Ang Ku Kuih Spreads Life

Yi Jun Loh on ang ku kuih, a treat that is rich with symbolism and a staple for celebrations of life in Malaysia and Singapore.

Ang Ku Kuih Spreads Life

Yi Jun Loh on ang ku kuih, a treat that is rich with symbolism and a staple for celebrations of life in Malaysia and Singapore.

These red, tortoise-shaped kuihs, made popular by Peranakan communities in Malaysia and Singapore, have grown from being the markers of life’s milestones to an everyday treat.

by Yi Jun Loh
photos by Dinesh Rao

Across Asia, food often accompanies life’s significant milestones. In Korea, seaweed soup is served as a celebratory birthday salve. Roast duck and suckling pig are symbolic staples at Chinese weddings. And in the Peranakan Chinese communities of Malaysia and Singapore, ang ku kuih is the choice treat for births, birthdays, and beyond.

Kuihs (or kuehs) are a category of tea-time dessert snacks popular in Malaysia and Singapore. And ang ku kuih (also romanized as ang koo kuih, or simply called kuih koo) is one of the most prominent of all kuihs. It’s made with a glutinous rice dough sweetened with sweet potato, filled with a paste of hulled mung beans, then pressed into tortoise-shaped wooden molds with intricate motifs. It goes into the steamer matte and pasty and comes out glistening and shiny like a jewel. And as you bite into it, you’ll be teased by mochi-like chewiness from the supple skin, tempered by the silkiness of the sweet mung bean paste within—the two components playing textural tag with your tongue.

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