Thursday, December 17, 2009

Angku Kueh

Ang Ku Kueh is a traditional peranakan steamed cake.  "Ang Ku" means "Red Turtle" in Hokkien.  And once I add that red symbolises luck and turtles or tortoises symbolise longevity, you will realise that these cakes are meant to be highly auspicious and that is why they are specially served at festive occasions such as baby's first month celebrations, birthdays and weddings.   According to my "Nonya Flavours" cookbook, the tradition was that peach-shaped ang ku (peaches also symbolise longevity) were presented for a daughter and tortoise-shaped ang ku were given for males.  Nowadays, I think most of the ang ku kueh being sold are tortoise-shaped.  You can tell by the oval shape with turtle-shaped markings on them. 

Ang ku kueh were traditionally made with a green bean paste filling (or even a peanut filling) in a skin made of rice flour and sweet potato, pressed into a mould.  If you'd like to see a recipe, here's a nice one from Rose's Kitchen.  Her pictures include not just the kueh but the peach- and tortoise-shaped moulds used for the kueh. But just as Singaporeans have played around with the traditional mooncakes, one stall in Singapore in Alexandra Village has gone further to experiment with yam, sesame seed, coconut, durian fillings and many more, each with their own yummy colour!  That's where my aunt went to to buy these ang ku kueh for our family dinner (please see this blog post all about the stall). 

My personal favourite was the coconut filled ang ku kueh (they don't appear in my photo, but are green in colour).  It was flavoured with gula melaka and was really a little like the kueh dadar filling (green pandan crepe with grated coconut filling).  The skin was also oh so soft and gently chewy. Definitely worth a try. 

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Totally Babalicious!

After my illuminating visit to the Baba Bling! exhibition, I went over to the SMU Concourse where the Peranakan Festival 2009 was being held. The university campus on a long holiday weekend was totally quiet on the surface -but under the buildings was a bunch of babas and nonyas wandering around eating pohpiah and ayam buah keluak, buying bling and kebayas at the Biggest and Best BaBazaar ever!

It so happened I got there just a few minutes before the Opening ceremony, so there were charming children singing songs and then an angklung group (dressed in multi-ethnic costumes) gave us a song or two. But the highlight of the performances had to be the two-man skit. Or should I say, the two-men-in-drag skit. Traditionally, men have taken up major female roles in peranakan theatre, typically that of the matriarch, and other carefully selected characters.

The skit was partly in English, partly in Baba Malay patois. The men played two female friends, one of whom had just consulted a fortune teller on why she hadn't gotten married. It was not exactly a refined presentation - dealing with an assessment of his/her charms, how as a virgin he/she did not want a husband who had been married before (second hand goods whereas she was first hand) - and that maybe is why these parts were taken by men. Not appropriate for such conversation to be uttered from a female actress (not to mention the accompanying gestures)? Needless to say, the performance was extremely well-received by members of the audience.

After the performances, I wandered around the shops and marvelled at the fun Baba-inspired artworkks. Also bought a series of charming note cards. A number of the vendors came from Malacca, KL and Penang. A good thing, coz the small Singapore market just can''t support too many shops specialising in Peranakan stuff. At long last, I also bought a kebaya from a Penang-based kebaya maker. I'm truly excited about this! I selected the cloth for the kebaya and sarong, and am going to get final fitting in two weeks when she comes back to Singapore. Can't wait to receive my completed kebaya.

The "Little Nonya" series certainly raised a lot of awareness about Babas and Nonyas.  Some credit it with "reviving" Peranakan culture amongst the younger Peranakans.  But maybe the better comparison is with the SMU campus - all seeemed quiet on the surface, but a dynamic culture beneath.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Baby Bling

I had a truly enjoyable day today. First, I went to the Peranakan Museum to catch the Baba Bling! exhibition, and after that went for the Peranakan Festival with the Biggest and Best Babazaar ever (more details in forthcoming post)!

I find that I am becoming a repeat visitor to the Peranakan Museum. That's the thing about a community museum, it generates repeat visitors from members of the community.

