GEORGE TOWN: With bags of glutinous rice from Thailand coupled with time on her hands during the pandemic, a former interior decorator stumbled into a new lucrative business.
The rice was left by Sharon Ooi’s father, who died suddenly of an unknown ailment during the movement control order (MCO).
It was meant for Ooi’s mother to make rice dumplings (bak chang in Hokkien), but her mother fell gravely ill and could no longer make them.
With her interior design business shut down, Ooi took the rice and attempted to make the dumplings herself, something she had never done before.
The first batch, made outside of the traditional chang season, was a big hit and now she makes and sells dumplings full-time.
“The year 2020 was one of the worst in my life.
“My father died, my mother got sick and I sold off my interior design business to take care of my mother.
“Since we have a family-owned coffee shop, I tried making glutinous rice dumplings to pass the time during the MCO and generate income,” said Ooi, 47.
Her first attempt was a success, and she shared her joy on social media.
To her surprise, she received requests to buy the dumplings, even from strangers.
“I received about 300 orders the first time and within three weeks, there were more than 500 orders per batch.
“I think many people were craving for my dumplings during the MCO as they were cooped up at home,” she said with a laugh.
For this year’s Dragon Boat Festival, which falls tomorrow, Ooi received orders for about 20,000 dumplings.
She and her team of two workers can make 400 to 500 dumplings a day, sometimes working from 6am to 10pm, and Ooi stopped taking orders two weeks before the festival.
Her younger brother, husband, 14-year-old son and two nieces pitched in too.
Aside from the traditional dumplings that use glutinous rice, Ooi worked out how to make them with oatmeal and Basmathi, Japanese or brown rice after some customers requested such variants with lower glycaemic indexes.
She is now exploring ways to use classic Nyonya cuisine as the fillings for “limited edition dumplings”.
Dumplings are symbolic in marking Duan Wu Jie, or the Dumpling Festival, which is observed on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
It is celebrated to remember poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself to protest corrupt practices in China over 1,000 years ago, according to legend.
Local folk then threw rice dumplings wrapped in lotus leaves into the river in the belief that it would prevent fish from eating his body.