Gosh time really flies and we are into the last two months of 2016 already! What and eventful year it had been so far! Just around this time last year, I was still working out the recipes for a joint collaboration with nine other recipe bloggers from Singapore and Malaysia in a cookbook kindly sponsored by Kwong Cheong Thye and published by InfoMedia. It was a crazy period for all of us, cooking and cooking and cooking to fine tune the recipes, the eventual photo shoot when we took turns to slog in the kitchen the whole day and work around the clock to churn out 40 dishes and bakes to put in front of the lens over two frantic days. The adrenaline rush was overwhelming, both stressful and fun at the same time!
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…
“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?
Kuih Kosui are little steamed rice cakes with a fudge-like texture, characterised by the wonderful aroma and flavours of gula melaka. I’d made these together with Onde Onde last weekend because they share a common final procedure, i.e. to be rolled in grated coconut before serving. Moreover, both are rather easy and require little time to prepare. And of course, both include the liberal use of gula melaka, one of my favorite ingredients in the pantry.
Ondeh Ondeh is a traditional “kueh” which many of us grew up snacking. I remember first having it in primary school during recess time at the school canteen which we called “tuckshop” then. The “makan melayu” food stall, operated by an old Malay couple sold mainly local Malay delights like nasi lemak and lotong. But my eyes are always glued to the assortment of homemade”kuih muih” in psychedelic colours, almost a dozen of varieties that rotated down the week, with 2-3 types available daily. Most of my classmates and friends love to buy their kueh lapis beras, and for obvious reasons. They would peel and eat them by the layer, just like what we would do at home with my mum and sister. While I love to eat their kuehs, it was more of an indulgence rather than a necessity, given the limited amount of pocket money we had. But I’d always looked forward to the day when mee rebus was on the “Special of the Day” menu, because I know that one of my favorite kuehs would also be available, and that is of course, ondeh ondeh.
Through researching for recipes to try out for Malaysian Food Fest Terengganu Month, I came across quite a number of dishes which I didn’t even know existed. I guess that’s one of the highlights of this monthly event, i.e. to push us to extend our culinary repertoire and explore previously unfamiliar and even unheard of terrain. Kuih Akok is a name that appeared frequently through the numerous google searches for authentic Terengganuan kuihs. But that is also the source of confusion.
Kuih Akok is a very popular snack along the eastern coast of the Malay peninsula. From Cherating in Pahang across Terengganu to Kelantan up north, Kuih Akok is well-liked and enjoyed by the locals, hence explaining their presence in both pasar pagis all the way to pasar malams. An all-day snack literally. Despite the common name, the texture for Kuih akok defers in Kelantan and Terengganu, due to the differing ratios of wet and dry ingredients used. Truth be told, I’d never tried Kuih Akok. But when Wendy of WendyinkKK reiterated her gastrorgasmic experience of plunging her teeth into one when she was in Kelantan, I knew I must make it to “relive” her experience. Alas the texture of Kuih Akok in Terengganus is supposedly firmer and less custardy, lesser desirable than the one in Kelantan which is more fluid and as Wendy puts it, almost like eating firm “kaya” ! Very very syok (shiok)! Then as we were researching more on this Terengganuan snack, she came across Kuih Menganang, a variant of Kuih Akok, which used mung bean powder “tepung kacang hijau”. Interesting! Since she was busy preparing for the Nutriplus Pastry Competition, the responsibility of testing out the recipe lies on my shoulder!
One of the highlights of Straits Chinese cuisine is the wide selection of little bite-size steamed sweetcakes known as “kueh“, and like many other signature dishes in peranakan cooking, many of these kuehs are heavily “borrowed” from the culinary heritage of other ethnicities within the region, nyonya kueh is no exception. While Kueh Angku is uniquely chinese, others like rempah udang, pulut inti and seri muka have distinct roots in Malay and Indonesian cuisine. Some of them, like pineapple tarts have become fully adapted and so immensely popular as a nyonya delight that one would have easily forgotten their true origins.
Apom balik is a popular snack in many Asian cultures. And it comes in so many forms, shapes and sizes. Malays make a crispy and paperthin version no more than 6 inches wide, filled with shredded coconut cooked in gula merah, or chopped peanuts with granulated sugar. Chinese folks call them 面浆粿 ban chiang kueh or min chiang kueh depending on the dialectal origins, and make them lebih besar, using pans sometimes as wide as 2 feet in diameter! The folded pancake can be filled with a paste with chunky peanut butter-like consistency, or another chinese favorite, red bean paste. In recent years, we also see a version containing cheese! Whichever the version might be, I enjoy them all, especially for breakfast, to go with a warm glass of soya bean milk or teh tarik! But the version that remains close to my heart is nyonya apom balik, something which I’d enjoyed very infrequently as a childhood treat. It is the one traditional kueh which was most neglected, but not entirely forgotten as I still crave for them til today.