Chinese and Nyonya
While the Chinese have a wealth of sweets and pastries, the ones that kuih or gao usually apply to are the steamed sort. It’s often quite difficult to determine whether a particular kuih is Chinese or Nyonya in origin, especially because half of Nyonya culture is Chinese (Nyonya generally refers to a mix of Chinese and Malay culture, which happened when Chinese immigrants assimilated into the local population).
Ang ku kuih, named ‘red tortoise cake’ for its resemblance to a tortoise shell, is a staple in this category. The chewy cake is made from glutinous rice with a mung bean or peanut filling. It’s said to bring longevity and fortune and is often used as a religious offering. The pink fa gao is also known as a ‘prosperity cake’ for its name is a homonym with the Chinese word for prosperity. However, it’s almost tasteless and is eaten more for luck than flavour – another variant is the shocking pink-and-yellow cupcakes you might have seen offered at temples.
Yu tou gao (steamed yam cake) topped with chopped onions and dried shrimp is usually eaten with chilli sauce, while chai kuih (steamed vegetable dumplings) contain shredded turnip, mushrooms and other vegetables, not unlike other dim sum offerings. They say you’re meant to peel off each layer of kuih lapis (steamed layer cake) to eat it as each represents a stage of life to be savoured; and the blue pulut tai tai is made with glutinous rice, coloured by blue pea flowers and flavoured with kaya (coconut jam).
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1. ANG KU KUEH 2. PULUT TAI TAI 3. CHAI KUEH 4. PULUT INTI 5. FA GAO 6. KUIH LAPIS 7. KUIH TALAM 8. SERIMUKA