The Baba Bling exhibition was a revelation, mostly because I found out that a number of my great-grandmother's and grandaunt's pieces were on display, without my even knowing! My aunt (one of my dad's many cousins) had loaned them to the museum for the exhibition. I went home and asked my father about it. He asked my mother whether she remembered him mentioning (months ago) something about a reception at the Peranakan Museum for people who had contributed to the exhibition. Well, now. Guess who was definitely not told about that. And I wasn't even allowed to take any photos of my own great-grandmother's utterly gorgeous hairpins, belts, earrings and most of all, her truly stunning kerosang. Talk about family treasures.

I have written about my great-grandmother in a previous post. But I don't remember her well - I was only 6 years old when she died, after all. And I certainly don't remember her gorgeous jewellery. But my mother told me that at Chinese New Year, she would put my bracelet of little gold beads (tied together with a red string) on my little wrist together with the bangles my granny gave me. The beads, were apparently handed down from generation to generation. When I went to wish my great grandmother "Kong Hee Fatt Choy" on First Day, she would feel the beads on my wrists before giving me my lovely fat red packet. (My great-grandmother was partially blind.) My very own baby bling.

I had to pass on my bracelets to my younger brother when his turn came.  But can anyone tell me the significance, if any, of these bracelets?

P.S.  Just found some of the jewellery from the exhibition featured on this site.  Take a look at these beauties (my family pieces amongst them)!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Singapore Food Festival

This year the Singapore Food Festival was held from 17-26 July, with a Peranakan theme. I went to the Clarke Quay Food Street on 18 Jul and also to the Spices Cafe (at Concorde Hotel, the former Le Meridien) for a peranakan lunch by veteran (82-year old!)chef Baba Jolly Wee.

I must say that I was not too impressed with the Food Street. It's not so much the food- the food was ok. But after all, if I want to eat Hokkien Mee, Poh Piah, Kim Choo kueh chang or Nonya food I can just walk down East Coast Road (my personal food street). And there is Prawn Noodle, Katong Laksa some more. So why fight with the crowds on Read Bridge, queueing up for ages for a bite of pohpiah or looking for a small table to stand at to eat?

On the positive side, after the Food Street, we went to One Fullerton where we had a great view of the fireworks being set off after the National Day Parade rehearsal.

I much preferred the Spices Cafe buffet, with a good range of dishes including certain Singapore specialties such as chilli crab, satay. The desserts were good - there was some nice apom but unfortunately by then there was not much spare capacity left in my stomach! My only gripe is that the satay was so popular that every time I went it seemed to be out. I only ate 2 sticks! But I had no camera with me so for photos and a much better review, ck out this blog.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sunday morning snacks

What a long absence from this blog! Sometimes, unfortunately, work and other activities have to take priority. So many apologies and hope that I can make more regular updates in future.

I've been trying to wake up earlier on Sunday mornings, and go for the early (9am+) mass. After all, I get to work around 9am most weekdays, so why can't I wake up early Sundays too? Progress, however, has been patchy. But to reward myself when I do make it on time, on my way back, I try finding something for my elevenses. That's when I pop into Katong Antique Shop for some nonya kueh-kueh - varieties not necessarily available at other places.

So here are two examples of Katong Antique Shop's products: Pulut Inti, and Apom Baukwa. Pulut Inti is a glutinous rice dessert, where the rice is coloured with the butterfly pea flower and topped with a little grated coconut seasoned with gula melaka and sugar. I must admit it is more likely that the blue colouring in the picture above comes from artificial colouring, though. Apom is a mini-pancake made of rice flour and eaten with a sauce made of gula melaka and cooked banana - the sauce is really an integral part of the dish. I heat everything up just before eating - yum!
Hope that you have an opportunity to try these two kuehs.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Green Bean Soup (Lek Tau T'ng)

I had recently been busily baking cakes and biscuits recentlly. So it seemed like time for a traditional favourite.

I mentioned green bean soup and my father started talking about how his mother (my grandmother) made it, with sago pearls amongst the beans. I checked up my Penang recipe book, "Nonya Flavours" and there it was!

