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.
I love watching cooking shows on TV when I was young. Apart from learning through observing my grandmother, mother and aunties cook and helping them in the kitchen, part of what I know on traditional cooking came from these wonderfully made TV programmes, especially those on Channel 12 which later became Art Central. That was way before the time of reality cooking shows like Masterchef where drama seems to take centrestage instead of the food. And it was easily 10-15 years ago as even Arts Central has now become part of history to make way for “Okto”. That was when my TV watching days were over.
Almost 10 years ago, there was a series of TV programmes featuring Peranakan culture and cuisine. Most memorable were “The Ways of the Matriarch”, “The Cook, His Food and the Dishy Nyonyas” as well as “On the Trail of the Phoenix”. It is the last after which the Peranakan dishes presented in this blog were named as It was through these TV programmes that I’d learnt much about the intricacies of Straits Chinese cuisine and its preparation. One of the most impressionable dishes being showcased was Apom Berkuah, I remembered vividly the contrasting swirls of blue from juice extracted from bunga telang against the ivory colored fluffy rice cakes. After all these years, I’d finally gotten a chance to make them myself. Truly sedap!
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.
For a lot of us, pandan chiffon is one cake which has a special place in our hearts. It is probably THE cake which we eat the most often when we were young, staples from the old- school neighbourhood confectioneries, which were usually characterised by rotating ceiling fans, and small mozaic tile floors. It existed long before the chicken floss coated mayonaise buns, and would probably continue to exist long after the latter fade off one day. Its popularity seem to run alongside other familiar favorites like egg tarts, napkin butter sponge cake and hae bee hiam soft buns.