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7 Nyonya Kuih You Must-Have in Southeast Asia

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Food

7 Nyonya Kuih You Must-Have in Southeast Asia

Ask any Malaysian or Singaporean what they would like to have for tea, and you would probably hear something along the lines of “Nyonya kuih, please.” This refers to a collection of snacks and small desserts that originated from a special Southeast Asian community: the Peranakan people.

But who exactly are the Peranakan people, you ask?

The Peranakan people were once a prominent and defining part of Malaysia and Singapore, and with good reason. Otherwise referred to as Baba (men) and Nyonya (women), this community was well-known for its unique lifestyle and practices, as it was established by Chinese people who adopted local customs and practices—particularly those of the Malay people. This uniqueness was evident in many areas, including language, fashion and architecture.

One especially exceptional aspect of the life of the Peranakan people—and a very delicious one, at that—was their cuisine. Nyonya kuih (pronounced as ‘koo-eh’) is a prime example of this, with its varying textures, flavours and appearances that captivate all the senses. From savoury to sweet, these treats are incredibly decadent, and each bite is known to bring about a great amount of pleasure.

However, eating Nyonya kuih can be a rather confusing affair, as there are simply too many types to choose from! This is why GOASEAN has compiled a list of seven Nyonya kuih that you simply must try during your next trip to Malaysia or Singapore. They represent some of the most beloved Nyonya snacks of all time.

Be warned though: your stomach may be singing its song of hunger loudly by the end of this article!

1. Pulut Tai Tai

Also referred to as ‘pulut tekan’, pulut tai tai is arguably one of the most easily recognised Nyonya kuih due to its unusual hue. Using blue pea flowers, a certain portion of the glutinous rice that is used to make this kuih takes on a blue tone, before being mixed with portions of white glutinous rice to give the final product a remarkable marbling effect in appearance.

Pulut tai tai is commonly enjoyed with servings of kaya—a coconut-based jam—and is best served warm. As the kuih itself is rather savoury in nature and carries the beautiful flavour of pandan leaves, the sugariness of kaya matches it well, creating a dish that is chewy and flavourful without being overpoweringly sweet.

2. Kuih Lapis

Not to be confused with its Indonesian relative of a similar name, kuih lapis is probably one of the most appealing-looking Nyonya snacks of all time—especially to children. Its colourful, multi-layer appearance is matched by a texture that is soft and literally melts in your mouth, along with a flavour that is rich and decadent due to one of its main ingredients: coconut milk.

Creating kuih lapis is not an easy task. As its name implies, this layered delicacy requires patience and focus to be made well. Each layer needs to be steamed for a certain amount of time to allow the batter to properly set before the next layer can be poured over it. The result, however, is an utter treat—both for the eyes and mouth.

3. Pulut Inti

These pyramid-shaped parcels of glutinous rice are packed in banana leaves with a nice surprise: a topping—or occasionally, filling—of sweet grated coconut. Like pulut tai tai, the rice component of this kuih is sometimes dyed using blue pea flowers, giving it a distinctive blue hue. The grated coconut topping also has a unique colour, courtesy of the brown palm sugar or gula Melaka that it is normally cooked with.

Pulut inti is said to taste best when served warm, which is why it is often eaten fresh from the steamer. This warmth also allows it to soak up some of the aroma of the banana leaves it is packed in, further enhancing its flavour and scent.

WHERE TO GET IT: Baba Charlie Nyonya Cakes
ADDRESS: 72 Lorong Tengkera Pantai 2c, Melaka 75200, Malaysia

4. Ang Ku Kuih

A pastry that is equally famous amongst members of the Chinese community, ang ku kuih is easy to spot with its unique design and wonderful colour. It is often found in shades of red, orange or green, and usually carries a Chinese character of sorts on its outermost surface. It is sometimes called the red tortoise cake due to its design.

Ang ku kuih tends to feature a scrumptious filling of mung bean paste, although grounded peanuts are also known to make a suitable filling for this snack. It is not unusual to find this snack being eaten on special occasions, such as during Chinese New Year or in conjunction with a birthday.

WHERE TO GET IT: Ji Xiang Confectionery
ADDRESS: 1 Everton Park, Singapore 081001

5. Kuih Bingka

Kuih bingka is a type of snack that is made primarily from tapioca, which is why it is sometimes called tapioca cake. It generally possesses an inviting yellow hue—although some may choose to add different shades of food colouring—and a sheen that merely hints at its playfully chewy texture. While it is possibly the most plain-looking kuih on this list, it still packs quite a flavourful punch.

Kuih bingka gets its notes from the grated tapioca, coconut milk, sugar and pandan leaves that are commonly used to make it. Sugar plays an important role in giving this snack its signature glossiness, while coconut milk helps to accentuate the richness of kuih bingka in every bite.

WHERE TO GET IT: Aroma Nyonya Kuih Stall
ADDRESS: Kedai Kopi dan Makanan Chung Heong, No. 14-16, Lorong Ara Kiri 2, Lucky Garden, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah.

6. Kuih Talam

Although seemingly plain in terms of its appearance, kuih talam is considered to be one of the most popular snacks of all time in Malaysia. While its name is also a reference to any kuih that is made by being steamed in a tray, the kuih talam that is featured here is specifically one that is made by joining two layers to create a creamy green and white dessert.

Both these layers are made with different components. The white layer of kuih talam is mainly composed of coconut milk and has noticeably salty taste, which nicely balances the sweet, pandan-flavoured green layer. The latter may sometimes feature vanilla flavouring instead, if pandan leaves are not available.

7. Kuih Seri Muka

Not to be confused with kuih talam due to its similarity in colour, kuih seri muka is a true sweet treat for the senses. Its uniqueness stems from the fact that it combines the juice of pandan leaves, coconut milk and glutinous rice to create a snack that is creamy and chewy at once.

Kuih seri muka’s bottom layer is normally composed of glutinous rice that has been flavoured with pandan leaves. This layer is sometimes coloured with blue pea flowers as well. The top layer gets its green hue from pandan juice, which is mixed with egg yolks, sugar and a few other ingredients, before being poured over a layer of the aforementioned glutinous rice. The bottom layer itself is not sweet, providing a nice contrast to the sugariness of the top layer.

 

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