The hum­ble kueh gets a new lease of life from spe­cial­ity shops and artisans who are reinventing and pre­serv­ing this well-loved legacy


The hum­ble kueh gets a new lease of life

Kuehs can be a dif­fi­cult con­cept to ex­plain to those who did not grow up eat­ing them. In South­east Asian coun­tries such as In­done­sia, Malaysia, Brunei and Sin­ga­pore, a kueh can be ei­ther sweet or savoury, steamed or baked. It can be any­thing from a pas­try to a dumpling to a cake. A kueh can be en­joyed any­time of the day; yet it is also an in­te­gral part of re­li­gious and cul­tural fes­tiv­i­ties in South­east Asia. Each re­gion and fam­ily holds its own tra­di­tional recipes, with each as ver­i­ta­bly au­then­tic as the next. In fact, many safe­guard their recipes as trea­sured fam­ily se­crets. Through the years and with the con­flu­ence of cul­tures, these vari­ables have brought about an ex­otic smor­gas­bord of kuehs in Sin­ga­pore’s culi­nary land­scape.

Such di­ver­sity is show­cased in the third edi­tion of the Kueh Ap­pre­ci­a­tion Day, hap­pen­ing on 23 July this year. The in­ter­ac­tive event, which in­cludes live demon­stra­tions and tast­ing ses­sions, started in 2015 as part of Slow Food (Sin­ga­pore)’s ef­forts to safe­guard our na­tion’s gas­tro­nomic her­itage. At the event this year, the kueh show­cased will span from Hakka and Eurasian clas­sics to rel­a­tively ‘newer’ kueh that have ar­rived on our shores from In­done­sia.

The suc­cess of Kueh Ap­pre­ci­a­tion Day re­flects a re­newed en­thu­si­asm for by­gone or her­itage foods in Sin­ga­pore. Within the in­dus­try, a new wave of chefs and en­trepreneurs are work­ing to keep the art of hand­crafted kueh alive. Think lo­cal cake shop Chalk Farm’s wheels of kueh salat, launched in 2014 and served whole. With its gluti­nous rice base beau­ti­fully stained blue with but­ter­fly pea flower ex­tract, and its kaya layer rich with freshly squeezed co­conut milk and pan­dan juice, it is a proud trib­ute to the ways of old. In fact, its mak­ers even ad­vise against re­frig­er­at­ing the con­fec­tion, stat­ing un­equiv­o­ca­bly: “It will never quite be the same again”. Mean­while, Sin­ga­porean chef Mal­colm Lee crafts plated desserts of sugee cake with lo­cal goat’s milk ice cream; and a kueh salat with bangkit crum­ble and young co­conut sor­bet at his one Miche­lin-starred restau­rant Can­dlenut.

Their ef­forts do not just bring about tasty con­fec­tions, they also in­spire con­ver­sa­tion and hope­fully ig­nite in­ter­est and re­solve in pre­serv­ing our food her­itage, one dainty piece of kueh at a time. It’s not just about cel­e­brat­ing her­itage brands and fa­mil­iar flavours from our child­hoods ei­ther, but dis­cov­er­ing lesser-known gems and learn­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate di­ver­sity. Here, we high­light some of the less com­mon kueh one can find in Sin­ga­pore:


A sticky rice cake with spicy meat fill­ing, lem­per—a pop­u­lar snack in In­done­sia—is made by soak­ing the rice overnight for a ten­der bite, then pack­ing the rice with a spicy meat fill­ing. The lem­per is rolled in a ba­nana leaf, and steamed or grilled to re­lease a sub­tle, grassy aroma.

This In­done­sian favourite has taken a life of its own at Ratu Lem­per (16 Bagh­dad Street), a lem­per spe­cial­ity shop started last year. De­spite be­ing a rel­a­tively new player in the kueh scene, Ratu Lem­per has been con­sis­tently sell­ing out 7,000 pieces of lem­per a week, which is no mean feat on an is­land pul­sat­ing with ever-chang­ing food trends. Aliya Wid­jaja, who runs the shop and is the epony­mous Ratu Lem­per (which trans­lates as “Queen of Lem­per”), built a for­mi­da­ble fol­low­ing re­ly­ing mostly on so­cial me­dia and word-of-mouth rec­om­men­da­tions.


