Tag Archives: kueh

Chinese New Year goodies

Kueh bangkit

The lunar new year is around the corner, which means lots of celebrations (which go for 15 days), primarily through eating and drinking with family and friends.

Leading up to lunar new year, treats are often shared, and this post is dedicated to my favourite Hokkien festive treats of cakes and cookies.

I have three favourites, although there are many more – kueh kapit, pineapple tarts and kueh bangkit.

Kueh kapit

Kueh kapit are delicate wafers that are made from a very thin batter made of coconut milk, rice and tapioca flour, sugar and eggs, that is poured onto cast-iron moulds – etched with graphic and symbolic representations of flowers, birds or animals – and then baked over charcoal.

I used to make them with my family when I was very young.  My grandmother, the expert who would patiently sit over the charcoal with the cast-iron moulds, would pour the batter to make sure the entire mould was evenly coated and check again and again to get just the right amount of colour on the kueh – too light meant the batter was not cooked properly, too dark meant the biscuit would be bitter. Once the batter was cooked she would quickly remove them from the still-hot moulds (she had chef fingers and didn’t seem to ever burn her fingers on the hot iron) and place them on a plate and then get back to battering the mould to make the next biscuit.  Then it was my sister’s and my turn to work quickly while the crepe was still pliable, folding the round crepe into a triangular fan shape.  (We also got to eat the “mistakes” heehee).  It was time consuming and labour intensive, and I have very fond memories of the family bonding while we made these.

Kueh kapit are also called Love Letters, and the history of these is that they were a way for lovers to communicate in olden times – the edible quality of the messages ensured the absence of proof and consumption of the heartfelt message was also seen as a sign that the lover’s words had been taken to heart.

Pineapple tarts

The origins of pineapple tarts is not as poetic as kueh kapit – pineapple in hokkien is ong lai, which literally translated is “prosperity has come”, and serving and eating pineapple tarts is thought to bring good luck and prosperity to the house. Fresh pineapple is grated and slowly cooked over a low heat until it all the sugars have caramelised.  This mixture is then traditionally placed on top of a medallion of butter pastry. Variations have come about where the pineapple is completely encased in pastry – this is the favourite in our house because I think the pastry seems to melt on your tongue before you get to the almost chewy pineapple.

Kueh bangkit

Kueh bangkit – tapioca cookies – are traditional nonya cookies and their history is hard to find.  From what I can gather, they were originally used for alter offerings for the ancestors and/or for the departed to spend in their next life, and hence were made in the shape of the currency of ancient China. Today they are made in various animal or floral shapes with their own symbolic meaning such as goldfish (prosperity), butterflies (afterlife), peonies (faith) and chrysanthemums (fortune). Each cookie traditionally was marked with a red dot, which I would love to know the meaning of, so please, if you know, post the answer in the comments section.

Made from tapioca flour, eggs and coconut milk they are sweet bite-sized morsels that bursts into dry powdery bits when bitten and then immediately melt in your mouth. The perfect kuih bangkit has to be dry and crispy and light as a feather and almost ‘hollow’ sounding when you tap it. Apparently horrendously difficult to perfect, I am quite happy to buy ones that someone has slaved over to make.

Actually, all three of these, as well as most Chinese New Year treats, are all time consuming and very fiddly to make.  I suppose from my experience from long ago with the kueh kapit, the idea is that it is not just about the eating of the treats, but it’s time spent as a family making them and promoting family unity for the lunar new year.  More to come on other food around the new year. Gong xi fa cai !


Penang buffet at Copthorne Kings Hotel

Nasi lemak – coconut rice with chilli anchovies and peanuts

Whenever my parents visit me in Singapore, there’s always a line-up of peranakan food.  My grandmother was nonya, and my mother craves the food she grew up with in Penang.  There are a handful of Malaysian restaurants in Sydney, but there isn’t the demand for Sydney to import a few of the spices and herbs that you need to make it authentically Penang cuisine.

Today I took them to the Kings Hotel where there is a Penang buffet – so not just Malaysian, which encompasses Malay, nonya, maybe even Indian – this is pure nonya food.  And what a spread it is.  It’s not the most glamourous places to eat – the hotel looks a bit dated from the newer hotels, but the food is so good, I visibly watched my mum eat herself into a stupor.

The variety on offer is huge and the buffet-style means you can sample a little of everything.

chee cheong fan

I started with chee cheong fan, steamed rice rolls, topped with a simple drizzle of sesame oil, hoisin sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  The rice rolls were thin and slipped easily down your throat.  Deliciously simple. Simply delicious.

Penang otak – steamed golden snapper in coconut custard

This was followed by nonya otak.  Otak is fish with herbs in a curried coconut broth that is steamed in a banana leaf.  It’s been so long since I’ve had otak this way – in Singapore it’s barbequed and the end result is a lot more fishcake-like rather than custard in texture.  When it’s steamed, it turns out as a delicate piece of heaven.

Penang asam laksa

There was also Penang laksa available.  Again, this differs from the more popular laksa that is made with curry and coconut cream, with the stock made from mackerel and tamarind, so it is clear(ish) and has a distinguishing sour taste.  The fish is first poached and then flaked and the stock includes lemongrass, galangal, chilli, pineapple, mint, thinly sliced onion, sweet prawn paste and the pink bud of the ginger flower.  It’s one dish that the very mention of which can make my sister salivate on demand and very rare to find.  Needless to say that was a favourite on our table.

Selection of nonya kueh

Too many other dishes followed, including Penang Hokkien mee soup, which was topped off with fried bits of pork lard (sounds awful, tastes wonderful), acar, a salad of cucumber, carrots and cabbage pickled in aromatic spices and vinegar and then tossed in crushed peanuts and of course nonya kueh, traditional nonya dessert cakes, made authentically and made with the perfect balance of sweet and savoury.  A perfect way to end a perfect afternoon of nonya delights.

All in all, highly recommended for hard-core Peranakan devotees.

Copthorne King’s Hotel Singapore
Princess Terrace Cafe
403 Havelock Road
Singapore
Tel: 65 6733 0011