Made in keeping with time-honoured traditions, these sweet and savoury treats come from some of Singapore's most established old-school stalls and confectioneries.
Amy Van, Xie Hui Qin, Christopher Tan
Ang ku kueh from Ji Xiang Confectionery
Ji Xiang Confectionery is possibly the only food business in Singapore that specialises in handmade ang ku kueh. To prevent any form of “piracy”, the Ji Xiang name is specially carved out by a mahjong tile maker, and secured in the centre of the mould. “We continue to hand-craft our kueh because we can get thinner and more delicate skin that way. If machines are used, you can’t control the skin’s thickness,” says founder Toh Poh Seek.
A lot of effort goes into the making of Ji Xiang’s ang ku kueh. For instance, the mung bean filling is painstakingly steamed, mashed, stir-fried, and then mixed with oil and pandan water. Banana leaves have to be cut, washed and wiped down. And after steaming in large tiered steamers for seven minutes, the kueh needs to be cooled down completely before being packed.
Quality, freshness and consistency are important for Ji Xiang. “We buy coconut from Tekka, and source peanuts from a reputable supplier,” shares Toh. “We also make sure that our recipe is not too sweet or oily.”
To date, the best sellers are the traditional flavours of peanut and mung bean. To cater to the younger generation, flavours like coconut, yam, corn, and durian are offered to boot.
#01-33, Block 1 Everton Park, Tel: 6223 1631
Putu ayu from Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry
The enticing treats from old-school confectionery Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry run the gamut from ladyfinger sponge cakes to ondeh ondeh. Of the vast assortment, the putu ayu (steamed coconut pandan sponge cake) is a firm favourite. The little shop turns out hundreds of them almost daily. Putu ayu, or puteri ayu, which loosely translates to “pretty princess” in Bahasa Indonesia, is thought be Indonesian in origin, but can also be found in Malaysia and Singapore. This beautiful steamed treat, shaped like a mini bundt cake, is essentially green pandan sponge cake crowned with shredded coconut. According to chef-owner Tan Yong Siang, they are not difficult to make but tedious to prepare.
The fresh coconut has to be prepared separately and pressed into individual moulds, and allowed to set, before it can be filled with cake batter and steamed. Soh has also tweaked the original recipe, adding gula melaka to the mix. “Most of the putu ayu you see are white and green, from the coconut and the pandan. Ours is brown, white and green. The brown comes from freshly grated coconut flavoured with gula melaka, which gives the kueh added fragrance. Our white coconut is also slightly savoury, so you get a good balance of sweet and savoury, ” says Tan.
#01-39, Blk 55 Tiong Bahru Rd, Tel: 6324 1686
Hainanese lap from Hainan Xiao Chi
Holding precious symbolic meaning for the Hainanese, larp (also spelt “lup” or “lap”), belongs to the wider family of Chinese leaf-wrapped dumplings, but differ by being intricately swaddled in coconut palm fronds, rather than bamboo or banana leaves. In fact, you might be forgiven for mistaking a larp at first glance for the more familiar Malay ketupat, but these woven fronds cradle a Hainan heart. Originally filled simply with glutinous rice, larp variations have since evolved to include other ingredients such as dried shrimp and cubed pork. As it can be made only by hand, larp is most often prepared in home kitchens rather than in commercial enterprises, explaining its rarity. “We make and eat larp at special events, to celebrate occasions such as weddings, moving house and births,” says business development director Simon Goh, whose hawker stall Hainan Xiao Chi at Toa Payoh specialises in traditional Hainanese confections and snacks. Given as gifts to express affection, and convey blessing and comfort, larp is also eaten during difficult times, to ward off calamity, soothe troubled spirits and encourage positive emotions. The precise significance and use varies slightly from village to village in Hainan and between different Hainanese communities.
#01-35, 22 Toa Payoh Lorong 7
Kueh tutu from Tan’s Tu Tu Coconut Cake
Kueh tutu, a heritage snack well-loved for its soft, pillow-like consistency, is made from scratch at Tan’s Tu Tu Coconut Cake. The body of the cake is made from pounding Grade One Thai jasmine rice into fine flour, sieving the flour to ensure the kueh tutu turns out fluffy, before packing it into a floral-patterned mould. The grated coconut filling is roasted with gula melaka while the peanuts are pounded pounded by hand before a dash of sugar is added. Even the pandan leaves are cut by hand. Best consumed fresh from the steamer, these traditional snacks will inundate your nose with three scents – that from the rice, filling and pandan leaf.
#01-25, 22B Havelock Road
#01-211, 449 Clementi Avenue 3
Haig Road putu piring
You are mistaken if you think that Malay putu piring and Chinese kueh tutu are one and the same. The best way to discover the difference: sink your teeth into one of these steamed, snowy white confections sold at heritage stall Haig Road Putu Piring. The traditional Malay creations are stuffed with gula melaka and subtly scented by pandan leaves. Unlike Chinese kueh tutu, the little fluffy rice-flour cakes are eaten with grated and salted white coconut.