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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Have a story to tell? From discovering hidden gems to crossing out must dos, share these tales with us to be featured on our website and inspire others to explore Southeast Asia!