The Miracle Kueh

Kueh are glutinous rice sweets that form an integral part of Malaysian and Singaporean festivities such as Hari Raya and Chinese New Year.

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Kueh are bite-sized snacks commonly found in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Kueh is a fairly broad term which may include items better known as cakes, cookies, biscuits, or sweets from European cuisine that are usually made from rice or glutinous rice. That said, kueh are more often steamed than baked, and are thus very different in texture, flavour and appearance from Western cakes or sweets. There is a similar kind of sweet range to kueh in South Korea known as Hangwa.

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In almost all Malay and Peranakan kueh, the most common flavouring ingredients are grated coconut (plain or flavoured), coconut cream (thick or thin), pandan leaves, and gula melaka (palm sugar, fresh or aged). While those make the flavour of kueh, their base and texture are built on a group of starches: rice flour, glutinous rice, and tapioca. They play a most important part in giving kuihs their distinctive soft, almost pudding-like texture.

Traditionally, making kueh was the domain of elderly grandmothers or housewives, for whom the only (and best) method for cooking was by a term known as “agak-agak” (approximation). They would instinctively take handfuls of ingredients and mix them without any measurements or any need of weighing scales. All is judged by its look and feel, the consistency of the batter, and how it feels to the touch.

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Kueh come in different shapes, colours, texture and designs. Some examples are filled, coated, wrapped, sliced and layered kueh. Also, while most kueh are steamed, they can also be boiled or baked, while some can be deep-fried and sometimes even grilled.

In the north of Malaysia, kueh are usually sweet, whereas in the south, especially around Melaka, savoury kueh is more prominent. This is largely due to the large population of ethnic Chinese and Indians which held much cultural influence in these states.

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There’s just something so exciting about buying colourful sweets, especially when you know it is going to be literally sweet, rather than savoury. Sometimes to the colours jump out at you and make you buy them, and I do prefer the multi-coloured designs rather than the plain green designs which I saw quite a lot in Singapore and even in Melaka.

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