Kueh. They come in multiple shapes, colours and are more often than not, sweet. They often decorate the shelves of many snack stalls in hawker centres and shopping malls. Flash quiz, aside from Bengawan Solo, can you think of any other place that you can readily get kueh? If your answer is a negative, that’s hardly a surprise. Kueh has fallen to the wayside in terms of popularity and prestige, despite being of strong cultural importance.
Christopher Tan, a culinary instructor and professional food writer, wanted to change that when he set out to write The Way Of Kueh. Speaking to the Singapore Tatler, Mr. Tan referred to the disparity between books on Western confectionery and kueh. For every 10 books on Western baked goods, he said, there is one for kueh.
So he spent five years researching recipes for The Way Of Kueh. Each recipe was tested from 4 – 20 times and photographed in his own home. The final tally of recipes that made it into the book is 98. They include traditional Chinese, Eurasian, Malay and Peranakan kueh. To achieve that, he had to interview 40 individual kueh makers.
Aside from the hows of kueh, there is also material on the whys and whats of kueh. Consider the banana leaf – why is it so commonly seen as a kueh wrapper? Also, what other type of leaves are used? The answer: banana leaves are used because they can help prolong the shelf life of food as they have antimicrobial properties. They are also used because they are flexible and aromatic. Other type of leaves used are the leaves of various palm trees, lotus leaves, bamboo leaves, just to name a few.
Mr. Tan’s hours spent in the kitchen, national archives and homes of kueh masters is not in vain, however. Singaporeans are loving the kueh bible and it has gone on to win multiple awards. The Singapore Book Awards has bestowed upon The Way Of Kueh 2020’s Book Of The Year award. It was also the winner for the best illustrated, non-fiction category.
Has reading this made you yearn for kueh? Here are some places in Singapore where you can get your hands on some traditional, hand-made goodness:
Molly’s Nyona Kuehs | Website
This humble shop has been around since 1971 and generally opens before the sun rises, at 5 – 6am!
Address: Block 104, Hougang Avenue 1, #01-1121 Singapore 530104
Ji Xiang Confectionery | Website
This confectionery run by Mr. and Mrs. Toh started out from a HDB kitchen, churning out kuehs for hawkers around the neighbourhood. The popularity of the kuehs eventually necessitated them setting up a proper shop in 1988 and they’ve been at it ever since!
Address: Block 1 #01-33, Everton Park, Singapore 081001
Lina Confectionery | Website
Like Bengawan Solo, Lina Confectionery was founded by an Indonesian immigrant. Linawati Sukhamta founded the place in the 1980s. The shop’s speciality is in kueh lapis, although they make all manner of traditional Indonesian snacks.
Address: Block 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-138 Singapore 150124