Be warned: this takes some time to cook. (I've also made a few tweaks to the recipe.)
1. Soak green beans (abt 200g or so) in water for about 1h or so
2. Add the soaked beans to boiling water, together with brown sugar - abt 150-200g (according to taste) and pandan leaves. Cook over slow heat till soft (beans should break up, soup should thicken slightly). Can take over 1.5 hour.
3. Wash the pearl sago (abt 75g or so), add to the pot. Cook till transluscent (don't overcook)
4. Add about 100ml of coconut milk, or alternatively spoon a little coconut cream on top of the soup.

My father likes it as a night snack, my mother as a mid-morning snack. How versatile!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Quiz - Eurasiana

I took down my mother's copy of "Elvis Lived in Katong*" the other day. This is a scrapbook-type book filled with cartoons, biographies of prominent Eurasians, customs and celebrations, snippets of Kristang, recipes etc. Plus a quiz on Eurasiana. I must admit I skimmed through the book quickly but spent a long time on the quiz, which featured questions such as the correct pronounciation of "bloody fool" (that would be bladdy ful"). And there was the thought-provoking question on how to define a successful wedding - where Auntie Elsie drinks Uncle Harry under the table, or when there is white wine served with the sugee cake (my colleague said "Bad question! Two possible answers!").

Anyway, I thought I would come up with my own little quiz. Here are a few questions:

1. What to look forward to after Christmas Eve Midnight Mass:
a. Roast turkey
b. Mulligatawny soup
c. Devil curry

2. Dodo and Jojo are the names of
a. two cats
b. two nuns
c. a singing group
(ok, so this is not quite a Eurasian question but it is definitely a Katong question)

3. Must haves for children's birthday party
a. Sausage rolls
b. Sugee cake
c. Green chilli sambal sandwiches
d. All of the above.

4. You would leave your shoes in the pew in church during
a. Good Friday service
b. Maundy Thursday mass
c. All Saint's Day

5. The famous Eurasian dish Smoore features these ingredients :
a. marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers
b. beef, onions, potatoes
c. beef and yorkshire pudding

The answers to some of the questions are somewhere else in this blog...

* This book and its sequel, "Elvis still lives in Katong", both by Denyse Tessensohn, are available at the Eurasian Association building in Katong together with other books on or by Eurasians.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Peranakan Museum's First Birthday

After writing up the opening of the Peranakan Museum in such detail, I hate to admit that I missed the first birthday celebration :-(

Work intruded on the Friday and Saturday, and I went for a cooking class on the Sunday. So I didn't have time to go down. Nonetheless, for completeness, here is the story from

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dining at the Paramount

My family went to Paramount Hotel recently for dinner at the Tung Luk restaurant there. We'd not been there for some time but the a la carte buffet menu had certainly made an impact on us. My sister and I both had happy memories of the salmon sashimi and the ice cream puffs!

Paramount Hotel has been around for a number of years (maybe around 20+ years or so. Like other properties in the Katong area, such as Katong Mall, there was talk of an en bloc sale some two years ago when the property market was at its height. En bloc activity has since quietened down quite considerably, of course. But I thought I had better put this down on my blog in case I am overtaken by events (as I have been in the past).

Paramount Hotel benefits from its very convenient location, near the airport and also the city centre. It is surrounded by yummy food and Parkway Parade is just across the road. The building itself stands out on Marine Parade Road, especially at night. It is thus a little bit of a pity to see that the shopping centre is not vibrant, except for a few pubs.

Tung Luk, however, is busy and bustling. (And it has its separate entrance from the Marine Parade Road side of the hotel.) Good thing we made a reservation. The a la carte buffet was as yummy as we remembered. There's a choice of soups, meats, seafood etc. The prawns, Peking duck and Buddha Jumps over the Wall/Shark's Fin soups are rationed but everything else is unlimited. Of course the dish my family ordered more than one of (aside from the sashimi and ice cream puffs) was a simple veggie dish - beans and minced pork!
Aside from the food, I like the restaurant interior. Somehow, it has a certain colonial elegance, with its columns and plastered cornices, the European-style display cupboards along the sides. Maybe it is the influence of the colonial/peranakan shophouses on East Coast Road! And the combination of European interior and Chinese food brings to mind Shanghai's Bund area, where I'll be next week.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

URA to conserve 100 buildings in Joo Chiat/Katong area

Here's a more positive post to balance off the previous depressing post.

