How do you call it when you are looking for some sweets but find instead the most wonderful family of Georgetown? We call it sweet meet. Because, indeed we have found another delicious sweet on our bucket list, but also met an amazing Malay family that has made our stay on Penang island very special. The sweet that you will learn about here, is called Nyonya Kueh. The family that you will read about here, is the family of madame Li Er, who is the owner of a traditional Nyonya Kueh cafe.
What is Nyonya?
But first things first. What does Nyonya actually mean? This time, the sweet of our bucket list is far more complex than mixing two ingredients, but it describes an entire subculture of beautiful Malaysia. Malaysia has a long history of immigration, especially from China. Logic, that the Malay kitchen is significantly influenced by the Chinese. With the mix of Malaysian and Chinese, a subculture arose, that still can be found in Malay families and their kitchen, under the name of Nyonya. Probably, this term is not very well known outside of Malaysia. So, feel free to read more about it here.
The Li Er Cafe
Nowadays, the Li Er Cafe is well known as one of the best family owned Nyonya Kueh Cafe in Georgetown, Penang Island. Madame Li Er just opened her own business about five years ago. After she was forced to reinvent her professional life during the Asian financial crisis in 1997. By that time, madame Li Er came up with the idea to use her heritage and knowledge of the females in her family to learn the science of Nyonya Kueh. Because, it really is science!
With the right amount of ambition, persistence and know-how, she managed to fine tune traditional recipes. Not too sweet, but chewy with a twist of salt. All this, not without the support of the entire family. Children, parents, uncles and aunts all worked together to bring the delicious Nyonya Kueh of madame Li Er to the crowd. A great business was born and we were the lucky ones they shared their knowledge with.
A sweet meet
Since I am a pastry chef, I wanted to learn how to make this very unique kind of Nyonya Kueh pastries. Madam Li Er, her family and employees not only made my wishes come true but they have exceeded my expectations with their immense hospitality and openness.
What is Kueh?
Now you know what Nyonya means. So what about Kueh? Kueh, Kuih, or Kwe is an old term for homemade sweets. Traditionally made by the Nyonya wives for celebrations and prayers. Many of them are done with local ingredients like coconut, rice and pandan leaves. Almost all of them are steamed.
Here is a small overview of one of the most famous Kuehs
- Kueh Sago Ubi
2-layered tapioca and coconut cake with muscovado sugar
- Kueh Lapis
traditional 9 layer Kueh
- Kueh Talam
2-layered sweet pandan and salty coconut Kueh
- Kueh Bingka Ubi
Tapioka and coconut cake
- Pulut Tai Tai
Salty coconut rice with blue flowers and pandan curd
- Seri Muka
2-layered coconut rice Kueh topped with pandan jam
- Ang Koo Kueh
Outside a thin layer of rice dough, and inside mostly filled with mung bean or red bean jam. Traditionally made for prayers.
Recipe for Kueh Talam Pandan
Even though, madam Li Er showed me how she and her team is doing the Kueh Talam Pandan, I will share with you a different recipe from the book `The way of Kueh´ from Christopher Tan.
Kueh Talam Pandan consists of two layers. The bottom layer is a rich pandan pudding and on top comes a slightly salty coconut pudding layer.
300g pandan juice (made with 310g water and 65g of pandan leaves)
75g rice flour
20g tapioca starch
1/3 tsp salt
1/3 tsp alkaline water
100g fresh coconut milk
625g fresh coconut milk
45g rice flour
20g tapioca starch
10g mung bean starch
2/3 tsp salt
- Bottom layer – mix in one bowl the water, coconut milk, rice flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch, salt and alkaline water.
- Put the sugar and pandan juice in one wok pan and boil it up.
- As soon it is boiling, add the coconut milk mixture and continue boiling and stirring until it thickens and bubbles are starting to come up.
- Pour the mix in a square tray which is brushed with cooking oil.
- Then steam it for 5 minutes.
- Top layer – mix the half of the coconut milk with the rice flour, tapioca starch, bung bean starch, sugar and salt.
- Boil up the other half of the coconut milk and add the mixture while constantly stirring.Pour this coconut mixture on top of the pandan layer and steam it again for 25 minutes.
- Leave it to cool down for at least 4 hours. Then cut it in small pieces.
- Finally, enjoy 🙂
Important note: always keep the Kueh covered to prevent from drying. They are best before next day.
Sadly, our time in Malaysia has come to an end and we look back to weeks filled with delicious food and lovely encounters.
Not only could we gain a great insight into the making of Nyonya Kueh, but also into the local culture and what it means to be a Malay family. We are thankful for how hard people made it for us to leave and surely our doors will be always open for them back in Austria!