Archive for August, 2010

traditional kuih

Some of the ingredients for apple-shaped  pineapple tarts.

With Hari Raya or Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan drawing near, baking season will soon be in full swing in many parts of the world.

Here, in California, my Malaysian friends bake both modern cookies and traditional Malay goodies, from family recipes or those via the Web. I hope they know that their resourcefulness and efforts are appreciated.

In Malay homes, there will be several varieties of kuih (a Malay word which collectively refers to cakes and cookies) set at the table for the enjoyment of guests, and for family members as well.

I know I’m fond of traditional cookies not just for the taste, but for the memories behind them . In the extended family home of my childhood, my grandmother and grandaunt did almost all the baking. Every Hari Raya, they would make pineapple tarts shaped as apples and pears.

The dough was wrapped around balls of pineapple filling, then shaped round for apples, and slightly elongated and curved for the pears. The children were called in for the fun part. My grandmother mixed a pale wash of food dye, and with a small brush we painted the “fruits”: yellow for the apples and green for the pears. Then we stuck a piece of clove for the “stem”.

Today, not many people make this type of pineapple tarts. But in my mind I see them clearly as the day I colored them.

My mother did not bake, but every year, she insisted on having kuih batang buruk, which means “old bark” or “old branch”. These are a mixture of flour shaped like tiny logs, fried and filled with a green bean filling. They can be pretty addictive and I’ve always loved its imaginative name.

I guess I’m also a stickler for traditions. I gravitate towards the heritage kuih before any other. And sometimes, they taste even  sweeter just because they are made or savored so far away from their original home.

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The world of animals and our four-legged friends often makes us smile, laugh, or feel closer to the natural world that we belong. Here are a few of them at play.

cute animal

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

cute animal

Basking in the sun.

bird photo

Busy day down at Flamingo Road.

animal photo

"It's a lovely day."

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Traditional Malay dessert

He has the recipe for the most popular putu piring in Singapore. The cakes are made in this steamer.

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.

Malay cakes

A great combination of fluffy rice flour dough and rich palm sugar.

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.

palm sugar

The secret is in using the best ingredients, including the best palm sugar.

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.

traditional Malay dessert

Putting the ingredients together.

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