels in the joints of his hands began to cause him too much pain.

“Ghee Hiang has been like family to me. I have been here all my life. It was a place for me to earn a living to support my family back home.

“I am already missing work. But what can I do? My health does not permit me to contribute any longer,” Uncle Soon said when met by FMT.

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Uncle Soon, 80 years old and still smiling.

Tau sar pneah and other smaller, different versions of the pastry are some of the typical “buy back home” items of visitors and tourists to Penang.

Other favourites include Phong Pneah, made from wheat molasses with a filling made up of a sticky sugar paste. Another treat, the Beh Teh Saw, is also made from wheat molasses, and is sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

These round pastries come in different sizes and vary in its fillings, and were first introduced by the migrants of the Fujian province in China, who settled in Penang.

Uncle Soon officially retired from Ghee Hiang on May 26, and as a gesture of appreciation, his bosses threw him a grand farewell dinner at the Cititel Hotel recently.

Although sad at having to leave, Uncle Soon takes comfort in knowing the 70-odd apprentices he trained over the years will carry on his legacy and pastry making techniques.

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Uncle Soon, 80, and his wife Yeoh Ah Kee, 75.

Recalling his time before joining Ghee Hiang, Uncle Soon said his first job at the tender age of 16, was at a small pastry shop. That was way back in 1953, he said.

“I was paid only RM10 a month,” he said.

“Then I joined Ghee Hiang in 1958. I was paid RM60 a month. Back then it was a big deal. I could support 12 of my siblings with that money.”

Over the years, Uncle Soon said, Ghee Hiang recognised his talent in making mouthwatering tau sar pneahs and he was made pastry consultant with the company, a post he held until his retirement recently. His last drawn allowance was RM2,500.

When asked what he intended to do with his free time now, Uncle Soon said he wanted to spend it with his grandchildren, aged 11 and 15.

Ghee Hiang boss Ch’ng Huck Theng said Uncle Soon’s contributions to the company over six decades deserved to be put in the Hall of Fame of pastry making.

 


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