'189' and Seng Kee are household names for handmade 'heong peah' in Gunung Rapat, Ipoh. '189' has been around longer than Seng Kee, but both are old timers, building their business from their backyards. Seng Kee is one of the very few remaining shops making the traditional 'heong peah' broiled with coconut husks. Most of the other shops, like '189', are using the modern electronic ovens to enable them to produce big quantity of the biscuits. '189' has recently moved out of the residential area to a nearby shoplot.
If you're not a die-hard fan of 'heong peah', you'll probably not able to tell the difference of the two ways of production. We're so used to buying from the famous Ching Han Guan, handmade using the modern oven, in Ipoh New Town. Only recently, we stumbled upon Seng Kee's traditionally broiled biscuits.
Piping hot 'heong peah' from the traditional barrel oven broiled with coconut husks.
Traditional barrel ovens require handling by skilled workers cos it's harder to control the temperature. If the fire is too strong, then the biscuits nearer to the fire will be more burnt, some may even drop inside the burning coconut husks. Heat is also not even, depending on how near it is to the heat source.
Coconut husks, a rare commodity now, give the character and aroma to the biscuits.
The pastry dough is stuck onto the inner wall of the oven, like naan bread. That's why the biscuits made using this traditional way have oblong shape, slanting towards one end due to gravity force.
Both are handmade 'heong peah' from Gunung Rapat. Both have a big fan-following. Seng Kee's biscuits are slightly out of shape and with less molasses filling. '189' biscuits are almost perfectly shaped, and studded with sesame seeds with much more filling and harder crust. I prefer Seng Kee's biscuits especially when eaten fresh, cos the aroma and character from the traditional barrel oven are unique, plus the biscuits are not so sweet and the crunchy and flaky crust is just right. If I cannot consume so many biscuits so fast, I find that '189' biscuits can keep better over a longer time - they're still flaky and crunchy but a tad too sweet for me. Both biscuits deserve the big following, but one thing for sure, the traditional barrel ovens heated with coconut husks will soon be overtaken by the electronic ovens.