For the A TO Z CHALLENGE, I’m blogging for 26 days in April (except Sundays) based on the alphabet, and my theme is #foodiefiction, inspired mostly by the foods of Singapore.
T is for tutu kueh
There’s a kind of magic to kueh tutu. Unlike most snacks, manufactured in a factory far away, packaged in some crinkly plastic with garish colours, this one is made right in front of you. It is an art, a performance almost, of a tutu kueh seller. And Ling sometimes felt like she was on stage doing the dance of the tutu kueh.
Except her tutu wasn’t the floaty fairytale one that ballerinas wore. It was instead a delicate white steamed cake with an orange-red filling.
She would scoop the finely ground rice flour into the metal mould, leaving a slight indentation in the middle for the filling. Then depending on the customer’s preference, either some ground peanuts or coconut cooked with sugar was placed in the hollow. More finely ground flour on top to cover. Then the whole thing was overturned onto a square of muslin and onto the steamer. One two three, would fit nicely on one steamer.
The lid went back on the steamer and while it steamed, she would continue her little dance. A sprinkle of white, a centre of orange-red, another shower of white. Then onto the white cloth and into the steamer.
Her feet tapped away behind the cart. She had an internal soundtrack that repeated in her head whenever an order for tutu kueh came in. It had the right beat and the right rhythm for all her movements required to make the sweet treat. She swayed a little to the unheard beat when she completed her moves. Then stopped for a heartbeat, closed her eyes, then that was when she knew the steaming process was done and the kuehs were ready.
The tutu kueh tune had no words and not much of a melody either. Ling often didn’t feel like her life amounted to much but when a customer asked for an order of kueh tutu, it felt like a sparkle went through her and brought her to life, turned her into the Kueh Tutu Princess. When she handed over the sweet white flowers of cake, and received money in exchange, her brilliance faded and she went back to being just Ling again.
Kueh Tutu or Tutu Kueh is a traditional Singaporean snack. It used to be quite common when I was growing up in Singapore in the 1980s and 1990s. I don’t live in Singapore now but when I returned for visits, it’s not something that seems as common as before. Which is a pity as it is such a delicious treat. As a kid I always disdained the coconut version, much preferring the crunchy sweet peanut filling, so I don’t actually remember eating a coconut kueh tutu. A similar dessert is putu piring, which only has coconut filling, is shaped in a larger, flatter disc, and doesn’t use a flower mould.
Apparently it is known as ‘tutu’ because of the sound that the steamer made. Although I’ve never heard any kueh tutu steamer make that sound before!
Have you eaten a similar steamed sweet cake?