When the weather gets hot, thoughts turn to light-colored, soft desserts. I often think of putu piring, a Malay cake that is so fluffy and has a melt in your mouth quality.
Putu piring are round steamed cakes made from rice flour and gula Melaka (palm sugar), and best eaten when they are still warm.
This is one of my favorite foods, and when I am in Singapore, I always make a beeline for the putu piring in the Haig Road area.
That is, before the line starts at the putu piring stall in the Banquet Food Court. (I believe the food court now has a new name.) If you arrive after 3pm, be prepared to wait in a long line, with people of all races and age groups. Now there are two locations, this one as well as a stall in the Teh Tarik Café, which is also in the vicinity.
One time when I was passing the food court when it was closed for renovations, a man stopped me and asked where was the putu piring stall. He seemed rather panicky, and explained he came from the other side of the island and had not been in this area for a while. He had a wide grin on his face when I showed him the other location of the putu piring.
An unofficial poll of friends and family points to this putu piring as the best in Singapore, and dare I say, the best in this Southeast Asian region. So I made it a point to talk to the owner/founder of this successful enterprise.
He is a hands-on owner and is often seen helping out his employees. The gentleman prefers to be known as Mr Putu Piring rather than by his first name, and has been making and selling putu piring in the Geylang area for 15 years.
I was very pleased to learn from him some interesting facts behind this dessert. According to him, the word putu is a Sanskrit word for rice. Piring is a Malay word which refers to a saucer, and originally, saucers were used to mold the cakes into the round shapes. Hence, the name.
The ingredients are simple: rice flour, gula Melaka (palm sugar), grated coconut and pandan leaves. Basically, a mixture of rice flour with a filling of palm sugar in the center is patted into the molds and then steamed through to form the cakes. The cakes are served with grated coconut containing strips of pandan leaf to add a fragrant note.
When asked about the secret of his success, Mr PP says: “It is crucial to use the best ingredients and to stay true to traditional methods.” He also wants to maintain the quite amazing price of three small cakes for a dollar. And he is happy that his daughter Noraishah, who studied culinary arts and worked in Boston, is now part of his team.
Talking to him, I realize that the ingredients of his success are those that have stood the test of time: quality, value, and a deep appreciation of one’s heritage and roots.