Whenever I am overseas, I love visiting the traditional “wet markets” which the locals go to for their groceries and daily produce. It provides a real glimpse of what the locals eat and the cuisines that develop as a result. During one of my recent visits to Melaka, I was brought to the Pasar Pulau Sebang morning market located at the heart of Tampin by a friend who guaranteed that I would love love love this place. And boy was she right!
This is one of the many a times when a craving becomes too strong for one to withstand or hold back for another day. One of those I just have to “make and take a bite” moments. Saw my good friend Poh Lin’s mum Nyonya Guek made kueh bongkong just the other day and I wanted a bite of it so so badly. It is yet another kueh which I don’t make as often as I should. Then again, there are simply too many kuehs to make often to start with. It is not a difficult kueh to make, but for me, it is one which is difficult to master. Read on to find out why…
In conjunction with the ongoing festivities and jubilation to celebrate our 50 years of nation building, Concorde Hotel Singapore located right in the heart of the Orchard Road shopping belt has specially chosen and recreated a selection of Peranakan dishes as part of the spread for the buffet available at their Spices Cafe. Two weeks ago, the hotel specially invited Baba Jolly Wee, together with some of his family members and close friends, for a luncheon organised as a tribute and appreciation for putting together some of the Peranakan staples on the menu and coaching the chefs who helm the kitchen at the Spices Cafe during his stint as their culinary consultant. Baba Jolly, a doyen of Straits Chinese cuisine in Singapore who is now well into his eighties, is held in great esteem and highly regarded here for his work on promoting baba-nonya culinary culture to fellow Singaporeans, as well as the rest of the world.
Peranakan desserts and snacks are such a large and colourful collection of delectables that they warrant special attention on their own. Being a unique group with members from such different backgrounds and rich heritage, the sweet and savory treats which signify the Peranakan community are exemplary of this wonderful diversity. Look closely, and one would be able to identify easily the cultural elements from the origins of forebears where the Peranakan roots developed from. Just to name a few, we have Kueh Koo Merah and Popiah from the Chinese, Rempah Udang, Pulot Inti with Malay-Indonesian influences, Pang Susi and Kueh Blanda with Portuguese-Dutch origins and of course Roti Babi from the proximal colonial links, and these are only a teeny tip of the iceberg of the repertoire affectionately known as “Kueh Chuchi Mulot” to the babas and nyonyas.
Many of these kuehs apart from tasting really good, are symbolic with their cultural significance tightly woven into the customs and practices of the Peranakan tapestry of life in the yesteryears. Some are prepared specially for specific occasions, like kueh bakol for the Chinese New Year, and were enshrouded with much mysticism through a relay of “patangs” (taboos) which had to be observed to strict accordance for guaranteed success in their making. Some like kueh koo itam were made almost exclusively for ancestral worship and serving them during other joyous or celebratory events would only invite “koosmangat!” from the nyonyas with their overtly animated and dramatised “terpranjat” look, not forgetting a string of gossips that would soon follow and before long the extended family or even the whole community would know who “kentot“. Many of these kuehs, like kueh koo, kueh sarlat (gading galoh), kueh lapis beras (kueh genggang) are “colour coded”, so it mattered to many Peranakans “what” to serve “when”, to “whom” and in “which colour”. Like many of the earlier mentioned kuehs with specific “functions”, apom balek is no exception.
“Kuih Bingka Ubi Kayu“, or better known as “Bingka Ubi” is another much-loved “kueh” of Malay-Peranakan origin which my family enjoys very much. It is sometimes spelt as “Binka Ubi” or “Bengka Ubi” depending on how it is being pronounced in the variety of colloquial tongues in this region. Coconut and cassava/tapioca go really well together, with the natural earthy sweetness from the starchy root complimenting the richness of the santan (coconut milk). And of course coconut milk and salt is an age-old combination. i.e. when there is santan, there must be salt. And the salt is perfect to bear contrast and accentuate the sweetness of the dessert snack without making it too cloying. Unlike some other kuehs, the recipe for Bengka Ubi is rather straightforward. And given how easily grated cassava is now available in local wet markets, it is literally a breeze to make it nowadays.
For me, this kuih is both intriguing and perplexing at the same time, and first is of course the name. In fact, it goes by more than one name…Kueh Sarlat , also spelt as Kueh Salat is the name favoured by the Peranakans, It is however better known to the larger Malay community as Kuih Seri Muka or simply Seri Muka to mean “pretty face”. And the folks in Melaka would find this more familiar as Gading Galoh while other variations include Puteri Sarlat and Kueh Serikaya. Now what else is there about it that is intriguing and perplexing?
Kueh Dadar, is yet another popular ” nyonya kueh” snack which many of us grew up eating. Better known as “Kuih Ketayap” or simply “Kuih Tayap” this snack of Malay origin was part of the “3 for $1” assortment of kuehs available at pasar malam stalls especially at the raya bazaar during the Ramadan fasting month. While my mum would take the opportunity to shop and browse for new curtains, cushion covers etc, I would just “jalan jalan” along with her and my aunties munching on kueh dadar and other snacks. My cousins and I would deliberately choose different kuehs so that we would have a much larger range which we could share amongst ourselves than when we would be able to have it on our own. I remember fondly how we bellowed in exclamation, shouting at each other in our colloquial tongue “Eh, not fair lah! I also never eat so big piece from yours hor!” as we took turns to munch on each other’s kueh, screaming at each other for taking bites purportedly larger than what we had previously taken from the each other’s stash. All part of the fun of growing up!
Essentially a rolled up crepe with grated coconut filling cooked in coconut sugar, they are no longer available at that kind of prices anymore of course. In fact what one has to pay for these delectable morsels of sweet and rich kuehs have escalated so much especially over the last couple of years make me wonder if I should even buy them outside anymore. Yummilicious yes but wallet damaging… hence began my experimentation on making these kuehs on my own, starting with my favorite ondeh ondeh and my mum’s favorite kueh lapis. Unlike traditional peranakan or malay cooking which may ask for a wide variety of components especially in the making of the rempah, i.e. spice paste, nyonya kuehs usually require only a small handful of ingredients making them much more approachable. Hence I’d made a few videos as part of a tutorial guide for this lovely snack which I enjoy very much, in hope that you too like me, would begin your journey of making nyonya kuehs on your own.