URA has decided to conserve about 100 more buildings in the Joo Chiat/Katong area, as announced in this news release.

Hopefully the preservation of more of this lovely part of Singapore will also increase awareness of the history and heritage of the area.

Peranakans – Going the way of the Dodo?

This article by Soh Tiang Keng sadly concludes that modernisation, urbanisation and social change will lead to the Peranakan culture dying out. Alas, this is probably true, at least in Singapore.

I personally think that the so-called "Mother Tongue" policy has also led to the demise of the Baba Malay patois. Not that my family has any particular affiliation for it, of course. Being Penang Babas/Nonyas, the common language was Penang Hokkien. Of course, ironically this may also die out in the longer term, to be replaced by... ...Malay.

Most Singaporeans however do not know the difference between Penang and Singaporean peranakans. My uncle recently had his 60th Birthday Party. It was a fairly big do, with a large group of about 10 tables or so. There was a programme for the evening complete with games, powerpoint slideshows and speeches. The theme for the evening was "Peranakan". So the tables were labelled "Ayam Buah Keluak" and "Bakwang Kepeting". The MCs for the evening even started off by saying a few stumbling words in Malay, in my uncle's honour. They might have had an easier time speaking in Hokkien!

Hopefully blogs like this will continue to keep interest in Peranakan culture and history alive - at least this is part of my motivation for persevering on with it.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pineapple Tarts V2

Pineapple Tarts V2
Originally uploaded by Taking5

Someone who read my last post commented to me that I had kept my readers waiting quite some time for the sequel. Much as it pains me to admit it (pride going before a fall and all that) but the reason was because I was not quite satisfied with my pineapple tarts. The jam turned out beautifully – sweet and aromatically spicy, but with a tangy edge to it – but the pastry turned out a little too hard and not crumbly enough. I was also trying to get the hang of the pastry cutter/mould and so the shape of my tarts was not that nice; nor was my jam perfectly rounded or smooth. All in all, an amateur effort.

Fortunately I had made loads of jam so I had the opportunity to try the pastry again. This time the tarts turned out nicely shaped (I had improved my cutting techniques) and the pastry more crumbly and softer in texture. I must admit that since I used a standard shortcrust pastry recipe, it was not as buttery and rich as some other pineapple tarts I’ve eaten. Also my mother was commenting that I should have put in some salt (but I was not using unsalted butter, was my reply) and used some lard as well as butter (I’m concerned about health implications, I said). Nonetheless, I thought the pastry complemented the tarts well.

Anyway, here is a brief recipe:


(generally, do this at least one day before the pastry to let the jam cool down completely)

1. Take two pineapples, dice and blend finely in a blender. Add a little pineapple juice to facilitate the blending process – the juice adds a little zing to the jam later on. Note that traditional recipes call for the pineapple to be grated or chopped finely but this is very timeconsuming and probably the reason why I didn’t get around to making pineapple tarts for so long. It is of course possible (as someone suggested) to grate half and blend half the pineapple, for a better and more chunky texture. But for simple and fuss-free pineapple jam, I’d go for the blender.

2. Slowly cook the pineapple mixture over a low flame. Add 2 cloves, a stick of cinnamon and a piece of star anise to flavour the jam. Cook till thick (this should probably take 30-40 minutes or so), remove from flame. See picture for how the cooked jam should look like.

Ingredients: 250g flour; 125g butter; pinch of salt to taste; 2 eggs (beaten).

1. Sift flour and mix with salt. Rub butter into the flour till it resembles breadcrumbs.

2. Pour in the beaten egg slowly, mix together to form the dough - use hands if nec. No need to use all the egg. Put dough in fridge for at least half an hour to cool.

3. Roll out the dough to about 0.5 cm or so. Using a pineapple tart cutter (metal ring with mould within to form depression in pastry), cut out the tarts and put them on baking tray. Fill in with jam, glaze with beaten egg (now you know why you don't need to use it all) diluted with a little milk. Top with a little pastry piece.

