Malaysia has an abundance of kuihs that are extremely popular snacks or desserts among both locals and foreigners. Not only are these small delicacies aesthetically pleasing and captivating to the taste buds, they are easy on the wallet and thus a must-have for everyone regardless of gender, age or race. The word kuih has no English equivalent, encompassing a broad range of desserts from sweet to savoury, steamed to fried, but they do share the common characteristic of being almost bite-sized so that they are not too filling and are the perfect choice for tea breaks.
Many of the kuihs are not exclusively found in Malaysia only – neighbouring countries like Singapore and Indonesia have similar or the exact same variety. To avoid disputes regarding the origins of food common to ASEAN countries, I would like to emphasize the fact that regardless of where they come from, the following kuihs are popular in Malaysia and should not be missed the next time you visit our country.
For those with sweet tooth, the good news is you will find kuihs to be a delectable treat because coconut and palm sugar is a recurring ingredient in many varieties of kuihs found in Malaysia. For example, we have the Kuih Dadar, which is a kind of crepe filled with coconut cooked in palm sugar, or Ondeh-ondeh which is coated in a layer of grated coconut. Coconut milk is also commonly used when making kuihs like Kuih Talam and Kuih Seri Muka. While Kuih Talam and Kuih Seri Muka bear similar appearances (consisting of 2 layers – one green and one white), they have contrasting tastes and are easily distinguishable by taking a good look at the kuih’s texture, where the latter is made of glutinous rice, and thus looks grainy, whereas the former looks smoother.
Pisang Goreng is a kind of kuih that literally means Fried Banana in the Malay language. It is easy to make, but requires care during the ingredient preparation step. The right variety of banana has to be used, and it is also necessary to pay attention to the batter recipe in order to achieve the right level of crispiness on the outside and perfect mix of sweetness and moistness on the inside.
No list of kuih is complete without mentioning the Currypuff, also known as Karipap locally. A fried puff pastry with curry, meat and potatoes as its most basic ingredients, added with extras like hard-boiled eggs and onions, varied forms of the kuih can be found throughout Malaysia with its ingredients tweaked to suit different taste buds, such as the Sardine version and the vegetarian version. The snack is almost ubiquitous in Malaysia, available as street food at almost every other corner, and is also available prepackaged at supermarkets.
Fitting into the category of savory kuihs is kuih Pie Tee, which is also called ‘top hat’ due to its resemblance to an inverted one. The most apt food category to describe top hats is perhaps the canapé family, with its thin pastry shell housing ingredients like yambean, thinly sliced vegetables and prawns. The top hat is popular at parties as hors d’oeuvres because of how attractive and palatable they look, even though they are not easy to make. This pastry is extremely popular in the state of Malacca due to its roots being associated with the Peranakan culture, which is a unique assimilation of Malay and Chinese culture.
With its ubiquity and affordability, it is not hard for kuihs to achieve its level of integrality in the Malaysian food culture. Its huge variety also made it possible to win over the hearts of the majority of Malaysians despite our contrasting tastes and preferences for food. The few kinds of kuihs mentioned above are merely the tip of the iceberg of the diverse range of kuihs available in Malaysia. As odd as how some ingredient pairings sound, I advise everyone to try these kuihs before giving it a pass because you might just be surprised with how they taste.
By LIEW Jeen Vern, ASEAN Correspondent from Malaysia