Though it re­sem­bles png kueh, the well-loved Teochew gluti­nous rice dumpling, the chi kak kueh is any­thing but. Brought to Sin­ga­pore dur­ing the colo­nial days by Teochew im­mi­grants, chi kak kueh gets its name from the herb which gives it a dark, ashy grey colour: the Gnaphal­ium affine or Jersey cud­weed. These sweet, chewy dumplings are ei­ther filled with mung bean or sesame paste.

It is avail­able at Teochew con­fec­tioner Kuehs and Snacks (Block 125 Bukit Merah Lane 1 #01-164 Alexan­dra Vil­lage C3 and Block 7 #01-84 Em­press Road) which has, over the years, adapted its recipe to ac­com­mo­date the lo­cal palate by re­duc­ing its sugar con­tent and soft­en­ing the skin.


As a Eurasian con­fec­tion, pang susie might be the lesser-known sis­ter of the Eurasian sugee cake, but it is by no means less im­pres­sive. This savoury-sweet bun is equal parts bite and punchy flavour. The ten­der crumb gets its unique tex­ture from puréed sweet potato worked right into the dough. The unc­tu­ous fill­ing of minced pork or chicken sweet­ened with win­ter melon is not un­like your typ­i­cal Nonya bak zhang (rice dumpling). How­ever it packs a head­ier punch of cin­na­mon and nut­meg.

Mary Gomes, chef-owner of Mary’s Kafe (1 Queen Street), ob­tained her pang susie recipe from a Canos­sian nun in Malacca. “The recipe is unique, un­like oth­ers that use bread dough,” shares Gomes, who is also the au­thor of The Eurasian Cook­book and

A Cel­e­bra­tion of A Sin­ga­pore Kitchen, which fo­cuses on lo­cal fare.


Har­riAnns (230 Vic­to­ria Street, #01-01A) is a text­book ex­am­ple of how tra­di­tional food es­tab­lish­ments can rein­vent a legacy with great suc­cess. It might be over 50 years old, but Har­riAnns is young in spirit. The own­ers are en­thu­si­as­tic about in­no­va­tion. En­ter The Pink Fairy, a dual-layer steamed cake rem­i­nis­cent of the Malay pu­tri salat, but with a base of pink co­conut cream atop Adzuki beans. To­gether with vari­a­tions such as laven­der and corn, it is part of Har­riAnns’ ef­fort to mar­ket its prod­ucts to a younger au­di­ence.

“Our kueh has evolved with time in terms of flavour, taste and aes­thetic ap­peal, but even in this mod­ern age and time, we still in­sist on us­ing tra­di­tional meth­ods to pro­duce our kueh the way Grandma used to,” says Alan Tan, third-gen­er­a­tion owner of Har­riAnns.


The Hainanese ver­sion of the Can­tonese style bak zhang, it fea­tures the sim­i­lar com­bi­na­tion of steamed gluti­nous rice and meat fill­ing (al­beit one in­fused with gar­lic flavours). But eat­ing it is a unique rit­ual al­to­gether. First, one has to un­wrap the kueh from its wrap­ping, wo­ven from strips of co­conut leaves into ei­ther a di­a­mond or pyra­mid shape. Cut­ting up this wo­ven shell with a pair of scis­sors or a knife is frowned upon by the older gen­er­a­tion. In­stead, cus­tom dic­tates one to un­ravel the leaves one by one—a process known as “the loos­en­ing”. In Hainanese cus­tom, this process sym­bol­ises over­com­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. When gifted dur­ing good times, the larp is said to pre­serve good for­tune; when gifted dur­ing dif­fi­cult times, the larp con­veys com­fort and strength.

This Hainanese dumpling can be found at Hainan Xiaochi (22 Toa Payoh Lorong 7, #01-35). The stall has been mak­ing tra­di­tional Hainanese snacks for over three decades and is also known for their yi buah—a kueh made from gluti­nous rice flour, shred­ded co­conut, sesame and peanuts that’s usu­ally eaten at spe­cial oc­ca­sions such as wed­dings and birth­days.

Clock­wise from right Pang Susie; Chi kak kueh

Op­po­site page, from top Pink Fairy; Larp kueh

Right Chicken lem­per

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