Malaysian kuih: A marriage of flavours and cultures
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GEORGE TOWN, March 27 — Soft, creamy, colourful and sweet, our many varieties of Malaysian kuih are the result of an interesting mix of delicacies with Malay and Peranakan origins.
The local kuih, some are Malay and some are Nyonya or Peranakan, comes in many forms, shapes, sizes, colours, styles and flavours. Some are sweet, some are savoury, some are rich and thick, some are smooth and light, and some are even spicy and fragrant.
Most of the local kuih are steamed, baked and even grilled and made from local ingredients such as tapioca, glutinous rice, rice flour, cornstarch, plain flour, gula Melaka (palm sugar), and natural colourings such as from the pea flower.
Some Nyonya kuih such as the kuih lapis or kau chan kuih (translated to mean nine layer kuih in Hokkien), rempah udang, kuih tai tai and huat kuih are usually served at weddings, each carrying an auspicious meaning so the happy couple can lead a prosperous, healthy and happy life.
The origins of each type of these bite-sized delicacies are hard to trace as many have a little bit of Malay influences, a little bit of Indian influences and a little bit of Chinese influences, making them a truly Malaysian delicacy although many of these kuih are often labelled as Nyonya kuih.
Our local kuih is still very much a part of the diet of a typical Malaysian as they can still be found at roadside stalls, in wet markets, in some modernised cafes, at some restaurants and even coffee shops.
There is no fixed time to have a kuih because you can eat it any time of the day, as a snack or as dessert, and even as a meal on its own.
The most commonly found kuih has to be the kuih talam, the green and white kuih with its smooth soft green layer but a totally different texture and taste for the white layer.
The kuih talam is made from a mix of rice, tapioca and green pea flour where the green layer is tinted and flavoured with the juice of pandan leaves (screwpine leaves) while the white layer is a creamy confection made with the same mix of flour given a rich, savoury taste with the addition of coconut milk.
The kuih talam is the one with the thin white layer on top and the thicker, soft green layer at the bottom. Also, the reason it is called kuih talam is because it is traditionally steamed in a talam, which means tray in Malay, before it is sliced into bite-sized pieces.
Seri Muka, which is also very popular, is sometimes available in brown and white but the most common is the green and white version. Unlike the kuih talam, the soft custard layer of green is on the top and the firm, chewy glutinous rice layer on the bottom.
The top layer is sometimes prepared using the same ingredients as the kuih talam but depending on each individual recipe, sometimes it is only made of cornstarch, flour and coconut milk. As for the glutinous rice layer, it is a thick rich layer of soft steamed glutinous rice with coconut milk and a pinch of salt to bring out the coconut flavour. Similarly, the Seri Muka is also usually steamed in a large tray and then sliced into pieces.
Another commonly found kuih is the kuih bengka, the yellow tapioca cake made from grated tapioca. It is chewy with a nice bite to it and it is flavoured with just the slightest bit of sugar. There are also smoother versions of the kuih bengka, made from flour, and these usually come in white, brown and purple.
The kuih lapis or kau chan kuih is a favourite among children due to its pretty layers of colours. Like its name suggests, it is made up of layers of white and red ending with the red layer on top.
There are too many different types of kuih available to list them all out so why not try them out yourself?
Here are some of the places to get your fix of local kuih in Penang:
Batu Lanchang Market Food Court
GPS: 5.390389, 100.305919
This stall is so well known for their kuih, people start lining up even before they set up in the afternoons. The moment they start bringing in the trays of the kuih, the crowd would immediately start shoving and shouting their orders. Go early if you want to get to the kuih before it gets snapped up.
Roadside stalls at corner of Jones Road and Kelawei Road
GPS: 5.431119, 100.315527
This stall may be located by the roadside near the junction but it has a huge shady tree over it and it is a rather nice place to pick from trays of different types of kuih and wash it down with the essential teh tarik. The best part about this place is that the kuih are all homemade by illustrious housewives living in the flats just behind the stalls.
Cecil Street Market
GPS: 5.407296, 100.328676
There are two kuih stalls in the front part of the market where the food court is located. Both stalls offer a variety of kuih and other snacks including spring rolls and steamed buns. If you want to try as many different types of kuih as possible, this is the place to go because with both stalls combined, there are easily over 30 different types available.
Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Kuih, Jalan Masjid, Off Chulia Street
GPS: 5.419351, 100.335476
For over eight decades, this is the place where traditional Nyonya kuih was made and supplied to wet markets, stalls and the walking kuih seller. Recently, the place underwent a revamp and now, it is serving its kuih and some local fare at its canteen-style eatery.
Other than the two markets mentioned, most wet markets all around Penang will invariably have a stall selling an assortment of kuih, usually located near the hawkers or coffee shop areas. So, you can explore the different markets and try them out.