4. Bake at 180 degrees centigrade for about 15-18minutes, when it has reached a light golden brown colour.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pineapple Tarts and their Origins

I have made mention in an earlier post that I buy my pineapple tarts rather than make them (too much effort involved in cooking the jam, then baking the tarts). But in my current baking craze, making pineapple tarts for Chinese New Year seemed Just the Thing to Do. And so it began.

There were a few problems, of course. First, the equipment. I had no idea where my pineapple tart cutter and mould were. So a new cutter was definitely needed. This is not the sort of thing one can pick up easily in the local Cold Storage. Fortunately, I chanced to go to Haig Road Hawker Centre for lunch last Sunday. There, I found Gim Hin Lee, a specialist baking shop. It sold everything the aspiring baker could desire - baking tins of all shapes and sizes, other baking equipment such as cookie cutters, rolling pins, a wide variety of baking ingredients (in small sizes and large sizes for commercial kitchens), and of course, my pineapple tart cutters. Not quite the traditional one-piece copper mould, but the two piece cutter and mould which is good enough for me.

The second challenge was finding the right recipe. My grandaunt used to make the best ever pineapple tarts, a family recipe which she had bequeathed to her daughter. But my dear mother kept on forgetting to get it for me. So I had to turn to the recipe books for some ideas. Then the questions arose: should I find a Peranakan recipe, or a Eurasian recipe? And, who started making pineapple tarts anyway, the Eurasians or the Peranakans?

A difficult question to answer, so it turned out. Quite clearly, the techniques behind pineapple tarts appear to me more European in origin. The cooking of the jam, the use of European pastry suggest that the Eurasians may have come up with the tart first. But then, the pineapple tart is a treat so closely associated with traditional Chinese New Year celebration food. The golden colour of the pineapple jam on top of the pastry circle, or the jam forming the golden heart of a pastry ball - the very appearance is auspicious. And then "pineapple" translates (or so I understand) to "Ong Lai", or "wealth comes" in Hokkien. Doubly prosperous, indeed! Little wonder the Peranakans embaraced the pineapple tart as their very own.

I thought that one way to find out would be through looking at cookbooks. But the two oldest I have (Mrs Handy's and Mrs' Lee's) make no mention of pineapple tarts at all. Hmmm... could it be that pineapple tarts are a relatively new culinary innovation? Seems unlikely - my mother recalls one occasion as a child when she helped her mother and aunt make (Eurasian) pineapple tarts. And of course her aunt must have been making pineapple tarts well before that, so the practice must be at least 60 years old, based on my family history alone.

In the end, I decided to use a combination of recipes from Eurasian cookbook writers Wendy Hutton and Mary Gomes, as I thought these recipes would be closer to my grandaunt's secret recipe. More about my baking experience (and the recipe) in my next post.

But for now, gentle reader, one question for you: do you know how pineapple tarts originated, and how long ago? Whilst stories and anecdotes would be most welcome, I am hoping for historical confirmation/evidence of some kind as well.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Family Treasures

I have been meaning to put up this post for some time, ever since I visited the Peranakan museum for the second time (after my eating expedition at the Big Eat Out). But got caught up in the whole Christmas baking frenzy and ended up with the shortbread post instead.

I must confess that I was quite caught up in the whole excitement of the museum opening the first time I visited the Peranakan museum. And there were just too many people milling around to allow for much time to view the exhibits. So I was happy to spend more time this visit touring the "Junk to Jewels" exhibition, especially as this exhibition would be closing soon.

Old letters, cookbooks, crockery, furniture, clothes and shoes, tell us a bit about daily life amongst the community . Dr Goh Keng Swee's golf club, Dick Lee's cultural medallion, Tun Tan Cheng Lock's knighthood medal - all remind of the contributions eminent Babas have made to Singapore. An intricate reproduction of the Emmanuel College coat-of-arms, done in beads, tells the story of a mother thinking proudly of her son, studying far away. Delicate, beautiful traditional jewellery - mainly gifts - symbolise the enduring warmth and strength of human relationsips.

As one comment on my earlier post documenting my first visit to the Peranakan museum indicated, what made the exhibition meaningful was the little stories behind each exhibit. And, at the broader level, each little piece contributed to the story of the babas and nonyas of Singapore.

Junk and Jewels - family treasures all.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...