Singapore: What’s Kueh?
It’s cake, kind of.
· 53 min read
If you are travelling through Southeast Asia, it is very likely that you have encountered food that has ‘kueh’ or ‘kuih’ in their names. So, what exactly is kueh?
The word ‘kueh’ comes from the Hokkien pronunciation of the Chinese character 粿 (read guo in Chinese, and koe in Hokkien). You might hence also hear the term in Hokkien-speaking territories like Taiwan. Broadly, the term ‘kueh’ refers to cakes made of rice or glutinous rice flour.
Kuehs are a common snack popular in the Southeast Asia region. They exist in many different forms, consisting both sweet and savory options. The sweet options typically contain coconut milk and pandan, and have fillings like mung bean, peanut, or grated coconut. On the other hand, the savory ones have a variety of fillings like mushrooms, turnips, and even glutinous rice.
Read on for a list of some of the Singapore’s favourite kueh, and where to find the best ones!
Kueh Tutu (or Tutu Kueh)
Kueh Tutu is a small, steamed flower-shaped cake served on pandan leaf. The name ‘Kueh Tutu’ allegedly originated from the sound produced by the charcoal steamer that was used to make the first kueh tutu; and the flower-shaped form is believed to have be inspired by the chrysanthemum flower as it was common for first-generation migrants in Singapore to drink chrysanthemum tea for relief from the tropical heat at one point in time.
Kueh Tutu are usually sold in a set of 4 or 5 pieces, and you will be able to have a mix of flavours. Just inform the store owner when you are ordering how many of each flavour you would like. The most common fillings are peanut or grated coconut, but we have seen some rather innovative flavours like chocolate and even Hainanese Chicken at some stores.
Average cost: $3 for 5 pieces
Where to go for good Kueh Tutu:
📍 Tan’s Tutu (temporarily closed until July 2023)
📍Chinatown Tan’s TuTu — multiple branches in food courts around Singapore
📍For innovative flavours, check out ChubTuTu — they don’t have a fixed store but are often at the pop-up night markets around Singapore. Check out their social media accounts to find out more about where they will be next.
Min Jiang Kueh
Rather than a cake, Min Jiang Kueh is more like a thick pancake. Traditionally folded over either peanut, red bean or coconut fillings, and believed to have started as combat rations for Qing dynasty soldiers in Fujian, China. The pancake batter is usually made from a mixture of flour, eggs, sugar, baking soda, and water. The batter is cooked on a large iron griddle before the filling is sprinkled on top. The pancake is then folded into half and sliced into pieces.
While mostly with a fluffy and soft texture, there are some stores which sell Min Jiang Kueh which are thinner and crispier.
Average cost: $1.20 per piece
Where to go for good Min Jiang Kueh:
Ang Ku Kueh
Ang Ku Kueh means ‘Red Tortoise Cake’ in Hokkien. It is a small oval-shaped treat with a distinctive design resembling a tortoise shell. Ang Ku Kueh is made of a soft, sticky glutinous rice flour skin wrapped with a filling that is usually sweet. Ang Ku Kueh was developed as a symbolism of longevity and wealth, and are often used as offerings in prayers to Chinese deities.
Similar to most of the other kuehs, peanut and grated coconut are two of the most common fillings of Ang Ku Kueh. Mung bean is also a common filling that is seen. Some stores also have other flavours like green tea and yam. Ang Ku Kuehs are traditionally red, but they currently exist in various colours to help in the differentiation of the flavours.
Average price: $1.50 per piece
Where to go for good Ang Ku Kueh:
Chiu Chu Kueh
Chiu Chu Kueh is the Hokkien term for tapioca cake. The tapioca is grinded, steamed, and coated with coconut before serving. Tapioca became a staple for Singapore when they were faced with a shortage of rice during the Japanese occupation. The steamed tapioca cake was developed as Singapore explored with ways to cook tapioca.
The tapioca cake is soft and moist and best eaten warm. However, you can also have the cakes refrigerated and eaten cold for a firmer and more refreshing taste.
Average price: $0.50 per piece
Where to go for good Chiu Chu Kueh:
Chwee Kueh literally means ‘water cake’ in Teochew, which alludes to the light and airy steamed rice cakes. Chwee Kueh is typically served with sweet-savory cai por (or preserved radish) and chili. While it is typically eaten as a breakfast item in Singapore, chwee kueh can be eaten at any time of the day!
Chwee Kueh is often priced individually, but most stores require that you have a minimum order of 4 or 5 pieces per order.
Average price: $0.50 for 5 pieces
Where to go for good Chwee Kueh:
📍Bedok Chwee Kueh — there are multiple branches located in hawker centres across Singapore
The ‘Soon’ in ‘Soon Kueh’ refers to bamboo shoots. Like its name suggest, Soon Kueh is originally a traditional steamed dumpling that is originally filled with bamboo shoots, Chinese turnip, dried shrimps, and mushrooms. However, some places leave out the bamboo shoots today. Often served with dark sauce and chili, it is an option that you could consider for breakfast or a mid-day snack when in Singapore.
Soon Kueh gives you the best of both worlds with the chewy and soft texture from the rice-tapioca flour skin, along with the crunchy bite from the fillings.
Average price: $1.70 per piece
Where to go for good Soon Kueh:
📍Bengawan Solo — a chain store with outlets all over Singapore
Png Kueh is the Hokkien term for ‘rice cake’. It’s a peach-shaped kueh that is usually pink in colour, which is modelled after the longevity peach steam buns. Png Kueh is filled with glutinous rice, dried shrimps, mushrooms, and shallots. Some variations of png kueh also contain yam, and these are usually whiter in colour for differentiation.
Png Kueh is typically eaten alongside Soon Kueh and other types of Teochew Kueh, and also served with dark sauce and chili.
Average price: $1.70 per piece
Where to go for good Png Kueh:
Orh Kueh is steamed yam cake, and typically contains dried shrimps and mushrooms in addition to yam and rice flour. It is also known as Wu Tao Koh — which is the Cantonese name for it. The steamed yam and rice flour gives it a soft and dense texture, while the dried shrimps and mushrooms helps to make it very flavourful.
Orh Kueh is often eaten with Chee Cheong Fun, which is a rice noodle roll served with thick savoury-sweet sauce and white sesame seeds.
Average price: $2 per piece
Where to go for good Orh Kueh:
📍Crystal Jade — a chain restaurant with multiple branches across Singapore