Hunched over the unfamiliar electric grill, Grandma Tan opens the iron mold gingerly to check if the love letters are cooked. It’s a long and tiring process; she has spent the past two hours trying to perfect the love letters and it’s taking a toll on her legs. It has been five years since she last made love letters for Chinese New Year. Then, she did it the traditional way — the same iron mold but over charcoal stoves, giving it a smoky flavour.
Despite the time spent away from the love letter toil, Grandma Tan’s hands seem to be nimble — she certainly has not missed a step. Undeterred by the heat of the grill and mold, she peels the cooked batter off with a butter knife and works fast to shape the crepes into rolls. Her love letters are thicker than the factory-made ones and, because coconut milk was generously added to the batter, the air was thick with a tantalising aroma.
But it’s difficult getting used to the grill, and the batter, put together from memory and gut feeling, was not cooperating. After two hours and countless attempts, the container is packed with only a few rolls.
In our interview, Grandma Tan reminisces about how much easier it was working with charcoal stoves. However, filling the tins with love letters was a tedious process and required several days of hard work. While her children and grandchildren lent a hand, making love letters by hand remains a fading art.