My parents arrived from Singapore on Wednesday. SFO was, as always, full of delays so we waited over an hour for them to arrive. But it was wonderful to see them, especially my Dad, whom I had not seen since last summer (my Mum was here earlier in the year for the kids’ birthdays).
As usual, my parents brought plenty of things from Singapore, lots of books and some toys, even some T-shirts to mark Singapore’s 50th National Day, which is happening this Sunday August 9.
Among the edible items were kaya or coconut jam. This is less jammy than custard-y as it is made with pandan leaves, eggs, sugar and of course, coconut milk. Here’s a recipe from iamafoodblog. The key to this is not just the coconut but the pandan leaves. Sadly I’ve yet to find fresh pandan leaves here, although I do always grab the frozen kinds to stash in my freezer. Pandan leaves add a lovely fragrance to plenty of Singapore and Southeast Asian foods, from chicken rice to pandan chiffon cake to agar agar or jelly.
The best way to eat kaya is on toasted bread that has been slathered with butter. In some ‘kaya toast’ eateries in Singapore, the butter is not spread on the toast, instead they place a thin slice of butter on the toast then the kaya. Plenty of calories but so worth it. These ‘kaya toast’ eateries like Ya Kun are also known for their teas and coffees, and a set often comes with soft-boiled eggs which you crack into a small saucer, top with soy sauce and white pepper and slurp up. Or at least that’s how I like it.
And then there were the Nonya kuehs. Three different types.
Kueh ambon (bottom of photo) is a coconut sponge cake of sorts, sometimes known as a ‘honeycomb’ cake because its structure within looks like a honeycomb, probably because the yeasted batter requires some rising. Here’s a recipe from Peng’s Kitchen.
Kueh Lapis is a layered colourful steamed kueh that has an almost jelly-like texture thanks to the tapioca and rice flours its made with. ‘Lapis‘ means layers. And so ‘lapis’ is also associated with a different type of cake, one that is baked and confusingly also referred to as kueh lapis. That one uses a variety of spices that make up the ‘rempah‘ or spice mix, such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg. You can find ‘kueh lapis rempah’ at baking stores in Singapore. It is a buttery eggy cake made up of tiny little layers, very tedious work I imagine as each layer has to be poured into the cake tin, spread out, then placed back into the oven to bake, then repeat with the next layer. Here’s an example of a recipe. And yep, that is 22 egg yolks in one cake. But this steamed kueh lapis tastes very different. The best way to eat it is to peel off the layers one by one!
My favourite of the three kueh is the ang ku kueh (top of photo). Its name is literally ‘red turtle’ as it is meant to look like a turtle shell. It is placed on a small piece of banana leaf as it is really sticky. It was traditionally meant for special occasions like the baby’s first month (instead of celebrating the birth of a baby, traditional Chinese celebrate the baby’s first month. This is known as ‘man yue‘ or full moon. These days, family and friends congregate for a party, present the baby with a red packet of money as a gift, and get to go home with sweet treats. Traditionally though, the gifts for the well-wishers were red-coloured treats like boiled eggs dyed red, red ginger, and the ang ku kueh).
Ang ku kueh has a sticky exterior which is usually made with sweet potatoes (steamed and mashed), rice flour, oil and sugar. And inside you can choose from a variety of fillings. These were yellow mung beans but there are also those filled with yam paste, peanuts, even savoury fillings, although I’ve never tried those before. Here’s another recipe with a variety of fillings.
My favourite nonya kueh is actually kueh salat, which is a layer of glutinous rice that is steamed with sugar and coconut milk, on top of that sits a layer of green kaya custard. So good. But because of all that coconut it especially doesn’t keep well, so my parents have never brought it over. Guess I’ll have to wait until I next visit Singapore to eat this!
So if you’re ever in Singapore, give nonya kueh a try. There are quite a few bakeries that specialize in local treats like these. Bengawan Solo is probably the biggest chain, with branches found all over the island, another is Chinta Manis. But there are also smaller family-run bakeries that sell nonya kueh. I’ve just never tried them before!
Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs