Making Malay and Nyonya kueh is a really colourful game of mix and match. Using a standard list of ingredients, one could come up with a large variety of these sweet delectable snacks and desserts which are so immensely popular and enjoyed by many. For example, gula melaka is commonly used in traditional Malay, Indonesian and Peranakan desserts and its employment into these snacks is literally endless. If it is chopped finely and used as a filling with a dough made with sweet potatoes and glutinous rice flour, it becomes ondeh ondeh as it is known in Singapore and Malaysia or Klepon in Indonesia, but when it is wrapped and steamed in a rice flour batter and banana leaves, it becomes Kueh Bongkong. Another steamed variation with barely reconstituted rice flour which remains grainy gives us Putu Piring. If the gula melaka is cooked with freshly grated coconut, it becomes the filling for Pulut Inti if steamed glutinous rice is used, and Kueh Kochi if it is wrapped into a glutinous rice flour dough over banana leaves. It becomes a variation of ondeh ondeh which some folks call Buah Melaka if the glutinous rice dough is rolled into balls and cooked over boiling water instead of being wrapped and steamed with banana leaves as with Kueh Kochi. Finally it becomes Kueh Dadar or Kuih Ketayap if the grated coconut and gula melaka filling is wrapped with a thin pancake into a roll instead. All variations of the same theme. This reminds me of the paper dolls which my sister and cousins used to play when we were all young, with “switchable” dresses, hats and whatnots latched over a generic paper mannequin. And this is pretty much the same for Putugal, a lesser known kueh shared between the Peranakan and Eurasian/Kristang heritage in Singapore and Malaysia.
Just when the gastronomic landscape in Singapore constantly evolves and changes to keep up with the trendiest and most current around the world, some places choose to remain exactly as they were when they first started. A blast from the past quite literally, these establishments served as old guards of Singapore’s rich culinary heritage, firm reminders to what would probably have been quickly forgotten, if not for them. On a slightly less serious note, they breathe an air of nostalgia and reminiscence, food that bring us right back to our childhoods, prepared by our mothers and grandmothers in an utmost unceremonious manner yet so unpretentious and unassuming. Just as the world goes gaga over cronuts and whatnots, I crave for a good Pang Susie and know exactly the place to find a good one. Mary’s Kafe must surely be the place to go!
When Wendy from Table for 2 or more revealed to me her plans some months back on initiating and organising an online food festival with a monthly locality-specified theme, I was absolutely enthralled! Heritage cooking has always been something close to my heart so naturally, this series of events to come is the perfect vehicle for me to explore some of the cuisines which I’d been always been curious about and intrigued by but never ventured far enough to try. While some others choose to advance and equip themselves with the latest gadgetry and seemingly chic culinary techniques like sous vide and molecular gastronomy, I seek solitude and comfort in my batu lesung and kuih moulds, while staying grounded with traditional methods of cooking. An old guard and custodian of the old ways? That noble beast I am not. All I merely hope for, is a perpetuation of what my grandmother and mother had taught me…