Monday, May 07, 2007

Toys Were Us (6) – Tong Choi Jar

Do you know what is Tong Choi (Cantonese pronunciation) or Tang Chye (Hokkien pronunciation)? It’s the brown colour preserved vegetable that the hawkers add to your fish ball noodles and mee poks. Nowadays, tong choi is sold in plastic packets, but in our kampong days they came in earthen jars. Did you know that these jars can be turned into a simple toy pretty much like the Gelek Reng that my friend Chuck blogged about some time ago. Here’s how the game is played.

Tong Choi Jar (3)

First you stand the jar on its side. Then you insert one end of a thin bamboo into the opening and roll it along on the ground. Those days of course the ground in our kampongs was unsurfaced. The bamboo should be flexible enough to bend a full 90 degrees as you pushed the jar along. In the photo below, I used a fishing rod as a substitute.

Tong Choi Jar (5a)

Two players can compete against each other by racing over a distance of say 20 to 30 metres. The idea is to keep the jar moving because once you stopped, it would topple over. At the same time, you should also try to keep it in as straight a path as possible. When we got tired of the game, we would simply crash the bottles by rolling them a full speed against each other. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because some skill is required to steer it properly.

I have been wanting to blog about this ‘toy’ for a long time because I think many of the younger readers would not know about it. But I was unable to find such a bottle at our supermarkets like NTUC Fairprice and Shop n Save. In fact, I couldn’t even find it in Ipoh. But recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find it in a neighbourhood mini-mart in Bishan and promptly bought a bottle. It cost only $1.20.

My problem now is: How to finish the whole bottle of tong choi alone, as no one else in my family eats the stuff.

Tong Choi Jar (8)


aiyah nonya said...

Hi !
That is a cool toy. Can a round glass bottle be used instead ?

Poor you. Some do can't stand the smell of tung choy. Try to minced it real fine and mixed it with minced meat, steamed. A very typical Cantonese dish.

Good luck finishing that jar of tung choy. :)

Victor said...

Yes, my late mum used to cook the minced pork with tung choy dish mentioned by Aiyah Nonya. It was very delicious. I remember helping her prepare the meat - I used a cleaver and chopped repeatedly on a piece of pork placed on a round wooden chopping block to mince the meat. It was the good old-fashioned way of mincing meat since electric mincers were unheard of at that time.

You can prepare the dish and invite Chris and I over for lunch so that the jar of tung choy will not go to waste. :P

Lam Chun See said...

Yes I remember that dish. My mum used to cook it. Thanks. Anyway, I can always do like what I did to the 2 packets of chendol I bot in Ipoh - buang!

Glass bottle? Don't think so. Cannot balance. Plus glass more dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Besides minced pork, also can add some to steam fish.

Anonymous said...

Good thing doesn't seem to go away even through passage of time. Some of our hawkers, especially the fish-ball mee guys, still use tung choy to enhance the taste of their food. As for the game, I only like the crashing of the thick jars, causing a din, making the kids very excited. The crashing of jars was not dangerous as it gave out a dull'pop' sound, resulting in both the crashing jars breaking up into pieces, scattered and confined to a small spot, no splinters flying about. Sometime my mother would add small bits of salt fish to the steamed tung choy-minced pork to give the dish extra flavour.

Victor said...

When I was in primary school, there was an arts-and-craft project which involved the use of this container. We had to paste its outer surface with layers upon layers of bits of newspaper. After drying the object, we then had to paint the finished product in a variety of patterns and colours. If I am not mistaken, I think it was called a "paper mache" project.

The term "tung choy ang" (= tung choy container) was used as an unkind description of someone (especially a woman) who was er... pear-shaped. (Just look at the shape of the container and you can draw the inference.)

Anonymous said...

Chun See
I am continually amazed at the inventiveness of your blog! Now what brought that particular thing into mind and wonderful that you have recreated the game for us!

Victor is right about the school craft project, I am sure we all did something similar, its called papier mache after the French for torn paper I think

Anonymous said...

I got a feeling that these tung choy jars were re-used as the legs of the kitchen cupboard. They were filled with a smelly black colored pesticide to keep out the ants and lizards in the days when a refrigerator was considered a big ticket item.

