Young bakers are giving the humble kueh a makeover with contemporary versions of these old-school Chinese, Malay and Peranakan cakes.
Over the past year, at least four kueh shops have sprung up. They include the four-month-old Kueh Garden in Jurong East Avenue 1, which offers 11 kinds of ang ku kueh in flavours such as durian and green tea. Then there is Peranakan Khek in Cavan Road, which opened in June last year, selling confections such as kueh salat (glutinous rice topped with pandan custard) and kueh bingka (baked tapioca cake). Chef-owner Sharon Low has also created kueh bulan, a glutinous rice kueh loaded with roasted pumpkin seed filling, candied wintermelon and toasted sesame seeds.
Restaurants are also getting involved in the kueh revolution.
Nasi lemak restaurant The Coconut Club in Ann Siang Hill debuted coconut-themed kueh three months ago.
Candlenut, a one-Michelin-starred restaurant in Dempsey Road, has modernised traditional kueh by pairing them with ice cream and cookie crumbs. The Kueh Bingka (S$12/RM37), a tapioca and coconut cake, comes with gula melaka ice cream. Recently, Candlenut introduced durian pengat and ice cream with kueh rose or honeycomb cookies (S$14/RM44). The kueh are made in-house in small batches of up to 20 pieces and are available only at dinner.
Helming the new crop of kueh eateries are first-time food and beverage owners in their 20s and 30s.
Low, 29, of Peranakan Khek, was a former pastry cook with The Prive Group of restaurants who switched from baking Western pastries to making kueh in June last year. Her 400sq ft takeaway shop sells seven types of Peranakan and local kueh, and sells about 30 to 40 pieces of each variety. Kueh must be pre-ordered at least three days ahead.
She says: “Making kueh is more culturally meaningful as it connects me to my family’s history.”
Carol Aliya Widjaya, 32, owner of Ratu Lemper in Baghdad Street, specialises in lemper, an Indonesian glutinous rice snack stuffed with shredded meat.
Instead of the sweetened version in her home town of Jakarta, her chicken lemper is spicy. The cooking process involves stir-frying shredded chicken with spices and coconut milk for three hours.
Widjaya, who is now Singaporean, says: “It gives me national pride to let more people try this Indonesian delicacy, which is not commonly found here.”
To make the snacks more convenient to eat, she makes them in rectangular blocks instead of rolling the rice in banana leaves. For those catering for more people, she makes 1.5kg lemper cakes decorated with flowers and animal-shaped figurines.
She also has a modern version of pulut kuning (yellow glutinous rice). The shop makes the communal dish in bite-sized portions topped with beef rendang, available only on Wednesdays.
Other business owners are drawn to the potential in the kueh market.
Liu Fang Xi, 35, and his business partner, Freddie Chan, 55, started Kueh Garden last December.
The former engineers learnt to make ang ku kueh early last year from one of the owners of the popular Lim Lam Hong confectionery in Jalan Bukit Merah, who is a friend of Chan’s. Both shops sell the same 11 flavours including durian, green tea and coffee. Other kueh on the menu include the traditional Teochew soon kueh and png kueh, a savoury glutinous rice dumpling. The shop also created its own kueh, the Golden Jade Kueh, stir-fried yam wrapped in a skin made with sweet potato. It is available only on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The shop sells 300 to 500 pieces of ang ku kueh daily. They retail at around S$1 (RM3.10) each.
Meanwhile, the year-old Pantree cafe in CT Hub 2 in Lavender Street sells ban chang kueh pancakes in contemporary flavours. Here, ban chang kueh (peanut pancake) goes hip with more than 15 types of fillings. Those with a sweet tooth can go for pancakes slathered with Speculoos, a cookie butter spread, and Nutella with crushed peanut. Popular savoury pancake fillings include ham, cheese and egg and chicken floss. The pancakes, with wafer-thin crispy edges, are made on order and cost between S$3 to S$3.50 (RM9.30-10.90).
Owner Victor Yong, 35, a former bank executive, learnt the pancake recipe from his father-in-law who is a street hawker in Ipoh, Malaysia. His prices are slightly higher than those at hawker centres, but he says “preserving heritage should make business sense to remain relevant”. The cafe sells at least 100 pancakes daily.
Charging a premium for kueh is something that these businesses have to grapple with as most consumers perceive kueh as a low-cost food. Chef Malcolm Lee of Candlenut admits that he serves “the most expensive kueh salat in Singapore”. The kueh, which is accompanied by coconut sorbet and kueh bangkit crumbs, costs S$14 (RM44).
But the 32-year-old thinks the hefty price tag is justified. He says: “Making kueh salat is as complex as making a souffle. A lot of effort went into perfecting the recipe.”
The Coconut Club started selling kueh kosui (steamed gula melaka cake), kueh bingka and kueh salat in January. The restaurant makes these kueh using freshly squeezed milk from coconuts sourced from a plantation in Sabak Bernam, Malaysia. The coconuts are renowned for their creamy, aromatic milk. The milk is also used in the restaurant’s popular nasi lemak and chendol dishes.
The restaurant makes up to 200 pieces of kueh daily. Owner Lee Eng Su, 38, says: “People are getting nostalgic over old-school flavours.”
Customers appreciate the second wind that kueh is enjoying. Angela Ang, 40, a senior adviser in a recruitment company, who has visited Peranakan Khek, says: “Such shops keep our kueh tradition alive.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network/Kenneth Goh