Kueh Tutu: A Sweet Bit Of Heritage


CIMG8439

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.

Continue reading

Big D’s Grill: Democratizing Food, One Wagyu Steak At A Time


CIMG3345

It’s peak dinnertime on a weeknight in Singapore and I’m perched on a rickety plastic stool at Big D’s Grill in Holland Village.

The tables are only somewhat clean. It’s so unbearably hot and humid in the food court-style coffee shop that an almost endless trickle of sweat is rolling down my face. And the rumbling din all around only crescendos as the tank-top and shorts-wearing crowd grows and flip-flopped hawkers race from table to table, barking out greetings and taking orders.

It’s hardly the setting where you’d expect to find some of the most satisfying (and, in some instances, inventive) Western dishes currently being served in Singapore. And yet, that’s exactly what you’ll get at Big D’s, a place that serves USD $33 wagyu rib-eye steaks and USD $8.20 snapper livornese from a tiny kitchen wedged between hawker stands that sell noodle dishes and fish soups for around USD $1.

Damian D’Silva, the owner/chef of Big D’s, is something of a man on a mission — and his quest is to bring high-end fare to
a swath of people who love good food but might be intimidated
by or don’t want to be bothered with going to a fancy French or Italian
restaurant. His hole-in-the-wall stall has been part of a growing number of places in hawker centers and other outdoor foodcourts that have been gradually democratizing the eating culture in Singapore simply by selling French, German or Eurasian dishes that one would typically find at higher prices in high-end restaurants in low-key, neighborhood settings.

Big D’s in particular, has been attracting big crowds and attention on the shoulders of Damian’s dishes — the New York Times, apparently, is about to run a feature on the place. (The restaurant’s Facebook page, Fans of Big D’s Grill, sent out an email blast last week urging customers to swing by and pad up the crowds last Friday for a planned photo shoot with a Times photographer.)

Continue reading