Kueh is a bite-sized snack or dessert originating from Southeast Asia. There are many different kinds of kueh which come in all sorts of colour, shape and size. Usually made from rice or glutinous rice, these kuehs are often steamed rather than baked, resulting in delectable treats that have unique textures, flavours and appearances from the ordinary Western pastry.
What really pushed me to find out more about these snacks is the amazing variety out there! It’s incredible how many kinds there are. Often, I would get confused with the names (ang ku kueh? kueh lapis?) and the origins (Chinese, Peranakan, Malay or Indonesian?), and pester my mum to explain the differences over and over again. With kueh being so ubiquitous in cosmopolitan Singapore, I felt that I really should find out more about these treats myself.
Read on to explore more about the second series of kueh – Malay/Peranakan!
Among the many different kinds of Malay and Peranakan/Nonya kueh, there are a few common ingredients used for the basic flavour: grated coconut, coconut cream, pandan leaves and gula melaka. As for the base, it is usually rice flour, glutinous rice flour, glutinous rice or tapioca. Two other common ingredients are tapioca flour and green bean (mung bean) flour, which give these kuehs their distinctive pudding-like texture. Personally, these kuehs are a sweet treat for me so I only have them occasionally! But I love the how the flavours blend in so harmoniously with each other, as well as how diverse the range of flavours is. This is always the highlight of any Peranakan buffet for me!
Some of the kuehs I have included are rarely found in Singapore. Many are traditional Malay kuih-muih (sweet cakes and desserts), originating from Malaysia or Brunei. However, to show the variety there is, I have added them here. Malaysia and Brunei are hardly a stone’s throw away from Singapore after all!
1. Apam Balik
Wow, this snack brings back many fond childhood memories! I remember my Ah Gong and Ah Ma buying this back from the local market for our afternoon snack. Also known as a ‘Turnover Pancake’, this kueh has a similar texture to a crumpet with crisp edges. It is typically cooked on a griddle and filled with peanuts, though many variations have popped up over the years, such as cheese, red bean and lotus paste. I know this kueh better by its English name “Peanut Pancake”, which I usually get from the ubiquitous Jollibean! I prefer the one with the thinner crust, though I would eat the thicker one any day, especially since it was the one I grew up with.
This beautiful little treats are incredibly addictive! A traditional Brunei and Malaysian snack, these tiny, crusty sponge cakes are normally baked and served during Hari Raya, though lately I’ve seen it appear during Chinese New Year as well. It normally comes in a shape of a button, but others have tried unusual shapes like fish.
3. Cucur Kodok/ Kuih Kodok/ Cokodok
I never knew that these deep-fried fritters, sometimes known as jemput-jemput, qualified as the traditional “kueh”, but I guess they do count as bite-sized snacks. These mashed banana fritter balls are simple to make (just flour and bananas), and have many variations, such as cucur udang (unshelled prawn) and cucur badak (sweet potato). I don’t remember ever trying this before, and I’m definitely not advocating this for the everyday snack, but it looks like a delicious treat to have every once in a while!
4. Curry Puff
One of my go-to snacks whenever I feel peckish! You can find this anywhere in Singapore, from hawker stalls and specialty stores like 1A Crispy Puff, to Old Chang Kee. A small pie filled with a curried filling, usually chicken and potatoes, in a deep-fried or baked pastry shell, this makes for a great afternoon snack. I also love how people have experimented with the traditional puff, trying out new fillings such as yam, durian, corn, nata de coco and even bird’s nest!
5. Kuih Akok
I’ve honestly never seen this kueh before, but it looks very interesting! A popular snack in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu in Malaysia, Kuih Akok is a rich treat made with lots of eggs, coconut milk, flour and brown sugar, giving it a distinctive sweet caramel taste. Some compare the taste and texture to a Yorkshire pudding. Apparently, when it bakes, the batter will puff up, but once out of the oven, the batter will deflate and shrink, giving the kueh a unique ‘wrinkly’ look. The next time I head down to Malaysia, perhaps I will get to try this special treat!
6. Kuih Cincin
Kuih Cincin, which literally translates to “Ring Cakes”, is a deep-fried dough pastry that looks like a collection of rings. It reminds me of the Indian snack Muruku! Popular with the Bruneian Malay people in Sabah, East Malaysia, this kueh is made of rice flour, brown sugar (gula melaka) and sometimes a hint of turmeric, which gives a golden orange colour.
7. Kuih Dadar/ Kuih Dadar Gulang/ Kuih Ketayap
(Sources: 41.media.tumblr.com; chaosnet3.co.uk)
I love this kueh! It’s one of my favourite nonya kuih and I always get this if it’s available. These are essentially rolled-up mini crepes with a grated coconut filling (normally sweetened with gula melaka). The crepes themselves are coloured and flavoured with pandan essence, or natural pandan juice extracted from pandan leaves themselves. It’s apparently one of the easier kuihs to make, so that’s good news for those who love to make their own desserts!
8. Kuih Jala
(Sources: mysabah.com; bibiey72.files.wordpress.com)
This is another kueh which I’ve never seen before! Kuih Jala, literally “Net Cake”, originates from the eastern Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. Not to be confused with the more well-known Roti Jala! Perhaps the most interesting thing about this kueh is not the taste itself, but the process of making it. A thick rice flour batter is ladled into an empty coconut shell which has many holes underneath. The shell is then quickly held over hot cooking oil, where the mixture drips into the oil like thread. The shell is moved in a circular motion, which forms a plate-like layer as the kuih fries. When the sizzling stops and the kuih turns yellowish, sticks are used to fold it into a triangle, or a tube for more skilled people. This sweet, crispy snack is definitely something to try if I ever go to those areas!
That’s another 8! Lots of lovely kuehs/kuihs that I am fond of, but also many that I’ve never seen and that I’m dying to try. Stay updated for next Friday’s post!