Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Malaysian Kuih

Picture by KE Ooi
Malaysian kuih is an interesting mix of bite-sized delicacies with Malay and Peranakan origins.
The local kuih, some are Malay and some are Nyonya or Peranakan, comes in many forms, shapes, sizes, colors, textures and flavors. Some are sweet, some are savory, some are rich and thick, some are smooth and light, and some are even spicy and fragrant.
Most of the local kuih are steamed, baked and even grilled and made from local ingredients such as tapioca, glutinous rice, rice flour, cornstarch, plain flour, gula Melaka (palm sugar), and natural colorings such as from the pea flower.
Some Nyonya kuih such as the kuih lapis or kau chan kuih (translated to mean "nine layer kuih" in Hokkien), rempah udang, kuih tai tai and huat kuih are usually served at weddings, each carrying an auspicious meaning so the happy couple can lead a prosperous, healthy and happy life.
The origins of each type of these kuih are hard to trace as many have a little bit of Malay influences, a little bit of Indian influences and a little bit of Chinese influences, making them a truly Malaysian delicacy although many of these kuih are often labelled as Nyonya kuih.
The most commonly found kuih has to be the kuih talam, with its smooth soft green layer but a totally different texture and taste for the white layer. The kuih talam is made from a mix of rice, tapioca and green pea flour where the green layer is tinted and flavoured with the juice of pandan leaves (screwpine leaves) while the white layer is a creamy confection made with the same mix of flour given a rich, savoury taste with the addition of coconut milk. The kuih talam is the one with the thin white layer on top and the thicker, soft green layer at the bottom.
Also, the reason it is called kuih talam is because it is traditionally steamed in a talam, which means tray in Malay, before it is sliced into bite-sized pieces.
Seri Muka, which is also very popular, is sometimes available in brown and white but the most common is the green and white version. Unlike the kuih talam, the soft custard layer of green is on the top and the firm, chewy glutinous rice layer on the bottom. The top layer is sometimes prepared using the same ingredients as the kuih talam but depending on each individual recipe, sometimes it is only made of cornstarch, flour and coconut milk. As for the glutinous rice layer, it is a thick rich layer of soft steamed glutinous rice with coconut milk and a pinch of salt to bring out the coconut flavour. Similarly, the Seri Muka is also usually steamed in a large tray and then sliced into pieces.
Another commonly found kuih is the kuih bengka, the yellow tapioca cake made from grated tapioca. It is chewy with a nice bite to it and it is flavored with just the slightest bit of sugar. There are also smoother versions of the kuih bengka, made from flour, and these usually come in white, brown and purple.
The kuih lapis or kau chan kuih is a favourite among children due to its pretty layers of colours. Like its name suggests, it is made up of layers of white and red ending with the red layer on top.
There is no fixed time to have a kuih because you can eat it any time of the day, as a snack or as dessert, and even as a meal on its own.
There are too many different types of kuih available to list them all but the above is a good sample that you can still commonly find at roadside stalls, in wet markets, in some modernized cafes, at some restaurants and even coffee shops.
Indeed, our local kuih is still very much a part of the diet of a typical Malaysian.
I was at the SJMC Toastmasters meeting on Monday where I presented a CC #7 speech titled “The Pareto Principle” and that won me the Best Speaker award. And I won Best Table Speaker award too.

This was a good meeting because you can just feel the energy and enthusiasm – not commonly experienced at this Toastmasters club.
Two project speeches were originally slotted but yesterday, we get to hear four speeches. And as for Table Topics, usually the SJMC people would just accommodate 3-4 speeches – yesterday, we had six.
Let's hope this experience will be repeated!

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