Vicotr: Did you remember in primary school (must be primary 1 or 2 level), the arts & craft teacher gave the class (all boys then in my time) a knitting project? There were these colorful raffia balls (pink, red, yellow, green, blue) that we used to sew to a white plastic to make handbags. The best items were put on display during the arts & craft exhibition. But we were not taught cooking. How I wish the school did. Do kids today do such projects? I remembered my son at Victoria School had to attend cooking class in Sec 1. All he could make was porridge and steam fish for healthy living.

Then there was a project using potatoes to make a kind of rubber stamp. We had to use a pen-knife to make carvings on the potatoe.

There was also another project work where we had to make statutes out of rubber molds. We used a white plaster for the job. After the mold dried, we took out the statute and painted them.

Today project work is based on technology. No wonder today's generation only know how to ask for things but dont know how to make things. I do wonder what happens in their children's time - what would happen?

Lam Chun See said...

I think the the opening of the tung choi jar is too small for the leg of the kitchen cupboard. You can see a photo of the bowl here.

Victor said...

Peter - Yes, I remember sewing but using blue cotton strings, not raffia. I think we sewed on cloth which had a grid of tiny guide-holes. The project was to sew a picture of a duck for a cushion cover. I also recall making patterned stamps carved out of potatos; spraying tiny coloured droplets of water colours using a toothbrush and comb over some leaves placed on a drawing paper (this would create clear outlines of the leaves on the paper); and carving objects out of soap blocks (I made a wine glass which was good enough for an exhibition of the best works).

I hear Chun See saying that I should blog about the above projects.

Anonymous said...

Chun See

What happen to the photo of you and your dog Nappie. It doesn't show up in my destop. Have you deleted it for personal reason?

professor said...


U should do an "Arts & Craft" blog. Maybe I miss many projects like the toothbrush spray. I believe from doing this subject, I knew how to survive - sewing one's buttons, cooking a meal and advising the foreign maid the ingredients and the correct taste.

One thing though I dont seem to perfect - making the toilet walls and metal parts shine

Lam Chun See said...

Stanley. I didn't do anything. When I access my blog from my home computer, it is no problem. But if I access from office the photo is not displayed. Very strange.

Later I will reload the photo.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Toyota car is shy with all these publicity and decided to do a Houdini act and reappears when the time is correct.

Lam Chun See said...

I am curious how many of you older guys know this game I blogged about. I suspect not many. It's one of the more rural types I think. Peter, Victor?

Victor said...

Nope, I've never heard of this game until now.

Instead, we played with "Holland water" (soft drink) cap bottles which we flattened with a hammer. Then using the hammer and a nail, we punched two holes near the centre, threaded a 3-foot string through the 2 holes and tied the ends together to make the string into a loop, creating a very sharp flywheel which we can use to "fight" with our friend's. It produced some sparks.

Another use for the flattened bottle caps is to cut their edges zig-zagly using a pair of scissors or cutter to make them into a 10-point star. Can use this star like a Samurai weapon. More dangerous than your toy gun if it is misused.

Caution to all children reading this comment - please don't try to create and play with the above toys without adult supervision. They can cause injuries.

Anonymous said...

I dont know about this game though.. But I do remember that there are many games that we can play with bottles like this one.

I was in Bangkok and was delighted to find that they are still selling soya bean drinks in bottles! Childhood memories :)

Anyway, I love to eat tong choi! My mum used to make it with minced meat & egg white, steam them together.. very nice! but she USED TO cook, meaning that she dont anymore. She rarely cook nowadays as she is lazy .. hehe

Back to the topic, games in the past were so interesting, man!

Uncle you rock! (oops)

Anonymous said...

I knew one game quite similar in concept to the tung choy game.

The difference was we used the bicyle metal rims. Using a stick we push the metal rim on a road or dirt track (uneven gradient can also). The winner was the person who could rolled the furthest without once allowing the metal rim to fall.

Tom said...

tom said...
Chun see,
That was a very interesting game you came up with there must have been a little bit of skill in the game. Peter, the game you brought up,When I was a boy,that was not very long ago haha. we called that game with the bicycle rims (Girds)

Lam Chun See said...

Peter, Tom. My friend Chuck already blogged about the bicycle rim game. Click on the link titled Gelek Reng in the first para.

john nicholas said...

Canon tr4520 setup and Wireless Inkjet All-In-One Printer from Canon is a practical printer equipped for dealing with a determination of requests. The printer utilizes a half breed ink framework with a color based shade cartridge and furthermore a shade based dark cartridge for a wide apparent reach.