Among the many foods I obsessed over while growing up in Singapore, kueh tutu ranked high on the list.
This two-bite-sized spongy pastry featuring a steamed rice-flour shell filled with either sweet, shredded coconut or minced peanuts was already rapidly disappearing from the hawker scene when I was a child. (“Kueh” means cake or cookie in Malay; “tutu” is derived from the sound of the steamers that hawkers used decades ago to make them.)
Because kueh tutu is best eaten warm and freshly made (they tend to become hard and gummy if made even 20 minutes in advance), hawkers have to create them in small batches on demand. This makes them a rather expensive dessert to sell, given Singaporeans aren’t generally willing to pay more than 30 to 50 cents for one. (That would be about 20 to 35 U.S. cents.)
Even though some kueh tutu stalls have popped up in foodcourts recently, the pastry is still not exactly sold on every street corner these days. So whenever I spot a cart selling them, I drop everything I’m doing to get in line and buy some.
I can easily eat five or 10 of the sweet nubbins at a sitting — I wish I were joking.
On Day One of my current trip to Singapore for book research, while hunting down some roast duck for my grandmother’s dinner in the Ghim Moh neighborhood, the kueh tutu gods were clearly on my side.
Out of a little cart in a kopitiam (open-air coffeeshop), a woman was hard at work making batch after batch of kueh tutu.
First, she started with the mold …
… which she filled with a tablespoon or so of rice flour.
Then, she topped that with sweetened, shredded coconut and a little gula melaka, a palm sugar used in many Malay desserts.
Finally, she topped it off with more rice flour, patted it down and transferred it carefully to a steamer.
After a few minutes in the steamer, the kueh tutus were piping hot.
She placed them on square of fragrant tropical pandan leaf (which smells similar to vanilla) for added scent and they were ready to serve.
With the peanut versions that she made, she mixed in some ground peanuts with the rice flour for an extra nutty taste.
As kueh tutu goes, it was a little on the dry side and wasn’t the best I’ve had.
Still, at the relatively small price of five for $2, I’m all for supporting a bit of my food heritage any day.
Kueh Tutu stand at Ghim Moh kopitiam, Block 19, Ghim Moh Road, #01-263. (Next to Ghim Moh Food market.)